Here’s a quick interview I did after a sports and social media panel at SES Chicago conference last week, touching on how the Boston Celtics use social media platforms to connect with fans around the world, and why collecting data is so important for brands on Facebook.
It’s always neat to get to talk to an NBA legend. It’s one of the perks of working for the 17-Time World Champions!
In this interview, I talked to 11-time NBA Champion Bill Russell about having a statue in his honor in the city of Boston, and why mentoring is so important to him.
If you think Google+ will never be able to compete with Facebook in social networking, guess what? Youâ€™re right.
Google is more interested in owning the search engine results market. And thatâ€™s what Google+ brand pages are really all about.
In fact, for brands that sell their products directly, Iâ€™d bet Google+ brand pages could become more important than Facebook fan pages. In case you missed it, after an initial false start at launch and months of speculation, Google+ finally opened the floodgates for brands today.
Google+ claims to have 40 million users, but itâ€™s unclear how many of those accounts are actually active. Anecdotal evidence â€“ my personal Google+ feed is repetitively filled by the same four or five users despite having 200+ in my circles â€“ suggests that most users signed up, checked it out once or twice, and never returned. Full disclosure: I logged on to Google+ for the first time in about a week today when the brand page announcement came down, and I do digital marketing and social media for a living. Itâ€™s my job to care, and Iâ€™ve had a hard time convincing myself that I should be logging in.
The first time I wrote about Google+, I maintained that Google+ accounts would be more competitive with LinkedIn, and more important for professionals looking to build their own personal brand. I still maintain that personal Google+ profiles will be important for that purpose, even if the service has already run out of friends to suggest for your Circles. But even if most Google+ user accounts are dormant, Google+ brand pages are going to become important quickly.
Google+ brand pages look a lot like Facebook fan pages, and hence, drew criticism from some corners for a lack of originality. Thatâ€™s a fair critique. But hereâ€™s what truly matters: Google+ pages, unlike your Facebook fan page, will actually generate traffic, because of a little thing called, um, Google. You know, the worldâ€™s biggest search engine?
The size of the Google+â€™s user base is irrelevant with regard to brand pages, because after all, Google is a search engine, not a social network. And Google is the undisputed king of search. Google enjoyed 65% of the U.S. search engine market in September 2011 according to ComScore.
Lost in all the hype around todayâ€™s announcement was the following paragraph from Googleâ€™s blog:
â€œPeople search on Google billions of times a day, and very often, they’re looking for businesses and brands. Today’s launch of Google+ Pages can help people transform their queries into meaningful connections, so we’re rolling out two ways to add pages to circles from Google search. The first is by including Google+ pages in search results, and the second is a new feature called Direct Connect.â€
As I suspected, Google is going to include Google+ pages in search results. In other words, if people are Googling for â€œBoston Celtics ticketsâ€, our new Boston Celtics Google+ brand page will show up in the results, presumably near the top. After all, doesnâ€™t Google have a vested interest in keeping its own traffic in house, on pages it controls, featuring ads it can sell? You can bet Google will eventually place advertising on G+ pages the same way Facebook places ads on your Facebook profile. After all, Google reported made $28 billion in ad revenue in 2010.
Thatâ€™s $28 billion. With a B.
Celtics.com is already one of the top organic search results for â€œBoston Celtics ticketsâ€, but secondary market ticket brokers, whoâ€™ve spent a fortune mastering SEO techniques, all rank highly thanks to both paid and organic search results alike. Obviously, we want Celtics.com to be the first destination for potential ticket buyers, but if a Google+ brand page is going to perform highly in search results, we need to be there too.
The power of Facebook is that it allows us to grab mindshare whenever we choose from fans whoâ€™ve opted-in to our Fan Page updates. Still, we canâ€™t force people to buy tickets just because we put an offer in front of them. More likely, when a fan actively wants to buy Celtics tickets, they will either visit our website, or Google something like â€œCeltics ticketsâ€. Presumably, our Google+ brand page will give us more control over the search result for that query, and give us a better chance to capture that customer whoâ€™s demonstrating buying intent.
As an added bonus, for those users who are active on Google+ and want to become a Boston Celtics follower, weâ€™ll be able to reach them there too, Facebook style, with status updates. I expect that content we publish on Google+ will eventually become more relevant in Googleâ€™s search results as well.
So, if you havenâ€™t set up your brandâ€™s Google+ page, what are you waiting for?
Congrats on keeping the Celtics site within the top 5 most trafficked (among NBA sites), whatâ€™s the key to that success?
