Six Easy Ways to Manage and Measure Social Media Analytics in Sports

By Ryan McGarvey and Dr. Peter Titlebaum, University of Dayton

Social media (SM) is a dominant player in the media, entertainment, and communication world. Photo via The Odyssey Online

Social media (SM) is a dominant player in the media, entertainment, and communication world. Photo via The Odyssey Online

Social media (SM) is a dominant player in the media, entertainment, and communication world. There are nearly 2.5 billion SM users worldwide, an already impressive figure estimated to grow to over 3 billion by 2020 (Statista, 2016). Individuals are not the only ones who frequent the most popular social media platforms. Businesses also have accounts to promote their own brand, connect with consumers on a closer level, and even sell their products/services to drive revenue.

SM has become such an important tool for marketers that capturing and utilizing the data coming from such activities is a must. While 41% of organizations are able to utilize SM data, only 15% can demonstrate a quantitative impact on their business, and 60% have trouble demonstrating Return on Investment (ROI). Quite simply, many SM account managers do not know how to interpret and apply the metrics. In an industry where over $7 billion was spent on SM in 2014, this is a major problem (Morrison, 2016). Without this connection, SM cannot be proven to be a valuable tool for businesses, and SM account managers cannot prove their worth to their companies. In order to demonstrate their effectiveness, SM account managers must learn how to utilize and interpret SM analytics.

This study uses the sports industry as an example of best practice in running an SM account and offers an effective method of approaching analytics. Twenty SM industry professionals from sporting goods brands, professional sports leagues, and professional sports teams were interviewed for their insights and expertise. Here are the six biggest takeaways from these conversations.

1. Know your purpose

Before creating any SM accounts and crafting any posts, businesses must have a clear purpose as to why they want to operate on SM. Jumping into SM without a plan would be foolish. The purpose provides the foundation and logic behind every single SM decision. It does not have to be specific, but can be broad. Among interview respondents, purposes/goals boiled down to four categories: brand awareness, fan engagement, revenue driver, and customer support.

Brand awareness and fan/consumer engagement were considered the number one goals among respondents. Business type and marketplace position dictated which one ranked highest.

For example, smaller groups such as Major League Lacrosse and sporting goods brands chose brand awareness, since they face intense competition in their respective fields and need to be in the forefront of consumers’ minds.

Larger groups like MLB and major professional sports teams value consumer engagement more since they are already established in the marketplace and want to add to the fan’s experience with their product.

Regardless of what was seen as a primary goal, driving revenue was a secondary goal among the majority of interview respondents. SM may not be the first or even second place a person will purchase products since SM is more communicative than commercial in nature. But, SM can still be a place to promote/develop brand image, and possibly sell products and services. While it is helpful as a tool for e-commerce, SM plays a larger role as a customer service tool.

SM managers use much of their time to respond to questions from customers/fans in hopes of resolving issues and developing deeper relationships. This is an underrated aspect of SM that has to be covered if a business wants to have a loyal customer base.

2. Define your Audience

When defining a purpose/goal for operating SM, targeting an audience sets the tone for where and how content will be created. In order to choose a proper target audience, a business must understand its consumer-base and industry. To illustrate the reasons why, consider this example that took place with two different interview respondents.

One ran an SM account for a golf equipment brand and another managed an SM account for basketball within the same brand. Despite the fact that they operate accounts for the same brand, they cater to different audiences due to the nature of their sport. Golf has an older audience and crafts its content accordingly. Basketball, meanwhile, attracts a younger audience.

The targeted demographic then influences what SM platforms a business should prioritize. If a business is targeting an older audience, then Facebook is the best fit. On the other hand, if a business is targeting a younger audience, then Instagram would be the most appropriate platform. However, the target audience is not the only thing that should determine platform choice.

The nature of the content to be posted should also be a factor in choosing SM platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have different strengths and should not be treated the same across the board. Facebook is very video friendly, Instagram is great for photography, and Twitter is best suited for quick communication. Businesses must look back at their purpose in using SM to help determine which platform is the most effective for them.

3. Picture what success looks like

“Success” means seeing that original purpose come to life and achieve its goal. “Success” can be measured through specific metrics that track SM user actions across each channel. This can be as simple as non-monetary measures, a “like,” or as complex as an assisted conversion.

