How to Develop Sponsored Fan Engagement that Keeps Sponsors Coming Back

What does the recap look like for your sponsored social media content?

It’s likely packed with the usual metrics — reach, comments, likes (‘engagement’), perhaps video views and completion rate, maybe even some audience demographics. And that’s great. But recognize that those metrics really only help the sponsor accomplish a couple of objectives — awareness and (more loosely) brand association.

But if the sponsor is investing in that partnership with your team or league and hoping to tie it to its bottom line, that’s going to be more challenging. Nick Lawson has been around the sports business for years and saw too many sponsorships churn over the years because of such limitations. When the partners assessed the effectiveness of their sponsorships to allocate budget, deals that delivered reach and awareness only were often the first on the chopping block.

Sponsors are trying to reach your fans, so, yeah, reach certainly matters. They want fans to interact with their brand, so engagement means something, too. But it’s after the reach and the engagement that the most value gets created and, even weeks or months later, can help a partner’s bottom line.

“…A lot of people forget, especially in sponsorship, the re-engagement,” said Lawson, who is co-founder and CEO of digital engagement platform SQWAD. “When you run a Facebook ad and you earn that email, even if somebody doesn’t make a purchase, you can create an audience that reengages that person who maybe put something in their cart. We didn’t have that in sponsorship [when Nick was coming up].”

These corporate partners are businesses with marketing and partnership budgets. Money spent on one avenue, like a team sponsorship, means taking away from another tactic to help drive sales or lead generation or whatever helps make money for the business in the short term and long term. That’s ultimately what the team is up against each cycle for a partnership, to prove that the ROI of the sponsorship is better than the ROI of spending that budget elsewhere. So it has to go beyond impressions, says Lawson, because when decision day comes, that’s what separates the indispensable from the rest.

“If you’re not giving a reason why return on investment a brand should come back with you, they’re gonna default to, ‘Okay, we’re gonna cut something, what’s it gonna be?,” said Lawson, whose SQWAD works with the biggest sports teams in the world. “Well, we don’t really need social impressions anymore. That’s kind of a vanity metric for us. So let’s cut everything that has social metrics.’ 

“If you have a thing that says, ‘Hey, we’re earning 1500 leads per month through this team. I can’t turn off that pipeline. That’s too important for my organization.”

It seems so clear and simple. But go back to that original question and envision what the sponsored social recap looks like across the board. Are those results that the partner can’t live without? That’s what Lawson is getting at, the results should be aligned with what the sponsor needs to accomplish. Sometimes that’s only awareness and the reach metrics look great. But if the way to maintain and grow the sponsorship goes beyond helping to drive awareness, you have to deliver more.

That can be a mindset shift, too, because engineering or delivering such measurement goes beyond the norm. The ‘typical’ sponsored social campaign still has a foundation of reach and engagement. It doesn’t have to be that way, Lawson told me.

“The tough thing becomes is just because [the sponsor] is not asking you for those numbers [that] doesn’t mean they’re not gonna make a decision based on, you showed that this social tweet got ‘X’ amount of views, if their north star metric was earning leads that means nothing to them,” he said. “And again, going back to if you’re not giving a reason why return on investment a brand should come back with you, they’re gonna default to, ‘Okay, we’re gonna cut something, what’s it gonna be? Well, we don’t really need social impressions anymore. That’s kind of a vanity metric for us. So let’s cut everything that has social metrics.’”

So what goes into developing a fan engagement post or platform for a sponsor? There are several ‘classics’ that one can find across teams and sports at all levels. Lawson and his team at SQWAD have spent years and built a business on, creating platforms that deliver results. That fans enjoy, want to engage with, and end up converting on. It doesn’t have to be rocket science; indeed some of SQWAD’s most popular activations include prediction contests and scratch-off sweepstakes. It’s all by design. Because successful concepts share a couple of key characteristics, Lawson explained.

“The first part of it is the activation should be fun and familiar,” he described. “Like, when we’re thinking of a new activation, the first thing is, is this fun? Would I actually have fun doing this? And that goes back to entering an email for a chance to win a jersey — is that fun? No. It’s only fun for one person because only one person wins a jersey. So the fun factor is very low on that. 

“And then familiar. I always go to this [idea] of somebody says, ‘Hey, there’s a new card game that I want to play with you.’ If they say it’s like ‘this,’ then I’m much more obliged to play than if they just say it’s a brand new one [and] have to teach you all the rules. So familiar is the second piece of it. Is it fun? Is it familiar?”

Including all of the business objectives, all sides prize one common goal — a positive fan experience. Engagement is a good sign of that, it’s a store of value. But don’t forget about the partner in the equation, find a way to ensure they’re getting some of that value, too. Include that in the recap.


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