The NFL, MLB and NHL Facebook communities have a combined 5.2 million Facebook fans. The Los Angeles Lakers, the most-"liked" individual sports team in the U.S., has 8.2 million. So it's saying something that gaming company EA Sports has just surpassed 10 million fans (covering all of its brand and franchise pages). But that milestone didn't come without some effort.
Over the past year, EA has made a concerted effort to increase its social media presence, with campaigns such as a tournament-style voting campaign for the cover athletes for its "Madden" and "NCAA Football" titles, an NHL Playoffs Bracket Challenge that gives fans a chance to win prizes as they pick the winners of each round of the Stanley Cup race, and an upcoming promotion in which fans will have the chance to vote on the characters in its upcoming snowboard title.
As the company celebrated its 10 million fans (offering them 30% of all released sports games plus free shipping on May 23), Craig Malanka, EA's director of digital communications, spoke with Marketing Daily about the company's social marketing strategy.
Q: Well, 10 million Facebook fans is quite an accomplishment. Are you surprised by it?
A: We're quite happy with it. We had an awesome target of 3.5 million by April and we blew that out of the water. We started with about 150,000 fans across many pages, and we looked at the audiences we were talking to and our franchises. We focused our communication among these channels. Then we got a group of PR and digital marketers for engaging consumers along those channels. That put us along the path of engagement on those channels.
Q: How did you go about building that base?
A: In a nutshell, we're giving unprecedented access to our games through these channels. The cover vote [for the Madden and NCAA titles] is one example of that. On a broader level, we're engaging consumers on a deeper level and giving them access to our games that we hadn't before, whether it's a never-seen screenshot or giving them a vote on game covers.
One of the other things we've done is the "game changers" program, which is finding those hard-core fans and giving them extra access and information in our games. It's about 15-20 guys who wanted to get involved with the games earlier in the process. We bring them to the studios or get them involved with the game development. They supplement our content. They actually create tutorials and tips and tricks videos giving fans the lessons.
Q: It's one thing to have 10 million friends on Facebook. But it's another to turn those friends into customers. How do you go about doing that?
A: The first thing is just engaging with them on these channels. It's something we haven't done in the past, but things like Facebook can do more of that. We give them access to the game, show them how it's being produced and get them excited. Because we're EA Sports and we're about sports, we have the ability to talk with consumers about sports. We always look at the sports through the lens of our games. We can be on Facebook instantly engaging our consumers about that goal or highlights through the game or tie it back to the game in that regard. In our NHL game, with the [current] playoffs, we're running a playoff pool, which a lot of people do, but we're doing it with a game to tie to. We use the game as a predictor for people to make their picks. It's just another way to engage consumers.
Q: How has your marketing (social and otherwise) changed over the past year or so?
A: I would say our mindset in the past has been, let's focus on launch. Let's focus our marketing on the two to four weeks around that. Now the mindset has changed and we're talking to consumers for 365 days. Our games aren't just shipping on discs on one day anymore, there's downloadable and additional content. We're communicating with consumers constantly.
Q: How do you see your social strategy evolving over the next year?
A: We're going to continue to be on the channel 365 days and we're going to have a team that's dedicated to being on the channel talking with gamers. That's not going to change. The great success we've had with the cover votes -- you're going to see more of that, [as well as instances] where we're opening up the access to our games to a broader range of people. That's not something we would have done five years ago, and I think you're going to see a lot more of that.