Stringer: When I first joined the Celtics in 2005, our team was not a championship caliber squad on the court, yet Celtics.com was typically ranked in the top 10 NBA websites. Having a brand with 60 years of history, and now 17 championships, means that fan interest will always be strong.
That said, when I took the job, I made the decision to change our emphasis to content and started covering the team myself, something Celtics.com wasnâ€™t doing at the time. Most teams werenâ€™t doing it either. But I think that decision paid off and gave fans a reason to come to us for regular content about the team.
In â€™05-â€™06, we really started delivering content, news and information to our website as soon as we could post it, and we were routinely beating the local papers with team information. It forced them to adjust, and they initially werenâ€™t happy about it. Six years later, Twitter has taken that 10 steps further. Sports journalism has evolved drastically since I started with the team.
So true. Sports media has changed so much in even the past 2-3 years, the last 5 even more so. How has the 2008 NBA championship provided long term benefits for your organizationâ€™s: online presence, social media presence, ability to market offline, size of fanbase? What percentages of growth have you seen?
Stringer: Thereâ€™s no question that winning the NBA title in 2008 gave us a huge boost in terms of fan interest. We had our biggest season ever on Celtics.com in terms of traffic in 2010-11, and yet we only went two rounds deep in the NBA Playoffs. That said, before last year, traffic was trending downward, yet our social media audience was exploding. The reality is, fans are spending less time seeking out team websites and spend more time following your team via social media. So we need to be constantly providing news and information to fans on Facebook and Twitter because thatâ€™s where theyâ€™re spending and increasing amount of their time online.
Beyond Twitter and Facebook, what are your most useful/favorite social media sites. What do you find to be the best/worst aspects of: Digg, Stumble Upon, Delicious, Reddit
Stringer: I use Twitter as my own content curator to find things Iâ€™m interested in, and almost never use any of those other sites you mentioned here. Twitter always turns up great content for me, and I rarely go to ESPN.com or other websites anymore. I go to Twitter to seek out content from my peers and industry leaders, and I make an effort to share content that I think my own personal followers will find compelling. Thatâ€™s why Twitter is so important to me. Itâ€™s completely reinvented how most of us are consuming information.
Couldnâ€™t agree more, Twitter is really the only one I use, and I check it like 10-12 times a day.
Whatâ€™s your best advice to the web entrepreneur that seeks to use social media mostly to build traffic, not to build online relationships? Just posting links to the site isnâ€™t an advisable practice is it?
Stringer: You canâ€™t expect social media to deliver huge traffic numbers to a website, and if your economic model is based around page views, itâ€™s time to rethink it. People want headlines first and foremost, and rarely want to click and read. Unless youâ€™re the first to provide some exciting breaking news or unique content, youâ€™re not going to see click-throughs beyond 2-3% on a regular basis. Weâ€™re in the age of skimming right now; attention spans are getting shorter all the time.
I still enjoy reading and find plenty of great content on Twitter, but social media is not going to instantly deliver traffic to your website. You have to develop a pattern of delivering quality content on a regular basis, and should be working on creating ways to monetize your growing social audience because your website traffic will almost certainly drop if isnâ€™t already.
You do a lot of public speaking, what are some of the hottest topics of NBA discussion right now?
Stringer: Every time I speak about the Celticsâ€™ social media efforts, I always get asked about generating ROI in social media. Itâ€™s the number one question on peopleâ€™s mind. Itâ€™s something I spend a lot of time working on as well.
What are the basic requirements for any web companyâ€™s Social Media Strategy and Social Media Marketing plan?
Stringer: First things first: Have a strategy. Far too many companies are doing social but canâ€™t articulate a basic strategy. And second, Iâ€™d say you need to be constantly reading and learning about it, because this business is quickly evolving. Companies like Facebook are changing the rules constantly. What was true in social media last week may not be true next week. Itâ€™s your responsibility to stay current, and I spend a lot of time keeping up with the industry.
What would you change/add to that answer in regards to Sports Marketing and Sports Brand Management?
Stringer: Iâ€™d say that sports marketing and branding is increasingly becoming a technology issue. We reach millions more fans in the digital arena than weâ€™ll ever reach in the physical arena. So teams need to invest a lot more time, energy and strategy in digital as they look to market their team to fans all over the globe for the long term.
Tell us what SES attendees should expect during your panel session â€Social Media and Sportsâ€ with Scott Reifert, Bryan Srabian and Jamie Trecker.
