If you are a sports fan or just know one, you know a fan’s passion for his or her team and favorite sport runs deep.  Trust me, I am a sports widow whose husband lives for his teams.   The growth of social media has given these rabid fans – as well as casual ones – a constant outlet to express their feelings about their team.  Once, these fans would call into their local sports radio station to express their joys and frustrations – and only other listeners would hear them.  Now, fans can join a team’s Facebook page, follow the Twitter feed of a team or favorite player, follow various blogs or create their own to express their feelings or provide information to other fans. 

Yet, while the fans have wider access, what’s in it for the teams? How can the teams tap into these passions in a way they haven’t before?   Is there a way that teams, the leagues and sponsors can use their fans’ social media interaction to help put more people in seats and generate more revenue?    Can the team create positive buzz, especially when they aren’t doing well?  The Cleveland Indians think so.  (see the link below) 

The Indians created a specific outlet and connection to social media gurus in their city.  The Tribe Social Suite, a 12-seat area with WIFI specifically for bloggers and social media users, is designed to create positive buzz.  Those that get placed in these seats are treated like more traditional media and provided with press kits, a media guide and press releases.  They are free to tweet, blog and communicate with their followers during the game.  The only caveat is they don’t get access to the players.  Part of the allure of social media is that you really can’t control it, and smartly, the Indians aren’t trying to control the message.  Instead, they are trying to use it to generate ticket sales and brand awareness.

They also are putting Twitter and Facebook to work.  There are special offers on the team’s Facebook site plus a partnership with and their AtBat’11 app to provide fans the option to check in at the ballpark to receive special discounts.

This is not a short-term strategy by any means, since PR and media of any kind takes time to build in a way that will convert positive feelings to ticket purchases.  However, the Indians are on the forefront for sports teams, and other organizations can learn from what Cleveland is doing.

Make Use of Your Brand Loyalists

CPG companies have been doing this for quite some time on Facebook, Twitter and brand websites.  Your loyal fans and buyers are your best advocates, so why not use them?  What’s more, giving a little love to these people will help them get over any disappointments they have had with your brand.  Sports teams are no different, although it helps when the team is winning.  Giving loyal customers incentives to get them to buy a product or a seat at a game is a great reward for being loyal, particularly when the fans are so frustrated with their team they don’t want to go and see them play .  It may be easier to get these lapsed customers back than trying to attract completely new ones.  Maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars should have been trying this the last few years as attendance dwindled.  New fans are great, too, but harder to get.  Cleveland is tapping into not only brand loyalists, but vocal advocates to promote the brand which the organization hopes results in getting more people in those seats.

One other point – you have to admit that getting to sit in the Social Media Suite is going to be considered cool among fans.  A devoted fan is going to love the experience.  These fans feel like they are now important VIPs.  They are elevated to their followers but also to the franchise in their eyes.  This experience will likely result in them becoming even more devoted. 

Accept You Can’t Control the Message

As I stated earlier, when brands try and control the message too much, they are seen as inauthentic.  The point of social media is to engage and interact with your customer, and if you are too controlling about what is posted or said, you will lose those wanting a true outlet to express how they feel about the product or to get information.  Interestingly, by putting these bloggers in seats and treating them with respect like other “official” media, it makes it harder for these bloggers to see the Indians in a negative light. 

Take Risks

OK, I admit this is hard for organizations to do when funds are low.  Going to more tried and true methods to incent purchase is the obvious strategy.  However, with risk often comes reward, and if you aren’t generating revenue the traditional way, then why not try something completely new?  Cleveland had little to lose and much to gain.  I have worked at organizations that were simply too afraid of what the consumer would say about their product to engage in true social media.  “What if they complain or say they hate the product?” my manager would ask.  Truthfully, I wanted to answer, “So what?”  But the real answer to her was that the point was to engage people in a conversation and provide restitution and a different product experience to move their opinion.  Consumers don’t want the usual “buy me” advertising message, regardless if it is a product, service or entertainment.  They want a voice and to interact, and to get there, you need to take risks.

Social Media is a Key Component to Good PR Strategy

Once upon a time PR was about press releases and media outreach.  It was about creating opportunities for someone to talk to the press about the brand and its initiatives to get the message out there.  PR folks would reach out to the media, schedule media tours, etc.  That still has its place, but social media has changed that landscape and media now means bloggers and online influencers as well.  While working on infant products, we found that there was no one more important to speak about our products than the mommy bloggers.  They got our message out faster and better than any advertising campaign.  They connected with their audience, provided free samples and became wonderful advocates for the products.  We made sure to allow moms to have a voice on the brand Facebook page if there was a product issue.  The Cleveland Indians recognize that media for them will go beyond the press in the press box.  Having someone say, “I had a great time at the Indians’ game yesterday.  This is better than I remember,” will go further than any advertising campaign.


   Example of a local Cleveland Blog talking about the Social Suite.

