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The NBA and Social Media — A Slam Dunk: Lessons for IR, PR and Other Communicators

Posted At: June 21, 2010 8:02 AM
by Cheryl Gale, managing partner and co-founder, March Communications

NBA teams and players are embarking on a savvy business move by embracing social media tools to gain more publicity and give fans more interaction — and the lessons for those of us in PR, financial communications and marketing are many.

Having an office right across the street from TD Garden, it’s safe to say that I’m aBoston Celtics fan. And just like most teams in the NBA, the Boston Celtics are using social media in an effort to increase team loyalty and revenues.

Fans can go to YouTube to see exclusive locker room footage and to Facebook to play an interactive stats prediction game called 3-Point Play. Thanks to Twitter, fans can follow seven Boston Celtics players. Want to know Ray Allen’s favorite gum? Fans following his Twitter handle, greenRAYn20, know he chews Big Red during the games.

Boston University advertising professor Chris Cakebread said in a Boston Globe article that it is smart for the Celtics to use social media as a marketing tool:

“The Celtics have a very affluent, techno-savvy fan base. They would be crazy not to do this as it reinforces their hipness as a sports franchise to their older fans…And this clearly helps reach their younger fans, who, the Celtics hope, will one day be wealthy and can afford to become season ticket-holders.”

The Celtics may be eager to be the basketball team with the largest social media presence, but the NBA wants to be social media’s leading sports league. Rather than restricting social media, the NBA is expanding its presence on social media websites. During the Celtics-Lakers Finals the NBA tested ways to use social media as a PR and marketing tool, such as creating a Facebook version of its online NBAStore and using SayNow to allow players to send voice messages to fans. Instead of banning Twitter, the NBA hosts TweetUps gatherings of Twitter users—featuring previous NBA players.

The NBA is embracing social media tools, a tactic that other leagues are not pursuing. In fact, the US Open banned twittering from the tennis courts, and the NFLhas a social media policy that prohibits tweeting 90 minutes before and after games. Luckily for Celtics fans, Ray Allen can tweet all he wants about gum.

Smart Business Moves: PR and IR Takeaways

The NBA and the Celtics recognize the business benefits that social media has to offer. Using social media allows businesses to build relationships with customers, find new partners and investors online, and increase brand awareness.

Businesses need to go where the customers are, and the customers are on social media sites. In December 2009, there were 248 million monthly users on the top eight social networks in the U.S., an increase of 41 percent from January 2009.Twitter had a 2,681 percent increase from 2008 to 2009.

Research shows that businesses and investors using social media experience successful results. JetBlue website visitors who also visited Twitter in July 2009 were 35 percent more likely to complete booking than visitors who did not go to Twitter.

In December, the PC firm Dell more than doubled its sales via Twitter to $6.5 million. Robert Williams, investor relations director at Dell, said that the investor mix checking the Dell Shares IR blog is 60 percent buy-side and 36 percent sell-side, underscoring that analysts and investors do use social media in research and information gathering.

Further highlighting the importance of social media, Q4 Web Systems reported that79 percent of the Fortune 100 are using one of the following SM tools: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or corporate blogs. Q4 also said 47 percent of institutional investors read financial blogs for investment research and ideas.

A business wanting to thrive and stay relevant should use the social media boom to its advantage. The NBA and Celtics know how to navigate the social media game.With the odds of success in their favor, why would businesses forfeit the chance to play?

Cheryl Gale is the managing partner and co-founder of March Communications. She has nearly 20 years of experience driving and executing global B2B and B2C public relations campaigns. Having spent half of her career in London and the other half in the U.S., Cheryl is well-versed in both the European and American business landscapes. Check out March’s company blog, PR Nonsense, or follow March on Twitter: @MarchPR.

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