Stringer: Iâ€™m looking forward to the panel. I met Bryan a few months back in San Francisco when I was in town, and Iâ€™m looking forward to connecting with Scott and Jamie as well. While Iâ€™m sure we wonâ€™t agree on everything, itâ€™s always great to exchange ideas about this stuff, and it should be a great discussion. Weâ€™ve all had unique experiences with large sports brands in great sports cities, so weâ€™ll all be bringing informed perspectives to the table.
Finally, athletes tweeting: pros and cons?
Stringer: What did Spidermanâ€™s uncle say? â€œWith great power comes great responsibility.â€ Athletes have a unique opportunity to connect with fans on their own time and in their own way with social media, but the pitfalls are dangerous and theyâ€™re inevitably going to make mistakes.
At this point, youâ€™d think theyâ€™d realize that anything they tweet is fair game, but it seems like every week athletes are re-learning this lesson. We live in a new age of transparency, and the walls that used to separate the star athlete from a common fan are quickly falling down. Used correctly, social media can be a great tool for athletes. But itâ€™s very easy for them to make a damaging mistake if they donâ€™t take it seriously.
Iâ€™ve done a bunch of social media panels, and a favorite query at these events goes something like this: â€œHow much is a Facebook fan worth?â€ Depending on which study you read, youâ€™ll see estimates ranging from a few dollars each to $120 dollars a head. And I always tell people, if the answer is anywhere near that $120 figure, I need to ask for a raise.
A large raise.
I canâ€™t give you a figure that tells me what each of the Boston Celticsâ€™ 5.5 million Facebook fans is worth, and honestly, if youâ€™re trying to write an algorithm that will answer the question, youâ€™re wasting your time.
Becoming a Facebook fan takes one click of the button. Itâ€™s not a commitment of time, energy or money. Not all Facebook fans are created equally. Some will complain you donâ€™t post enough. Others will unlike you once you start bombarding their News Feed with updates. And most will never even see your brilliant status updates thanks to Edge Rank, the formula Facebook uses to determine exactly what makes it to your News Feed in the first place.
Multiple studies suggest that most Facebook fans never return to your Fan Page after theyâ€™ve â€œLikedâ€ your brand. Iâ€™d argue many of them probably never even made it to your page at all. According to our Facebook Insights data, last month, only 13 percent of our new Facebook fans liked the Celtics from our Fan Page or a shared News Feed update. Seventy-three percent liked us from their own profile (organically, while filling out their interests) or saw our logo on a friendâ€™s profile and hit â€œLikeâ€ there.
The point is, your fans are coming in from many different angles. But profiles tend to be the leading source of â€œLikesâ€, so who likes you already has a large impact on who will to decide to â€œLikeâ€ you today and tomorrow. So a Like from a celebrityâ€™s page or another brand itself is probably far more valuable than one from Joe Schmo.
So whatâ€™s the true value of a Facebook fan? Hereâ€™s a better question: Whatâ€™s the lifetime value of a fan in your marketing database? How much will they spend on your products? You probably already have a metric for those database questions, and frankly, I think those are far more informative and important ROI metrics.
Still, since Facebook is the newest toy on the shelf, brands and their CMOs are more focused counting â€œLikesâ€, because itâ€™s an easy comparative metric. But digital marketers should really be focusing their energy on collecting demographic data from their Facebook fan base, regardless of its size.
What data can you glean? Insights is a good start if you havenâ€™t already looked, but it only tells part of the story. If you want some quick feedback, try posting a Facebook question to your fan base. If you want a more robust dataset, set up a Survey Monkey account, give your fans an incentive to fill out the form, and compose a survey they can complete in 5-10 minutes.
If you need still more data, you can go through the process of buying a Facebook ad, and start targeting your potential ad with various parameters, and Facebook will give you a real-time estimate of how many fans you reach. Make sure youâ€™re sorting by fans who are already fans of your brand. You donâ€™t have to actually buy that ad, but the targeting process is a quick and dirty way to figure out things like where your Facebook fans live, or get a percentage of their marital status. Itâ€™s not exact, and itâ€™s a little clunky, but with a bit of digging you can unearth some advanced metrics that Insights doesnâ€™t currently provide.
Finally, there are a few vendors out there who are working on aggregating data from multiple fan pages, and may be able to help you get a better picture of your overall Facebook audience.
Rather than worrying about the size of your fan page, or the value of a Facebook fan, why not spend some time learning about that fan base instead? In digital marketing, a little data goes a long way.
This piece originally appeared as a guest blog for the Social Media Club on November 4, 2011.