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In the Olympics of Social Media Use, Who Takes Home the Medals?

31 Mar, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Those who promote sports events know the importance of social media in connecting with athletes, as well as with the larger community, on multiple platforms.

A recent survey, however, shows which event owners are best at it. It also shows that as social media has matured, engagement and interactions with fans are more reliably measured, providing a better indicator of the success of a campaign.

If all this has you rolling your eyes, take a look at the 2019 International Sports Federation Social Media Ranking, assembled by Burson Cohn & Wolfe Sports Practice, which analyzes which governing bodies are leveraging social media best – and how they’re doing it.

Among the insights from the survey, which can be downloaded free of charge here, are the following:

Notable key findings this year include:

Instagram is king: Instagram was the platform with the most interactions and the greatest reach with younger audiences, including athletes, volunteers and fans. On average, international federations grew their Instagram accounts by 41 percent. Here are a few Insta facts:

  • Who grew their account the most?The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) grew its Instagram account by the largest margin with an increase of 71 percent, making it the biggest winner in this category.
  • Who’s the most popular on Instagram?In 2019, that would be World Rugby, which grew its followers to 1,277,697
  • Who has the most engagement?The single Instagram post with the most engagement came from the International Athletics Federation (IAAF, now known as World Athletics) with a total of 215,577 interactions.

But don’t count out Facebook: The survey showed that Facebook is the primary focus of most sports organizations’ social media efforts. Accordingly, here are a few facts there:

  • Facebook is still growing: In 2019, the 56 international federation accounts added 3,349,566 new users compared to 2018 and had an average growth rate of 11 percent.
  • Volleyball is still the biggest growth sector: FIVB once again took the lead and grew its followers by 63 percent from 2018 – not that far off from its Insta growth.
  • The popularity contest was won by basketball: The popular account remains with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) with 6,644,128 page likes.
  • They also had the most-interacted-with post: FIBA also had the post with the most engagement of the year, with a total of 19,193 interactions.

Twitter is different: The survey found that Twitter is generally used as a tool for sharing important news quickly, rather than being used for engaging with followers. Here’s how:

  • It had the smallest increase in followers: The 79internaational federation Twitter accounts had an average increase in followers by 17percent (Not surprisingly, the most growth came from badminton and volleyball, where the BWF and FIVB accounts each had a 56 percent and 32 percent follower growth.
  • FIFA had the biggest following of all: FIFA’s follower total was 13,188,132 – not surprising for a Women’s World Cup year.

Other platforms weren’t seen as being quite as valuable: The ‘big three’ (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) ruled social media use, leaving very little interest in two others mentioned in the study:

  • LinkedIn saw very little engagement, outside of use for business and recruiting work. (FIFA led LinkedIn use but had a little less than 131,000 followers – far less than the big three of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.)
  • Periscope, which is linked with moving-image content on Facebook, had slightly better luckacross all international federations. It was noted in the survey that federations who use moving content can generate more engagement.

One thing that has been noted repeatedly by those who have had social media success is that simply having an account and posting to it does not replace other forms of publicity. This article in SDMstresses the importance of being proactive, and of using various aspects of social media, including promotion of Facebook posts, in order to drive engagement. 

Additionally, social media should be looked at as a jumping-off point for engagement, according to Lars Haue-Pedersen, Burson Cohn & Wolfe Sports Practice Managing Director.

“Social media has become a fundamental part of any communications plan and it continues to be a strong driver in how sports organizations interact with fans and new audiences,” notes Haue-Pederson. “This year’s ranking highlights the importance of how social media is not only a platform for showcasing sport, but also the place where the true relationship with fans begins. It is the starting point where a community can be cultivated – and where users can contribute to a unique experience around sport. It will be interesting to see how online sport communities evolve and how international federations take the lead in this development.”

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