How to Get Major League Results From Social Media

social media case studiesThe San Francisco Giants have the most engaged fan base in Major League Baseball.

They’re recognized as social media standouts in the sports world.

But as recently as three years ago, they had no cohesive voice on social media and no social media strategy.

The Giants were a traditional organization in a traditional sport. In 2010, when they brought in Bryan Srabian as social media director, they were getting information to fans by broadcasting. Typically this meant holding press conferences and sending out press releases or email blasts.

But then Srabian had an “Aha!” moment. He was reading a book by Chris Brogan and then had a conversation with him on Twitter. “We don’t really talk to our fans at all,” he thought. But they could.

It was time for a new model based on listening and responding. But first they had to find out what fans were saying, and where they were getting their information.

giants fan base

San Francisco Giants fans are ranked the most engaged in Major League Baseball.

Organization: San Francisco Giants

Social Media Handles & Stats:

Highlights:

  • Ranked Most Engaged Fans in Major League Baseball by TicketCity, as reported in Forbes magazine
  • Routinely sell out 40,000 tickets for home games
  • Opened the AT&T Park @Cafe, the first social media headquarters at a major league ballpark, in June 2013
  • Social Media Night included a “rain globe” giveaway generated from a fan’s idea on social media

Sports teams have a social media advantage in that their customers are already fans. But that advantage is wasted if teams don’t harness the power of their existing community.

The Giants have become fan engagement experts by using hashtags strategically, working with existing fan sources, and listening and responding.

Use Hashtags Strategically

When Srabian started as social media director, there was no cohesive voice for the brand. Multiple Facebook pages had been started by different departments. Hashtags were being used on Twitter, but they weren’t consistent.

To confuse matters, the New York Giants football team had the Twitter handle @Giants, and were using the hashtag #Giants.

Hashtags are important in sports because every game is an event. Most of the conversation is about the event, not directed at the team or brand.

“Unless you come regularly, you know very few people at the game, but you’re still a part of a community. Using a hashtag is a way to bring those people together,” said Srabian.

The San Francisco Giants consolidated their Facebook pages, settled on the @SFGiants Twitter handle and the unifying hashtag #SFGiants.

A unifying hashtag also allows the team to get a better picture of the conversation. And since Facebook is now using hashtags, they will be even more important.

Srabian worked throughout the 2010-2011 season to get fans and the media consistently using the #SFGiants hashtag. “I basically would use that hashtag in every tweet,” Srabian said.

giants twitter hashtag

The San Francisco Giants consistently promote the #SFGiants hashtag.

They promoted the hashtag offline on their printed pocket schedule and on the scoreboard. By the end of the season, most fans and the media were using it.

Sometimes hashtags spring up organically from fans, in which case Srabian’s attitude is to be flexible and go with the flow.

That’s what happened last October during the playoffs when the Giants were down three games to one. Pitcher Barry Zito was on the schedule for the next game. A fan started the hashtag #RallyZito which took off until it was trending worldwide.

rally zito hashtag

The #RallyZito hashtag was fan-generated during the 2012 playoffs.

rally zito twitter hashtag

The fan-generated #RallyZito hashtag eventually reached No. 2 in worldwide trending.

Srabian quickly noticed the trend and used the @SFGiants account to promote it, even changing the official avatar for the occasion.

zito avatar

One of the creative Twitter avatars during the Giants' #RallyZito craze.

Work With Existing Fan Sources

When Srabian started, he did what he called “auditing the ecosystem” to find out where fans were getting their information. He found some influential bloggers, as well as a fan-run Twitter account that many fans thought was the official account.

Instead of sending cease and desist orders, Srabian reached out to them.

He realized that fans were turning to other sources because they weren’t getting what they wanted from the official team social media. “We have more content and more information than any of them, but if we’re not sharing it, we’re not doing a good job,” he said.

The fan-generated Twitter account was run by a season ticket holder. Srabian approached him and suggested they work together. They gave him access to the stadium and let the relationship evolve as the @SFGiants account ramped up.

giants fan account

The Giants worked with an existing fan Twitter account instead of shutting it down.

Srabian did the same with some influential bloggers, giving them media credentials.

“Our strategy was to have a relationship with them just like traditional media outlets,” he said. “Instead of shutting them down, here’s an interesting way to work with someone who was just basically a fan and wanted to work with us.”

One advantage of working with fan accounts is that they can talk about things the official channel can’t, such as trade rumors and speculations.

Srabian’s ecosystem audit did also uncover a few fake player accounts, which the team shut down.

Listen and Respond to Fans

After establishing the #SFGiants hashtag and determining where fans were getting information, the Giants focused on listening and responding to fans.

“We’re not going to respond to every tweet,” said Srabian, “but we get so much information and intel that every so often we get a lightbulb, something that helps us.”

When the promotion schedule is announced, for example, sometimes a particular promo will spark a conversation.

“You could almost predict which games were going to do well and which ones might need a little help,” from the chatter around promos, said Srabian.

wearable blanket promotion

The Giants’ wearable blanket promotion announcement generated buzz on Facebook.

Sometimes an idea takes hold with fans and comes to fruition in unexpected ways. During a pennant game, there was a moment when second baseman Marco Scutaro stood with arms outstretched in the rain. In the off-season a fan commented on the McCovey Chronicles blog that it would be cool to make a rain globe of that moment.

Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles wrote a post, “A simple request of the Giants’ marketing department,” proposing the team make the rain globe a reality.

