The Future of Social Media in Sports
The Internet technologies are developing in a rapid way across the globe. Nowadays, every third citizen of the world enjoys the network services. According to the experts, this share in the upcoming years will continue to grow. In fact, the social media is considered to be the most dynamic area of the internet activities. However, there is no coincidence, as they are the centre of dialogue of the users who themselves decide what kind of content they want to consume. The social media contributes to the establishment of contacts among the people, helps resolve issues, making new relationships, overcoming the geographical isolation. The following paper is aimed to provide the precise analysis of the social media as the marketing tool in the sports industry as well as discuss the future of social media in sports.
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The term social media refers to the Internet-based technologies, i.e. the channels and platforms for communication and exchange of content among the users, which include forums, blogs, social networking, photo and video-hosting as well as the platforms for co-creation. The main features and differences of social media include the following (Gentle, 2009):
- the unlimited interactive communications;
- the direct user participation in the generation and retransmission of media content;
- the high degree of involvement in the process;
- the maximum speed feedback;
- the user personalization.
- The practical experiences as well as the scientific researches show that the use of social media for business development is possible because of the following principles:
- the clear understanding of the goals and objectives;
- the correct definition of the target audience and its presence in the social media;
- the analysis of the opportunities and prospects;
- the development of a detailed communication strategies and indicators to measure performance;
- the implementation of the activities with the opportunity of the constant control and flexible response to the unplanned changes;
- the combination of fundamental theory, hard work as well as innovative and creative solutions.
Social Media has a number of advantages over other types of media. It is usually used to describe the new forms of communication with the content producers and consumers which has a factor of decisive importance for co-production of content by the users of the final product, when each user/ subscriber, for example, can serve as a commentator, reporter, photojournalist and / or editor of the service.
This includes a set of online technologies that allow users to communicate with each other. In fact, the communication can take many forms. The users can share their views, experiences and knowledge, interact with each other, establishing the contacts and sharing news, information, videos, photos, music and links.
The ultimate audience in social media is calculated taking into account both the primary number of users, i.e. those who met the message, where it was originally taken, and extended users, i.e. those who met a message after the activity of the primary users who shared the information with the audiences. The calculation of the audience of the blogs and other social media is made with the usage of the special credibility and readability counters and ratings as well as visitor statistics devices and external statistics. To assess the audience, there can be used the automated service monitoring and analysis of social media that receive data directly from the sites (Johnson, 2012).
Although the development of social media in sport as well as in other industries is still in its infancy, it can be said that there are a number of specific factors that may serve as catalysts for its development. In fact, there can be identified the following 11 factors:
The fans are interested in the interaction with the sport clubs. It is obvious that the sports fans are much more interested in the life of their favorite club, its players, home arena etc. This is also true for the interaction. The studies conducted in the sports field had obtained the answers from the respondents at the amount which exceeded the level of customer activity comparing to the surveys in other industries. Previously, many clubs interacted with their audience through a variety of fan organizations. The presence of social media allows them to organize the interaction in a simpler way. It allows to create a global community, through which the club is able to communicate with each individual fan (Yochai, 2006).
The fans believe that their opinion is important to the club. No one is surprised when the fans speak out about the actions of the coach, the players, the games, the decisions made by the top managers etc. In fact, in many cases the fans are expected to be heard. Sometimes the view of fans even influence decisions regarding the appointment and change of coach, the renaming of stadiums etc. For sports fans, the ability to express their opinion implies a part of being a fan concept as many of them see themselves as a piece of the club. It means that for them, the development of social media implies the next step in the development of relations with the favorite sports club.
The players and other prominent personalities of the club also try to communicate with the fans. In any other industry there are no so many people who mean so much to the fans from the personal point of view. The personal birthday greetings from one of the players or the answer to a question from the commercial director of the club have no analogues in other industries (Auer, 2011).
The fans express themselves and influence others. In fact, the sports fans are extremely happy to speak in favor of the club and sometimes against it. It is therefore evident that the sports industry can greatly increase the amount of dividends from the public comments about the club. The development of the social media can have a snowball effect as some fans will express their thoughts and thus influence others. Moreover, their number is considered to increase faster than with the absence of the social media.
The fans are easy to reach. The main source of information about the sports clubs is their websites. This is a great starting point for engaging fans into the social networks to increase the interactive communication and cooperation with the clubs. In addition, other business units can communicate with the fans through the media and even through direct marketing.
