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How the Celtics Glean Data and Social Media ROI from Facebook

I contributed my first guest opinion piece to the Sports Business Journal this week, explaining how the Boston Celtics are getting data and ROI out of Facebook with 3-Point Play, our basketball prediction game.

Celtics 3-Point Play

Celtics 3-Point Play was a first-of-its-kind NBA team Facebook application when it launched in 2009. It’s helped the Celtics collect data and drive ROI through database growth and ticket sales over the last three seasons.

The game is in its third season on our Facebook page, and it’s been a big success since launching in October 2009, when it was the first NBA team application on the social networking platform. The game has been tweaked a bit since then, and we recently integrated 3-Point Play into our pregame show’s broadcast to help drive signups.

I’ve presented on this topic at several conferences around the country (and even Australia!) over the past year or so, but figured that the case study would be valuable for professionals around the sports industry.

You have to have a Sports Business Journal subscription to read the piece, but if you’re serious about sports marketing, you already have one, right?

Sports Business Journal: Moving beyond like: How one team monetized Facebook base

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Mashable Covers Celtics on Pinterest

Mashable just did a write-up on Friday about the Celtics leading the pack of sports teams who’ve jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon.

The also talked to the New York Giants, fresh off their Super Bowl win, and Dan Harbison from the Portland Trail Blazers. Much like we try to be at the Celtics, Harbison and the Blazers are always ahead of the curve on this stuff.

Article: Pinsanity: How Sports Teams Are Winning on Pinterest

Also, if you missed it last week, I went into some depth here on this blog about our efforts at the Celtics on Pinterest.

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10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers

If you work in a marketing capacity for a professional sports team, you’re a target. You’re constantly bombarded by calls, emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests from complete strangers who want to sell you dime-a-dozen virtual products that won’t increase your bottom line, and are largely built on hype.

Countless companies are all selling the same vaporware solutions for problems that most teams don’t even understand, or frankly, don’t even exist. Because there’s a new headline on Mashable every day that tells us about the growing importance of social media, business development reps at vendors around the globe are relentless in their quest to reach new targets as they try to make commissions before their start-up goes belly-up.

The good news for vendors? It’s easier than ever to identify (read: stalk) brand marketing decision makers, as everyone’s got a LinkedIn profile, many of us have a Twitter account, and some even maintain a blog. (Oops!)

Cold Call Phone

Sports and brand marketers are accosted daily by vendors, especially in the digital space, all of whom seem to be selling the same thing.

The bad news? We may be easier to find, but we’re harder to reach. You’re all competing with each other for our limited attention. Our phones ring constantly. And your solution is not unique. I’ve probably been approached by 10 vendors in the last month with nearly identical products. If you’re like me, you don’t answer your desk phone unless the caller ID reveals a familiar name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely unsympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Being a salesman in the social media gold rush is a thankless job. Cold-calling people is no fun. Leaving voicemails is worse. But sports marketing professionals work crazy hours, even in the offseason. Our time is valuable. If we took every call and meeting, we’d never get anything done. So we have to be selective. In that spirit, here’s 10 tips for vendors attempting to pitch sports teams with their cutting-edge social media Swiss Army knives.

Do some research before you cold call. Don’t call a sports franchise with a million-plus fans on Facebook telling them that you can help them grow their social media fan base. Guess what? Big market teams–and even many small market teams–don’t need help with this. They’ve got fans all over the globe, and that fan base is already growing organically. Teams are unlikely to pay for growth when they can just watch the clock and watch their likes grow for free. You need a focused value proposition that you can succinctly articulate. Know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field, and prove you can generate some real world ROI, because we’ve already heard the same pitch from 20 companies just like yours.

Do some more research before you cold call. Don’t call trying to sell us a Facebook application if we’ve already got a Facebook application. Seems obvious, but it happens way too much. If you don’t have the time to check our fan and do some cursory research, why should we waste our time?

Our game schedule is available. Check it before calling. Calling at 4 pm on a game day is the easiest way to guarantee you’ll be leaving a voice mail. The front office is usually very busy on game day, and most of us are headed to the arena/stadium late in the afternoon. Every team’s game schedule is freely available on their website. Look it up. Pick an off day, or better yet, an off day when the team’s on a short road trip. Extended road trips = vacation days.

