The Sportbusiness New Media conference was held in Manchester on Wednesday. I was invited to speak on a panel entitled “Opportunities and Threats of Social Media.” The questions asked of the panel were slightly different from the brief, so the delegates present heard different answers to the ones below, but here are some of my considered thoughts on the issues raised. I’ll cover some of the other panels that were relevant to sailing in coming days…
Topic One – The positives and negatives of an organisation (brand, governing body or rights-holder) getting deeply involved in social media
The use of the phrase ‘Social Media’ means a lot of different things to different people. For many, it is a catch-all for a few well known sites like Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Twitter. For others, the definition is broader and includes web 2.0 enabled blogs and some gaming applications.
While there is no doubt that these platforms have a huge number of users, they are hyped a little by the media and those who work in the digital industry. Many sports organisations have reason to ask questions about the relative merit of different platforms, but I think that the time has come where the opportunities do outweigh the benefits.
To put this question into some historical perspective, rephrase the question to “what are the positives and negatives of getting a fax machine or a post box or publishing your switchboard number on your website.
According to figures presented by Comscore at the conference, Facebook is the largest site on mobile – bigger even than Google. This is no real surprise – mobile is a person to person communication media and Facebook is a person to person platform.
So to answer the question (something I was accused on Twitter of not doing on the panel)
Social Media is another channel. Another touchpoint. Another mechanism to listen to and communicate with partners, customers and fans. At the very least, these mechanisms make it more convenient for your fans to receive your news and content.
The listening part is important. While some may focus on the negatives of being open to criticism (See Negatives) others see that the feedback channel is a great way to improve the product, to understand what works and what doesn’t and to adapt to that feedback. This is another way of saying that the voices are a diverse set of opinions that are perhaps more useful than the groupthink of old white males that usually make the decisions.
Social media provides an immediacy that other media cannot. This is not just what fans are saying, it is what they are saying now, and in many cases their location can also be determined. The insights from social profiles and monitoring of sentiment in conversations provide a level of demographic information that traditional registration forms can’t match.
Finally, there are demonstrable benefits of using Social Media for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Obviously the more times your team, club, organisation or sponsor is mentioned on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc with a link back to your site, the more highly it will score with Google, Bing and the like. This will become even more important as Google moves to include real-time results in it’s search mechanism.
Many of the negatives associated with Social Media are actually not problems with the technology. A lot of the negative perceptions of social media come from a misunderstanding about the true nature of who is using it and how it is used.
It is true that anything negative will be amplified and accelerated by Social Media. A larger group of people will be exposed to comments and if the correct procedures are not in place then this can get out of control quickly.
Many of the negatives associated with Social Media can be fixed with good business practises and policies, so here are some of the issues to consider.
The use of social media when done properly will require resources that may not exist in the organisation. There is no point in doing it for the sake of doing it, if you are going to engage in a conversation with your most important stakeholders via this mechanism, then you need to show them that you are committed and you take it seriously.
I disagree with the sentiment that you can “throw a rock out the window, hit a teenager and get them to run your social media programme.” Better to invest in training the people who understand your business, its products and culture to represent you and your brands online.
Social Media is two way. This scares a lot of businesses who are worried about criticism. Many sports organisations, particularly governing bodies have a tendency to be faceless bureaucrats, sitting behind gatekeepers and policy. But here’s the thing – people will use social media to criticise you and your policies whether you are there or not. You can’t stop it. You can’t control it. You can’t spin it. The best that you can hope for is that you can influence key people via participating to see your point of view.