Sports Fans: The Ultimate Social Influencers

sporting events are perhaps the perfect opportunity for marketers to reach their core audience and create buzz around new products and events through popular and influential fans or celebrities.

It’s well-known that sports fans are some of the most dedicated, passionate, and — dare we say — shameless fans out there. Any group of people with members who will make a pitcher want to cry or pay $8,000 for used dentures deserves the honor of being called the most passionate, don’t you think?

While these fans are already extremely invested in their favorite teams and athletes in real life, they’re becoming more and more passionate online, too. Research indicates that social media users are most active during sporting events, and 45 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds follow sports teams or athletes online. They engage with and look up to influencers within the sporting world — both journalists and players alike — to inform their brand relationships and purchases.

That being said, sporting events are perhaps the perfect opportunity for marketers to reach their core audience and create buzz around new products and events through popular and influential fans or celebrities. But be careful: The average fan’s fanaticism also translates into suspicion toward branded content. And if you’re disingenuous or choose the wrong sports figure endorser, they won’t think twice before kicking your brand to the curb.

Influence vs. Popularity in Sports Marketing

Influence is one of the hottest trends in social media marketing. But its effectiveness isn’t a simple equation of content or crowds, and fortunately, it isn’t a popularity game, either. The number of followers someone has on Twitter or Facebook isn’t indicative of his influence over the public in general or a particular group. You can put your checkbook away — you don’t have to hire one of the top 10 influencers in the sports business to see results.

Instead, you must connect your content with lesser-known pockets of influence (think micro- to mid-level folks) to actually spread your ideas. To do that, you need to identify and connect with the right influencers for your target audience. Here’s how:

1.) Search for relevance, reach, and resonance. The best fit for your fan base will be the influencer who hits three important criteria: relevance, reach, and resonance. That means this influencer talks the most about your industry, has the most followers listening and being influenced by what he says, and inspires the most discussion around published posts.

These could well be the more popular macro influencers (celebrities, for instance) with loads of followers, but more than likely, you will discover lesser-known influencers who can do just as well or better when it comes to convincing their audience to take note of your brand.

A snapshot of 'car racing' influencers- including those mid-level and micro influencers who aren't as well-known as celebrities.

A snapshot of ‘car racing’ influencers- including those mid-level and micro influencers who aren’t as well-known as celebrities.

2.) Nurture an authentic relationship. When you’ve identified an influencer with the relevance, reach, and resonance you’re looking for, it’s time to foster a genuine relationship. Build trust by promoting the influencer’s companies, books, and brands. Engage with the person on social media to see whether the water is warm. Then, make contact about partnering for a particular campaign or promotion. If you nurture the relationship in the right way, you might not have to ask for anything, and he’ll organically promote your brand on his own (but not before a lot of hard work on your end).

Budweiser pulled off this kind of campaign when it sent two soccer fan influencers to a World Cup match to join the celebration and snap pictures for Instagram. The influencers created a real-life experience for every single one of their Instagram followers (and they had a lot!), generating great exposure for the beer brand.

3.) Look outside your core vertical. Sports fans are complex and have many competing interests and tastes. An interest in Formula 1 might easily lead to an interest in NASCAR, or an interest in rock climbing might cross over into CrossFit. If you try to permanently segment your audience into one vertical, you might inadvertently limit your potential.

For example, the F1 core vertical is car racing. However, the F1 marketing team could look beyond the car vertical and explore other types of racing, such as MotoGP. You could also identify fans who are obsessed with the bands that will be playing during the F1 weekend and offer them a meet-and-greet with the band members, along with front-row seats to the concert. There are many influencers in many verticals. As a marketer, it’s your job to find and nurture them.

4.) Choose your metrics carefully. Rather than taking your social media metrics at face value, do a little digging. Compare tallies of followers and “likes” with more business-related metrics and objectives. Are you getting more blog followers or web traffic since you launched your influencer campaign? Are more people downloading your videos? Is sentiment up or down? Companies like ours are developing algorithms to help standardize social influence by gauging individual social activity and reactions, rather than just likes and follows.

Influencers build excitement and, most importantly, action in people who have not yet been convinced of how great your brand might be, and there’s great potential to yield amazing brand benefits. Simply align your marketing efforts with the most targeted, authentic influencers possible to earn the biggest bang for your marketing buck.

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