These metrics, also known as analytics, demonstrate the performance of a business’ SM account.

Social media metrics is one area that challenges many businesses, since the types of metrics available and their meanings can be confusing. Different metrics might be used depending on the type of SM campaign. However, there are a few metrics that interview respondents consider to be generally helpful.

Non-monetary metrics universally valued are reach, engagement, and impressions. Reach is loosely defined as the total number of people that see SM posts. Engagement is an interaction between person and brand. Lastly, impressions count every interaction with the post. It is important to take all of these metrics into consideration, especially since they can tell a brand how well their content is resonating with their audience.

As for monetary measures, none is more important and divisive than Return on Investment (ROI). The reason why it is considered divisive is because SM, as mentioned earlier, is not commerce-friendly. Most posts are purely communicative in nature and not meant to sell a product/service. This makes it hard to determine a return on investment, however, ROI can still be calculated.

Interview respondents measure the cost of campaigns, technology, tools, and talent versus things like ticket sales, product sale promotions, and sponsorships.

According to several interview respondents, this is the most important metric to record since senior management wants to see SM’s value to the bottom line of this business.

4. Decide which Analytics Trackers should be Used

SM managers do not need to calculate these metrics by hand. Fortunately for them, there are analytics websites that can track this automatically. The issue here is similar to the one stated in the previous section: there are so many analytics sites that it is hard to determine which one is the correct one. In general, there are two types of tools used to evaluate SM metrics. The first type uses native analytics.

Native analytics are analytics housed within the social media site itself. Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram each provide their own reports that an account can utilize for free. Nearly all interview respondents mentioned they use native analytics to some degree.

The other direction SM managers can take their analytics reporting is to a third party site. Third party sites are often fee-based and tend to be more detailed with their reports. These fees are typically done on a monthly basis, and are dependent on the number of features the business needs and utilizes. Fees range from $9.99 a month to $500.00 a month.

The analytic sites most often utilized by interview respondents were Track Maven, Simply Measured, Rival IQ, Spredfast, Shareably, Crimson Hexagon, Crowd Tangle, SM Bakers, Adobe SM, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, Sysomos, Brand Watch, Percolate, and Quintly.

Regardless of what analytic site they use, SM managers most importantly check their metrics on a regular basis and share reports with senior management. This regular check-up helps identify trends, both good and bad, and allow for adjustments. In addition, they provide ongoing proof of SM value to the company or brand. Furthermore, regular review generates additional perspective at a broader level and encourages advice or ideas for new direction.

5. Buy-in from the top

The success of a business’ SM can only go as far as its senior management allows. Buy-in from the top is very important for the long-term success of the SM accounts. In such a fast-moving industry, senior managers must be flexible and willing to invest resources to help see SM grow and become a valuable tool for the business. If not, they run the risk falling behind in the eyes of their consumers.

Since the industry is still new and many senior managers grew up in a generation without SM, this is easier said than done. Education and regular check-in with senior management is vital for it to be taken seriously.

6. Social Media will grow and permeate traditional media

No matter how nimble the SM manager, they must be enabled to constantly adjust with the industry. SM is a fast moving industry, if you’re not ahead, you will easily fall behind. One interview respondent noted that SM is trending toward traditional media. SM will not only begin to be incorporated more with television, but SM will potentially play a role in future TV rights deals. SM managers should be aware of this transition and be prepared for how it affects their content and the way they look at analytics.

Social media is not going away. The more it infiltrates our personal and professional lives, the more important it is for us to understand the interrelationships between the available outlets and how to use them to obtain results. This is the importance of SM managers: backed by the support of their leadership, they must have a plan, routinely monitor the pulse of their SM accounts, and take action to implement strategies in order to have the greatest impact. SM is a powerful tool that should complement the overall company strategy and be used to value customer perception and engagement.

About the Authors:

Ryan McGarvey, soon to be a recent sport management graduate from the University of Dayton, with experience in Baseball/Softball Digital Marketing with Wilson Sporting Goods and with University of Dayton Sports Information Department.

Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, has more than 30 years' experience in management in the profit, nonprofit, private and public sectors. He speaks and writes on areas of networking, organizational and personal development, educating audiences to be their own advocates.

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