Social media marketing in the sports sector: strategies, best practices, new trend

Social media marketing in the sports sector has assumed a central role, and is in constant change (we talked about it here). In this article, we will see some best practices and new trends to inspire your strategies.

Let’s start with a number: 3.6 billion. This is the number of social network users, according to the latest estimates. In 2010, this number was less than 1 billion. However, by 2025, this number is estimated to break 4.4 billion (statista.com). These numbers, and this trend, make it clear why social media plays a central role in marketing and customer care strategies in any industry. The sports industry is no exception.

Let’s say it loud and clear: social media marketing in the sports sector is essential.

For any brand in the sector today, not being on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (but also on emerging platforms like TikTok) is practically equivalent to not existing at all. It’s on social media that new customers come looking for you; it is there that the decisive games of engagement and loyalty are played out; it’s where you build a consistent image and reputation, where you are both ”identifiable” but also in step with the constant changes; finally, it’s where you get to know your audience even better and you can establish a direct dialog between your company and your customers.

It’s clear: it’s not enough to be on social networks. 

But you still have to be there, and it’s important to know how to be there so that you can be recognized among the millions of other companies and that’s anything but easy and obvious. At the same time, then, it is also necessary to be authentic — to have a coherent, modern image that is capable of evolving over time as times and contexts change.

We repeat: it’s anything but easy and obvious. There is no universal recipe that is valid and effective for everyone: don’t be fooled by those who claim otherwise.

There are, however, some strong points, some best practices, and some new trends on which you can build a solid and successful social media marketing strategy in the sports sector.

We will focus on these pillars for the rest of this post, dividing it into three parts (strong points, best practices, and new trends).

 

The strong points: the right causes, the right people, the right voice

Let’s start with the “right causes”.

The sports sector is one capable of mobilizing enormous amounts of money, in all parts of the world. But it has another great wealth: it is able to mobilize huge numbers of diverse groups of people and to do so in depth.

The players (and the term, in this case, is not random) of the sector know it well. And they know that it is essential to connect to your audience even when you leave the narrow sphere of your business, or business in general. In this sense, social networks are an ideal tool. For brands, it is also about creating a world of “shared values”, between the brand and its “fans”. You can do it in many ways, but one of the best ways is through the support of social, humanitarian, or environmental causes, those that are in line with the mission and vision of the company. 

The most immediate examples, in this regard, can be found by looking at some of the great sports personalities (men and women who are comparable, in every respect, to real “companies”). Think of the swimmer Michael Phelps, with The Michael Phelps Foundation, which works to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle (michaelphelpsfoundation.org); or the Brazilian footballer Neymar, who is committed to the fight against Ebola and for clean drinking water in Brazil (washfunders.org); or the tennis player Serena Williams, who has been involved in the fight against gender equality and discrimination (looktothestars.org).

All this brings us to the second sub-theme of this paragraph: “the right people”.

Keep this in mind, because it is a really central point for social media marketing in the sports sector. And it involves two sides: the one of who “launches the messages” (i.e. the brand and its testimonials) and the one of who “receives them” (the audience, the target, the fans).

The first side includes the growing importance of influencers, who can be stars of the caliber of Cristiano Ronaldo (who has more than 200 million followers on Instagram. In comparison, Juventus, his team, has just 42 million; Nike, one of the brands where he serves as a spokesman, has “only” 120 million followers). However, influencers aren’t just celebrities, they can be originally people with a very specific, active, and loyal audience. These are known as micro-influencers, a phenomenon in constant growth, and one that companies must keep an eye on.

The theme of the “right people”, however, is also central to the brand’s audience. On social networks, you can collect huge amounts of data about your fans; where they live, how old they are, their preferences, their behaviors, their needs. In short, social networks are a precious basin of Big Data; by collecting and analyzing them, the brands in the sector can really know their target, they can segment it into increasingly limited clusters, so as to hit each of them with “tailored” communications and operations (for further information on the role of Big Data in sports marketing, we refer you to this article).

This goes as far as personalization. Knowing the person to whom we turn, therefore, allows us to choose the “right voice” (the third sub-theme) and to put on track a truly personalized and one-to-one marketing.

 

Best practices: touchpoints, video, conversion

Touchpoints are the points of contact, the dialog boxes that open between companies and customers. They are decisive and delicate moments. 

The main opportunities for marketing, customer care improvement, engagement, but also the conversion rate, are played here. However, slippery areas — places where you can lose customers — also lie within these same touchpoints.

Social networks have become one of the main touchpoints between companies and users: for this reason, they need to be monitored with enormous attention and, again, be as personalized as possible.

And, they’ve become an important stage in everyone’s customer journey. 55% of people purchase goods and services only after having done research on social media (blog.marketo.com). According to a Forbes survey, as many as 78% of people say that their choices are strongly influenced by the Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages of the brands they turn to (source).

So, the question is, what kind of media works best on social media? Here the answer is simple and clear: it’s video

According to the latest statistics, social media posts that contain videos have 48% greater visibility (source) and have a higher sharing rate of 1200% (learn.g2.com); not surprisingly, 81% of brands prefer to use social media (and Facebook in particular) just to post videos (buffer.com).

Now, one of the most important and delicate best practices: don’t be in a rush when it comes to conversions. On the contrary, an excess of enthusiasm could produce the opposite effect. It is better to have a long-term strategy, to continuously establish and strengthen the relationship with your fans (and your audience in general), to be patient and not be pushy or intrusive. 

In short, it’s not worthwhile to bombard your target customers by repeating the single message of “buy!” That’s not how it works. Instead, start by building loyalty, a positive affinity with your brand. Conversion must always be the end of a path.

 

New trends: the growth of the female audience, the new role of eSports, the frontiers of Augmented Reality

Investigating new trends in such a dynamic and constantly changing field as social media marketing in the sports sector is not easy, and it can be a short term operation.

With this in mind, let’s look at 3 solid trends that will not disappear within a few months.

The first one is related to the increase in the number of females interested in sports, sporting events, and brands in the sector. For example, think of the unprecedented interest generated by the recent women’s soccer World Cup, a sport that until recently was a sport with mostly male fans (marketingweek.com).

The antennas should also be tuned to growth — in terms of audience, interest, and turnover — of the emerging eSports market, which allows, among other things, to tap into the valuable market of younger consumer groups. For example: the 2018 FIFA World Cup had McDonald’s, Hyundai, and Allianz among its sponsors (esports.gazzetta.it).

Finally, here is a very “futuristic” trend: Augmented Reality. Its applications in the social sphere will be many, and the field is still to be explored. But we’ve already seen some of the first interesting experiments: the Dallas Cowboys football team, for example, has set up the project “Pose with Pros” (vrscout.com): an Augmented Reality space, set up directly at the stadium, where fans can take a picture with their favorite player (…or at least with his hologram!).

In conclusion: social media marketing in the sports sector is essential. But it’s also delicate. Marketers have to find the right balance between “being authentic” and being open to the external context and its changes: it’s a balance that has a lot to do with people and personalization.