The clubs are becoming international. The assumption that the limited area is the basis for the formation of the club fans' community has lost its relevance. Any major sports club today is focused not only on the home region, but also on the outside audience. The clubs compete to see who can bite a bigger piece of the "worlds' cake". This significant shift in the orientations in the field of marketing and sales will push forward the development of the social media in the sports industry (Carr, 2012).
The emotional aspect has an important role in the fans support, while loyalty is considered to be a long-term concept. The studies have shown that 90% of sports fans had chosen the team they support until they became 10 years old, and quite a few of them has subsequently changed their preferences. This high level of brand loyalty means that sports clubs already have a good starting point for the use of social media in order to communicate with the audience. It means that the relationships of fans with the sports clubs go beyond a single purchase and are not short-term issue.
The new media are essential to the economic success of the sports clubs. In order to achieve the new geographically remote fans and increase the size of fan base, the clubs are increasingly turning to new ways of interaction. For many clubs is not a matter of choice, but it is the recognized need aimed to maintain competitiveness. Nowadays, the sufficiently high level of clubs spending requires the large sponsorship contracts which are impossible to get without having the large audience. The new media will soon play a key role in the process of communication and interaction between the sports club and its audience (Gladwell, 2012).
The social media are as mobile and flexible, as the nature of sport is. The games, interviews, news and updates are considered to be the issue which are the most interesting to the sports fans so that they want to have the constant access to them from anywhere in the world. In fact, sport is a great product to create applications for mobile phones. The only thing that should be improved implies the ability to get feedback from the fans through these applications.
The sports clubs are the large-scale brands, but these are usually small or medium businesses. In fact, the sports brands are among the largest in the world. It has been estimated that in smaller organizations it is easier to integrate social media into CRM-system than in corporations with several thousand of employees.
The fans and sponsors expect the development of social media. However, there is still a lot of clubs that do not recognize the need to develop social media and do not see their potential benefits. They do not understand why clubs need to engage with fans. Nevertheless, it should be noted that most clubs should understand that the world of sport does not exist in a vacuum, but it is part of a large world where social media is gaining momentum.
Recently, eMarketer rating agency provided the rate of the world's popular social networks. As expected, Facebook is still number one social networking site, which has half of the users who at least once a month use the network. And soon the number of users of Facebook may be close to 60 % of total Internet users. Google+ is considered to be the second in popularity among the users. It constitutes 26% of the entire internet audience. YouTube video hosting occupies the third place and possesses 25% of the entire internet audience. Twitter has an honorable fourth place among the micro blogging services.
The promotion of sports clubs or activities in the social networks allows to impact onto the target audience, choosing the site where the audience is presented and using the most appropriate ways of communication. In fact, the social media marketing includes many methods. The most popular of them imply the creation of brand communities, i.e. the creation of representations in social media, working with the blogosphere, reputation management, personal branding and unconventional SMM-promotion.
Social Media Marketing includes the work aimed to promote the client's site and its services on Internet resources. The SMM implies the accommodation of an unobtrusive, readily available information such as articles, photos, videos, polls, etc on various sites and services of the company in social networks. Thus, the user gets an interesting information about the sports event or the sports club. SMM purports to merge with the audience, which does not need to advertise the goods and services. It does not need a promoter, but it needs an expert.
In addition to Social Media Marketing, there can be used SMO, i.e. Social Media Optimization, which is a certain part of the SMM. Unlike SMM, SMO implies the network preparation to the emergence of the users and the correct selection of content. It is one of two methods to optimize websites, the other - search engine optimization or SEO. Their difference is that SEO is designed for search engines, while SMO is designed for social networking to bring traffic to the site of the client.
The social networks, especially Facebook, are being transformed into the real media, replacing an old press. The study of Pew Research Center, conducted in partnership with John S. and James L. Knight Foundation estimated that over the past few years, user-generated content (UGC) and social media has become a prominent phenomenon in the modern media environment. Their influence is beginning to be felt very quickly in journalism, social communication and many other areas related to the information and communication processes in society. However, the dynamics of growth of the number of producers and consumers and its share of media consumption and communication still does not correlate with the rate of formation of the universal business model, which would become the basis for creating a full-fledged branch of the media industry on the basis of UGCs. However, the abovementioned facts still prove that the future of the social media in sports is quite prosperous as it considered to become one of the key instruments of the communication and interaction.