It’s a new era and there’s no turning back. The attention of fans can’t be taken for granted. The saying that continues to stick with me years later, from James Royer – then with the Tampa Bay Lightning and now with the Kansas City Chiefs – is that we must earn the right to our fans.
Some preach this more than practice it, but the encouraging reality of today is that most have come to realize that more quality content leads to more engaged fans, who are more receptive to ads. More marketing dilutes the message, so content must lead the way.
This is the path the San Jose Earthquakes are treading, as they seek to foster and grow a fan base, while selling tickets, of course, and building a soccer community in San Jose. Quality content is the ‘bait,’ so to speak (though bait fans enjoy, regardless), and fans are driven to their website or social media posts, where, the Quakes hope, they convert. They notably use their real estate more so for messages from the team to their fans, as opposed to selling it to ads or sponsors.
““We rely heavily on web ads for our website. We have the leaderboard banners…(with) ticket-based ads (as opposed to selling that space to sponsors),” said Paul Dewhurst, the team’s Digital Marketing Strategist, who I recently spoke to for an interview. “It could be click here for the match guide, for tickets…On our website, we really drive fans to a match guide, a ticket link, a four-pack – to make sure they’re informed…”
But Dewhurst also discussed the falling traffic coming straight to the website, while seeing increased referrals from social media. However, when fans are consuming on social media, as opposed to the Quakes website, they’re not getting easy access to ticketing nor salient messaging from the club. This brings up a conundrum many teams will face — how much to ‘give away’ on social media with native content consumption versus driving fans back to your own real estate, your website, to consume it there.
“It’s a balance of both. We do want to provide readily (consumable) content for our fans…We also see the benefit of driving people back to the website for ticket opportunities and more information on the web that they won’t get on social media…,” said Dewhurst.
So when the Quakes unveiled a new feature content piece for this season, What Would Jimmy and Joe Do?, featuring former players and now team personalities Jimmy Conrad and Joe Cannon interacting with players, the club faced that very question of providing it in full for native consumption or giving fans a snack on social, and driving them back to the website for the full meal. Twitter’s video length limit, too, made this a fairly easy call, as the Quakes released a shortened version of their first episode on social media, and drove fans back to the site for the full version, where they’d also be exposed to the match and ticketing info the Quakes want to get in front of their fans. The nature of Instagram Stories and its swipe-up feature also fit the philosophy well, as Dewhurst noted the success there.
Dewhurst explained: “That’s definitely a big conversation for us is taking original content pieces, cutting it down, and redirecting fans back to our website [for the full piece]…In an effort to drive more fans to our website, where there’s so much more information that can help them out.”
Why do we create content? It’s a question that’s taken for granted, but there’s a reason for all of the social media posts, videos, interviews, GIFs, and graphics. Sure, it’s to inform and entertain, but it’s really about developing fans and driving those fans to take actions that ultimately lead back to the bottom line – business, sales, marketing.
Celebrate the viral posts, the content that gets great reach and engagement, but engineer pathways to the end goals. It’s not going to happen on a linear, direct path, but it’s not going to happen if you don’t help lead fans in that direction. So, yes, earn the right to market to your fans with great content and engagement, and then, well, expose them to marketing. The paradigm has changed and we’re all better for it.