“We had so many fans asking, ‘Did you see this?'” said Srabian, “that we decided to actually go ahead and make it.”

The rain globe was a giveaway at the recent Social Media Night. “We think we have good ideas, but our fans have great ideas,” Srabian said.

rain globe giveaway

The Giants made a fan’s rain globe idea into a giveaway on social media night.

An MLB.com video shows the idea’s evolution from a fan’s blog comment to the Social Media Night giveaway.

Another way the Giants are engaging fans is with their new @Cafe. It’s a social media cafe at center field with flat screens showing fan tweets and Instagram photos.

But ultimately, “You’ve got to listen more than you react,” on social media, said Srabian. “You can spend all the money you want on software, but just listening to what people say is critical.”

Your Turn

What do you think? How has your favorite sports team used social media? How can you apply the techniques of the San Francisco Giants to your business or event? Include your comments and questions below.

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About the Author, Louise Julig

Louise is Social Media Examiner’s case study writer. A freelance writer and former engineer, she has a passion for telling compelling true stories. Follow Louise on Twitter @LouiseJulig. Other posts by »




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  • Fernando Urkijo Cereceda

    Very nice article, hope to read more post on case-studies of great companies.

  • John Seal

    A big part I think is listening. Some companies don’t take the time to actually listen to their fans/customers. When you listen you will know how to better yourself and your fans experience.

  • bsrabian

    Thanks John. We’ve learned a lot from simply reading our fan comments and tweets.

  • Sarah Bauer

    What an engaging case study. I love this idea of listening to your audience and then taking action on their suggestions (and making those actions public) – I think it’s a strategy that can be applied at any business level. It shows that the company/team is truly listening, and wants to involve its audience as fellow collaborators for positive change.

  • AmandahBlackwell

    I like the idea of promoting a hashtag offline on marketing materials. Thanks for the tip!

  • Victoria Gates

    This was a really great article. Social Media is such a powerful tool when used right. It thrills your fans to know you listen and care about what they have to say when it makes sense.

  • helentonetti

    a great test case, really like the @cafe idea … will try to bring it to life as an idea for a client of mine (a chain of gyms) .. thanks

  • http://sproutsocial.com/features/social-media-engagement Sarah @ Sprout Social

    Very interesting tactics employed by the @SFGiants here! Thanks for the post, Louise. I think the snow globe idea is very telling of Sribian’s forward thinking. A brand might view this idea as obscure and unrelatable, but seeing an entire online community talk about it would prove otherwise. Listening to fans and using their ideas give huge credibility to a brand’s reputation!

  • Louise Julig

    Thank you for the kind words, @victoriagates:disqus . I am always amazed to see how different businesses are finding ways to make social media successful for themselves.

  • Louise Julig

    Thank you for the comments on the article. Bryan and the Giants are very good at listening to their large fan base and picking ways to show that their fans matter.

  • Louise Julig

    Glad you got a good idea out of it

  • Oremo Ochillo

    The Hashtag thing is huge. Now with Google+, Facebook and Twitter all accepting hashtags, it is so important to do research and have some type of strategy behind the hashtags that you use.

  • Amber H

    Great look at how a brand took a disorganized social media presence and turned it into a real platform to engage their fans. Kudos to Bryan Srabian for making it happen! I think the timeline is an important aspect of this story. People tend to fall into a trap and think that because social media is so instantaneous, results will be too. It seems that @SFGiants took a logical and measured approach, which then started producing big rewards.

  • http://www.entrepreneuronfire.com/ Kate Erickson

    Hi Louise! “Listen and respond to fans” – jackpot! Engagement is so important. Thank you for this very enjoyable and educational case study – love the Giants!

  • Louise Julig

    Thanks, @katelerickson:disqus – I’m glad you resonated with the story. Sometimes the advice for succeeding in social media sounds so basic it makes me wonder if it’s worth spelling out, but it never hurts to keep coming back to that.

  • Louise Julig

    I agree – and I liked Bryan’s metaphor of the ecosystem audit to learn where they stood before starting something new.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Bryan – Thanks so much for being part of this success story for our publication

  • http://www.edinburghtour.com/ Helen Adams

    This is a really inspiring article. Certainly many of us in tourism are still finding our feet with this relatively new set of marketing channels, but plenty of food for thought here. Thank you Louise (and San Francisco Giants!).

  • Michael Crocker

    Great article. As a sports team, you already have an engaged community that consists of fans. You don’t need to go out of your way to contact your target market and generate a following.

    They took advantage of this and established a great strategy of listening then responding. Cater to your customers. Understand what they want and deliver.

  • bsrabian

    Michael, it was truly an honor to be featured on your site, which I read daily. You’ve been such a great teacher to me and so many others. Thank you.

  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    Using hashtags can be a minefield for brands when done incorrectly.Luckily, there is a growing number of brands realizing real value from using hashtags by getting creative, using incentives, and finding a way to focus on broader conversations. And there’s no doubt,SF Giants is one of them.

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  • http://steadystrength.com/ Adam Pegg

    The hashtag tip is a big one for me. Gotta start doing that better. Thanks for the advice.

  • http://www.seomasterexpert.com/ Swapan Kumar

    Woww!! Aamzing tips to get more leagues from social media. I must appreciate the great efforts. Really a helpful post as always.

  • http://www.bloggerbonus.com/ Mukesh

    Informative post with lots of case studies, Hashtags are literately popular and help to trend the topics. Thanks for some unknown tricks.

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