Why Social Is The Next Frontier

Sports teams and leagues such as the NBA and the Miami Dolphins have invested time and resources in building their social media presence, and most now have hundreds of thousands or even millions of online fans and followers. Many are now creating innovative opportunities for marketers to reach their huge, engaged (and often local) social audience ... at a scale that can eclipse TV, local newspaper ads or any other advertising vehicle.

While in the past, sports sponsorships might have been limited to TV ads, in-stadium signage or web site banners, brands can now work with their sports partners to achieve an unprecedented level of reach through social media. For example, to reach the LA Lakers ' fans, advertisers historically would only be able to market to them via a broadcast, on their web site or with in-stadium signage. For example, brands could buy a TV ad during the game (reaching 500,000), buy advertising in the arena (reaching 20,000 attendees), or try advertising on the Lakers web site. Compare that to running a campaign with the Lakers on Facebook, whose fan base numbers are over 7 million: a single campaign could potentially achieve the equivalent reach of an entire season's worth of advertising through other channels ... plus, it has the potential to be way more engaging, targeted and measurable.

Now, consider the Miami Dolphins' presence on Facebook.

The team currently has more than 600,000 fans on Facebook and 44,000 followers on Twitter -- the equivalent of an entire sold out season of football, every day.

What makes this audience so special is that the Dolphins are incredibly active with their social media presence. On Facebook, they consistently add polls, Top 5s and other content that keeps the fan conversation rolling along. By keeping this social media conversation up, every day is "game day" for Dolphins fans ... and for potential sponsors.

Think about all the possibilities for South Florida businesses to reach the Dolphins' huge base of local fans on Facebook. A local restaurant chain might sponsor a post in the Dolphins' news feed, in which the Dolphins suggest that their fans visit the restaurant before or after the game. A Miami car dealer could partner with the Dolphins on a location-based marketing program, in which fans who check in at the car dealer via Facebook Places get 50% off a companion ticket to a Dolphins game. This not only drives fans into the dealership, but also drives them to the stadium.

While there's no end to the creative opportunities for joint marketing, one thing to note is that these social sponsorships must operate a bit differently than traditional advertising, primarily because the social media audience can so easily "opt out" if they feel like they're being marketed to. Social marketing communications need to feel organic and authentic, and the most successful programs will be tied to both the team and their sponsors' content.

Finally, while traditional marketing methods are often limited to game time or during the season, social media has the advantage of being an ongoing communications channel throughout the entire year. Teams such as the Miami Dolphins are adding tens of thousands of fans each week, even in the off-season, and have thousands of fans engaging with their social content on a daily basis. We anticipate that leagues and teams will take advantage of this ongoing engagement to offer sponsors new ways to boost brand awareness and drive business year-round.

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