Keep voicemails and emails short and sweet. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch over voicemail in under 45 seconds, you need a new elevator pitch. Or try another elevator. Which reminds me, one of the best voice mails ever received at Boston Celtics HQ is from a vendor who introduces himself, then pauses, sneezes loudly (!), and continues on with his pitch for about 60 seconds. We listen to the first 10 seconds of this thing on speakerphone like once a quarter, and it always delivers the unintentional comedy goods.

“Hi, Keith…this is…EH…AH…ACHOU!…this is so-and-so and I want to tell you about…”

As for email, if you send six paragraphs, there’s no chance it’s getting read. In the age of skimming, who has time? Keep it short and sweet, and send a link for more info. Use a link to track whether we clicked through. (Um, I shouldn’t be telling you this…)

If we don’t respond after multiple attempts, don’t continue to harass us. Trust me, we got your email. And your voicemail. And your LinkedIn request. And your Twitter mention. There’s no need to forward us your second unreturned email and ask if we got it. If we’re interested, we’ll let you know. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Don’t exaggerate who’s using your product. The sports business is a small community. Most people who work at a team have worked for multiple teams, or across different leagues, and we do plenty of networking. So if you tell us you’re working with other pro teams, and we’re actually interested in your product, you can expect us to place a call to those teams to get feedback. And if by “working with another team” you mean “gave them a presentation” or “had a conference call with them”, we’ll find out in short order.

Last year, one vendor actually showed me a product demo during a WebEx with content customized for an NHL franchise, and intimated that they’d built a solution for said team. When I followed up with the hockey team, they were shocked and told me they’d never heard of the company. Needless to say, that’s where my conversation with said vendor ended.

Go to networking events and conferences. If you really want to get in front of a sports marketing executive, go to a conference where they’re attending or speaking. You’ll probably be able to meet them in person, and if nothing else, have a beer and chat about your product. People at conferences expect to do some networking, so it’s much better environment to try to make a connection. That said…

Manners are important. Don’t interrupt when we’re talking to someone else. I’ve had this happen multiple times after panels or presentations at conferences. I’ll be speaking directly to someone after a session, and a vendor who’s in a rush to leave the conference with my business card will interject – because their time is apparently more important than that of anyone else – and give me their card, expecting mine in return.

I always try my best to prevent the interruption (even if I can feel the intrusive stare from a vendor who’s looking for a chance to interrupt), but it’s an awkward situation for everyone and leaves a terrible first impression. It also usually earns your business card a trip to the circular file.

Teams spend big money on players, and small money on marketing technology. So teams aren’t going to drop $20,000 on a social media tool that they didn’t know existed yesterday. Sports teams operate with lean staffs on leaner marketing budgets. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there willing to work with teams for free or nearly free, because being able to put a team’s logo in your sales deck is worth far more than the $20,000 you’re trying to squeeze out of us for your “must-have” social media solution.

Try to do a deal with the league. Many successful software vendors who have multiple team clients managed to convince the league office that their software is unique and valuable, and cut a deal with the league for all 30 teams to have access to their software. If your product is truly unique, and has scale, you might be better off trying to approach the league first.

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Dabbling in Pinterest as an Early Adopter in Pro Sports

If you go to enough social media marketing conferences, you’ll start to hear the same anecdotes and see the same presentations multiple times. I’ve seen the legendary Old Spice viral campaign get name-checked by a dozen lazy, platitude-spitting speakers who probably drew up their PowerPoint on the plane the night before.

But at the recent Social Commerce Strategies show in Las Vegas last month, something new came up, and it came up more than once. Everyone was talking about something called Pinterest.

Celtics on Pinterest

Pinterest is the hottest new social networking site, and its user base skews as high as 97 percent female. The Boston Celtics are among a few early adopters in the professional sports industry.