OK, but how does this really result in people putting their butts in the seats, you ask?  People want a good time and they want to root for their team.  This effort provides positive buzz about the team, which in turn provides people an incentive to go see the Indians.  They have also done something smart by creating discounts, incentives and offers for those that follow and participate in the social media.   The positive PR combined with sales incentives is the perfect combination to generate revenue.  Realistically, this will be something that will grow over time, but if they put in the right vehicles to measure the success, they can see what is working and what isn’t and how much revenue it is actually generating.  With those answers, they can tweak the format to ultimately drive a favorable ROI.

The good news for the Indians is that they are winning again which is going to start to fill the stadium, but with their added social media initiative they are in a win/win situation.  Word has it that it is working for the brand loyalists, but is slow to build for new fans.  It will be interesting to see if this idea catches on with other sports teams and how Cleveland expands and adjusts the program in the future.   Believe me, if the Red Sox start doing this my husband will be first in line to participate.  As a former sports writer he always dreamed of covering the Red Sox.  Stay tuned.


The Lessons of the Aflac Duck Voice – Part 2

by Susan Zweibaum on April 25, 2011

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons” Turning a Potential PR Disaster into a Great Consumer Promotion

In my previous post (click here to read Part I) I talked about the perils of a celebrity endorsement, using Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of the Aflac duck as a jumping off point.  In this post I am going to look at how Aflac found a way to create a terrific consumer promotion in the aftermath of the PR problems Mr. Gottfried created by his horrendous comments following the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Once Mr. Gottfried was fired and the PR folks dealt with the initial crisis management issues, Aflac needed to attend to a few issues.  First, they pulled the commercials containing his voice off the air.  Given that they apparently had a fairly strong media buy, they needed to quickly change their commercials.  They started airing an old silent movie version with no Aflac duck voice. 

With this done, they now had to find ways to revamp their image and create a new connection to their audience.  They could have just let the issue die, but the duck voice was a centerpiece of their advertising, and they weren’t about to create a new creative direction.  Additionally, they could have quietly found a new voice and let the whole affair slide by with no fanfare.  They instead chose a direction that would create significant positive buzz, generate consumer-generated content and directly involve the consumer in the brand. 

They created a consumer promotion to find the next voice of the Aflac duck.  To begin promoting the search, they used the silent movie commercial to send consumers to Aflac’s Facebook page to learn about the contest.  They used to help them collect potential candidates for a contest that included both professionals and amateurs.  They also set up a microsite where consumers could go to get additional information.  What’s more, Aflac clearly stated that they didn’t want a Gilbert Gottfried imitator; they wanted a unique voice and interpretation.  They evaluated these potential voices through auditions in 6 cities and through the online submissions.

So, what is so great about what they did? A few things:

  1. Effective Crisis Management:  They took swift action in the form of crisis management and executed with a well-thought-out plan.  It wasn’t highly reactive and yet very effective.  They distanced themselves from the problem and swiftly put actions into place to show how they were moving forward away from the issues.
  2. Tying the Crisis Management to Promotion:  Aflac turned a negative experience into a fun and consumer-interactive promotion.  They created a contest where you, the consumer, could be the new Aflac voice.  Now the focus was no longer Gilbert Gottfried, but the brand and how they were doing something new and cool.
  3. Creating an Integrated Promotion:  Aflac smartly created a promotion with multiple touchpoints .  These touchpoints included a microsite, social media outreach through Facebook and Twitter, PR and national advertising.  Everything tied together.  The PR was exceptionally well done with both print, online and TV stories talking about the contest and the new voice of Aflac.
  4. Continuing the Connection:   The contest is now over, so the question is how to keep the conversation going.  They will first generate additional publicity when they announce who the new voice is.  They have also taken their Facebook page and made the focus donations to Japan to help support the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.  This does a couple of things – A) shows compassion and outreach to a key customer base (remember 75% of Aflac’s business is in Asia); and B) distances themselves from the negative image of the company Mr. Gottfried potentially inflicted on them. 

A few years ago I participated in some similar situations as Aflac has encountered.  The hardest one was the issue surrounding BPA and its use in baby bottles.  We, too, had to come up with a quick plan, but one that would create goodwill and positive promotion.  In our case, we gave away one million BPA-free baby bottles.  It was ambitious, but the move put our company on top as a proactive manufacturer who cared about our consumers.  We used the same principles that Aflac did, and it worked very effectively. 

Crisis management is tricky, and some issues are more serious than others, especially when you may be dealing with health concerns from a product recall.  In Aflac’s case, it was more about consumer perception of the company, but by initiating a strong and well-thought-out plan, they were successful in changing the conversation to one that put them in a very positive light.


Social Media is More Than Facebook and Twitter

March 8, 2011

Like almost everyone else I am a member of Facebook and recently I started posting on Twitter as a way to drive interest and views to this blog.  I post on LinkedIn.  Yes, I am engaging in social media and I am using it to promote myself and my business.  As an entrepreneur with a […]

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Social Media and Your Neighborhood Cheese Shop

February 23, 2011

Recently, I have started “friending” some of my favorite local stores that I go to repeatedly.  I had been slow to the practice wondering what the point was (I am not one of those early adopters), but have discovered that I like seeing the updates of the “special of the week” or announcement of a […]

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