Social media data, driver of the new age of commercial deals in sport and beyond

Russell Glenister, SnapRapid founder & CEO

Most marketers would agree that knowledge is power, or at least the essential building block for any successful campaign.

After all, it’s only when you truly understand what the target audience really thinks about a product, service, idea or proposition that you can build a campaign to help you reach specific objectives; to turn negativity into positivity, morph mere curiosity into burning interest and, ultimately, Make The Sale.

But while those responsible for marketing sports properties may understand and buy-into the whole knowledge, power confluence, there are few who have gone out of the way to apply that understanding to their own marketing objectives.

Maybe that’s because for many years there wasn’t that much knowledge around. As a promoter, club or league you had a basketful of sponsorship assets to sell and, usually, you agreed a price based on whatever exposure data could be mined from television viewing figures.

Sure, more go-ahead individuals and organisations might back that up with specially commissioned surveys to determine how fans felt about events and the brands which were associated with them but, even in what might be thought to be fairly supplicated properties, these were few and far between and rarely either scientific or truly representative.

So in effect the sports sponsorship element of an industry based on and supposedly hungry for knowledge was largely built on a lot of assumption peppered with a little guesswork.

But things have changed.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact that social media has had on the way the world communicates and the opportunities it has opened for brands to build new and different relationships with the public, by being a part of the hubbub of that conversation.

And critically, social media can be mined for data and knowledge in new and exciting ways which enable marketers to look at where brands are appearing, for how long, in what context, the sentiment around them and other conversations and entities they are linked to.

This is something I have been working on with the team at SnapRapid for the past year or so. Our first task was to develop proprietary software to track and value brand exposure in images and video across all social media platforms. It was something which nobody else could effectively deliver, but has now helped guide the industry away from guesswork towards real measurement and evaluation.

What really excites me, however, is how this technology – which has been used to track hundreds of brands involved with some of the hottest sports properties on earth – also produces a mass of granular data that deliver crystal clear, 360-degree pictures of how a brand is performing on social.

A recurring experience is the way the eyes – and minds – of prospective client’s light-up when they are first introduced to our client dashboard, which allows them to see how a brand is faring on social media at any time. It’s the detail which knocks-them-out. It’s not just that brands and logos were being seen by a certain number of people. The data goes much deeper, telling them who posted it, when, what it was of, its origin and click a button and they can see where it was originally posted and view it – there and then.

This is important because very few brands focus their marketing solely on sports sponsorship. They do whatever it takes to reach their objectives at any given time and if that means movie ads, experiential programmes, press ads or sponsoring a music festival then so be it.  And increasingly they are becoming accustomed to getting more and better data about social media value, data which enables them to understand how that value is generated and how to maximise it.

There’s a quote – apparently a common mis-quote in fact – from the sports movie Field of Dreams about the Chicago Black Sox scandal which has become part of the language of business: “If you build it, he will come.” Put another way, make something available and, if it’s up to the mark, it will generate its own demand.

The same is happening right now around social media data. The work that has been done, to help extract and analyse real data, means the Genie is out of the bottle and brands are beginning to understand that there is more data out there, more nuggets of high value knowledge than they had thought possible. But now they know it’s there, they are hungry for it.

It’s been built and they are coming. As Rob Wilson, a football finance expert, put it  when talking of the recent Pogba transfer back to Manchester United, “They’ve looked at doing new and innovative things, striving for that social media space…it’s to try and maximise exposure and dominated social media”. And domination of the special media space clearly requires access to the depth of data which enables a brand to really understand it.

This is sure to have a profound impact on the way that sports properties market themselves. Relying on TV data and crude armchair social media analysis won’t be enough. If one party has the data that enables them to make a case for their property based on social media positioning and value, others will simply have to follow or be left way, way behind.

The fact is that the ability to establish a value for the exposure a property affords its own brand and commercial partners on social media may be critically important, but it is really just the start.

Every study we have carried out – from the Premier League through Formula 1 to Grand Slam tennis and the NBA, suggests that there is a lot of social media value which is not being reflected in the size of the endorsement and sponsorship deals being done. That means there is money left on the table, money that properties want and need. So if all you want is a tool that helps you extract maximum value from endorsement or sponsor negotiations then that’s fine.

But that will not be enough in the socially driven world we live in, as Wilson also said, “The Pogba thing is synonymous with new media. It resonates with the new-age commercial deals”.

This is where the granularity of data kicks in. It takes us beyond the ball-park figures to the detail, to a real understanding of what is happening to an athlete or property and its associate brands across social media. It’s about more than Likes and Retweets, context and sentiment. It’s about how good the fit is and whether a deal makes commercial sense. Critically it is data that tells you what types of content are really working for partner brands, whether they are coming from official or secondary or fan-generated sources, the most effective times for posting meaningful content…. the list goes on.

So yes we do believe that knowledge is power and that data is the dynamo which generates it. That’s why our data scientists are continuing to develop new systems and techniques that enable us to identify trends and links which will help a property position and market itself more effectively.

It’s a fast moving space but one thing is certain. Brands are out there operating in a big wide world and receiving different sorts of data from many different sources – which in many sectors, is commonplace. They see social media as a cornerstone of sponsorship ROI and, quite rightly, demand the data that helps them justify investment and develop strategies.

The scary thing is that if sport doesn’t provide the data endorsers and sponsors demand, the chances are they will take at least some of their money elsewhere. There are plenty of agencies out there who will help brands create and then publish non-sports social content online, and could be happy to forgo the unproven pleasure of paying a rights fee in order to associate with a football club or tennis tournament.

Understanding the power and potential across social media could be the deal maker, or breaker if you don’t have it.

That’s where the future lies, so you better get with the program now.

brandsocial mediaSponsorship

Russell Glenister • 21st September 2016

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