I’d heard about the social media platform a few times before the conference, but in the course of two days in Vegas, I heard the word “Pinterest” more than I heard “Changing $500!”. So it became obvious that I needed to know more about Pinterest, aside from the basic idea that it was a social network dominated by women.

Given that the online fan base of the Boston Celtics, and presumably that of most professional sports teams, is about 75% male, Pinterest peaked my interest. Perhaps it’s a way to reach an underserved demographic? Pinterest’s user base is overwhelmingly dominated by women; it’s reportedly 97 percent female.

Upon my return to Boston, I launched a Pinterest page for the Celtics. Within an a few hours of pinning items like Celtics merchandise, players, Celtics Dancers and ticket packages, we’d picked up about 100 followers. After a Facebook and Twitter post later in the day, we were somewhere around 300 followers.

I posted another notice to our six million Facebook followers on Presidents Day, when many Americans probably spent their holiday planted in front of their home computers, and we doubled our audience within minutes.

As of this writing, we have over 650 followers. What does it all mean? It’s too early to tell now, but I tried to explain what we know about it so far to SportsDigita last week when they noticed the Celtics are among the few pro sports teams dabbling with the platform.

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Finding Some Value in Klout

One of the craziest arguments I’ve ever had about social media was a conversation in which someone tried to convince me that someday, my Klout score would be more important than my credit rating.

The day a Klout score prevents me from getting approved for a mortgage or car loan, I’ll be inclined to agree. I’m confident that day is not coming.

I’ve never been a believer in Klout, the service that claims to measure your online influence by assigning a 1-100 score based on your activity across multiple social networks. For many reasons, their system is incredibly flawed, even as they’ve continued to tweak their secret sauce formula for evaluating influence. Their constant tinkering has resulted in drastic score adjustments seemingly without reason, and Klout often concludes that you’re influential about nonsensical topics about which you’ve never discussed.


Klout assigns a score to twitter handles in an attempt to measure people’s influence across the social media landscape.

While I’m glad someone’s trying to measure and quantify online activity, I think Klout is way off, even when it comes to two of their top ranking profiles, @BarackObama (91) and @JustinBieber (100). For instance, how in the world is @BarackObama influential about Drone Music and Homebrewing? Or, for that matter, even Fascism? And in what universe is Justin Bieber an informed commentator concerning Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust? Klout made all of these claims on Sunday, February 19 when I looked up two of their highest-ranking accounts.

Currently, Klout thinks “Gym” and “College” are among the topics about which I’m allegedly influential, despite the fact that I can’t remember ever tweeting about a workout or academics. The closest thing I can recall mentioning would be a joke about a Shake Weight ad.

I’ve criticized Klout for their misrepresentation of influence on numerous occasions, but they’ve yet to fix the problem. Clearly their system is inherently flawed. But with that said, after watching this interview with Denise Blasevick (@AdvertGirl) on MSNBC where she explains how to use Klout to a reporter, maybe there is some value to keeping an eye on the service.

Denise isn’t caught up in her Klout score either, but she does see value in monitoring the topics about which Klout thinks she’s influential, even if the service is dead wrong.

Her point is important, because if Klout says you’re influential about dogs, uninformed strangers would have no reason to believe it’s untrue. So from the standpoint of brand management alone, you should probably keep tabs on Klout’s perception of your social media activity. And if nothing else, it may help you keep track of the topics about which you actually are tweeting.

“If I want to be influential about something in my industry – if I have a Green roofing company – then I want to make sure I’m tweeting about things that are helpful in that industry and then people will see me as an expert,” Blasevick told MSNBC in the interview posted above via YouTube.

She also point out that Klout is an effective way for small business owners to connect with niche tweeters and keep tabs on the competition, as it ranks its top 10 tweeters by topic over the trailing 90 days.

It won’t be valuable for tracking influencers in broad topics like “social media” – it shows you the same 10 people you’ve already heard of – but for something more specific like Cosmetics, it could be a resource to connect with online thought leaders in the space.

Overall, I still don’t put much clout in Klout, but Blasevick’s outlook made me take a second look. It’s probably worth keeping an eye on, but I’m not losing any sleep over Klout’s claims about my influence, good, bad or otherwise.