The work that Major League Baseball clubs are outing into finding ways to activate and engage in the social media space is growing every day, and leading that charge is the San Francisco Giants. While it may seem at the outset that San Francisco, not that far removed from their first World Championship and sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, should be the leader, it does take a commitment not just to adopt practices but to be innovative.
The latest innovation came a few weeks ago, when the Giants joined with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to create a series of Public Service Announcements using players Buster Posey and Ryan Vogelsong to explain the value of ratings on video games. The campaign shows the Giants struggling against the kids in a video game match. Posey then realizes it isn’t his type of game and then goes into the message reminding parents to check their kids’ video game ratings. The campaign is a great example of how the team can link kids, a partner (they have Sony PlayStation as a sponsor) social media , responsible and engaging athletes and a cause together in a very positive program. It was the first time that the ESRB has used an MLB team to deliver the ratings message, following successful campaigns with the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks and the New Orleans Saints, according to Eliot Mizrachi of the ESRB.
How are the Giants successful leaders with programs like this and many others, we caught up with San Fran’s Director of Social Media Bryan Srabian to find out.
No matter what the record, World Champions or non-playoffs, the Giants seem to have been a team more willing than most in baseball to find unique ways to engage with fans in the digital space. Why and where does that direction come from?
It all starts at the top. The Giants have always wanted to push the envelope when it comes to technology and finding ways to better serve and connect with our fans. The Giants were the 1st team to have free wi-fi throughout the ballpark. The Giants were the 1st team to fully embrace Dynamic Pricing. The environment has always been one to not be afraid to embrace innovation and try new things. In 2010, I was given the challenge of creating a social media strategy as well as building a digital community. As you allude in the next question, being in San Francisco, we have to stay on top of the curve. Some of our promotions and events reflect the way we try to engage with fans. Whether it’s Bruce Lee Tribute Night, Star Wars Night, Grateful Dead Night, the organization is always looking for vehicles to connect with fans, and that attitude transfers to the digital space.
How significant is it that the team is Silicon Valley based? Does that make the brand privy to more innovative ways to engage or does it not matter?
If you take a walk around the neighborhood of AT&T Park, you are 10 minutes away from Twitter HQ, Instagram HQ, Klout HQ, just to name a few. We are surrounded by an amazing community of tech powerhouses. Most of these tech titans are Giants fans, whether they are sponsors, partners, or just want to brainstorm ideas with us. We definitely embrace being in such an innovative and forward thinking community and are always welcome to see how we can continue to improve to help the Giants win on the field and off. Some of my best meetings are at local coffee houses trading ideas and learning what is new, whether we can use it or not.
What have been the two or three programs that have worked the best?
One program that has truly been a game changer for the Giants has been our Dynamic Pricing Ticket model. We have one of the best Ticket VPs in the country (Russ Stanley) and with the help of a company out of Austin, TX (QCue) and partnership with MLBAM, the Giants became the 1st team to fully integrate Dynamic Pricing into every game, every section of the stadium. Not only has this helped the Giants increase revenue, but also helped fuel a consecutive sellout streak (105) and make many seats starting at $8, which opens the door to a number of fans to come to the Ballpark.
From my perspective, our use of Twitter has been a game changer. I obviously live on Twitter and work closely with our media relations team to keep our fans connected 24/7 to the team with breaking news, first to get lineups, interesting and behind the scenes photos and contests. It also has helped the Giants get real time feedback and serve as a continuous focus group. We are able to react from feedback about the fan experience and better serve our fans. We just started a new twitter account (@SFG_Stats) that creates realtime stats throughout the game for our more connected fans. We would like to explore other uses of twitter, but overall we continue to grow our numbers, but more importantly, connect further with our fans on Twitter.
What has been the best feedback you have received from fans in growing how you engage with them?
The most rewarding is probably the fans who appreciate the fact that we listen to them and respond to them. Sometimes it is as simple as THANK YOU for Following the @SFGiants, and other times we help solve problems or answer a question. I think that is probably the most valuable opportunity we have with social media is to Listen to our fans and to respond to them. Metrics are always important, but the one on one relationships we have created and the stories from those are what we take pride in. We also get positive feedback when we are having more fun on social side. Being witty, trying to capture the emotion of the moment, sometimes you have to be a fan yourself. Coming up with a witty tweet or cool photo, again, showing your human side, giving your brand a voice. This is where being creative with the tools can take you to the next level.
What brands do you think do the best job in general in activating in the digital space and why?
I have my eye on lots of different brands in the digital space. I think Virgin America does an amazing job with capturing the voice of their brand, engaging with fans, and continuing to try new promotions in this space. They are a sponsor of the Giants so I do have the honor of working with them on various projects, but regardless of that, their twitter account is one of the most active of any brand. They post flash fares on their Twitter/Facebook accounts, they reward fans offline and use digital platforms to drive their fans to those activities. They got social media very early and it shows. I really like what they do in this space and continue to push the envelope.
Are there teams in other sports, nationally or globally, that you think do a more innovative job than most?
I think a lot of us in this space admire each others work in different areas and we all have specific challenges related to our leagues and our sport/team. Obviously when you win a world series or a super bowl, it gives you a huge advantage. When your team is in a big media market, it gives you a huge advantage. I am getting tired of reading blogs on “WHO’S WINNING IN SOCIAL MEDIA” and focus solely on growth numbers of followers/fans. Obviously that is one metric we watch, but not the only one. I just read a great article on the Cubs and their latest tweetUp. That team has done a great job on focusing on Cubs fans, and visitors to Wrigley Field. They often will surprise guests coming to the game with gifts at their seats. Talk about engaging your fans. That’s the type of metric you cannot measure, but something I think teams should try to imitate. But I do follow many teams in the digital space, and I think I am fan of many of them for different reasons. There is now right or wrong way at this point. We are still relatively new so some teams have the resources to take advantage of being early adopters while others are being more cautious. It’s really an exciting time to be in the digital space and work for a sports team, the sky is the limit.
Are there any athletes that you think do a good job in digital engagement?
I am a big fan of Pablo Sandoval and Sergio Romo. Two guys that are big in SF, but still under the radar everywhere else. Sergio Romo plays XBOX and sometimes recruits fans to play with him via Twitter. Pablo gives updates on his rehab, even tweeted a picture of his stiches being removed. I still love the stories of Jeremy Guthrie and Brandon Phililps, using twitter as a way to create a new story, being themselves and using twitter in ways that everyone else should be.
Do the Giants use their digital engagement platform throughout the organization? Is it effective at the minor league level too?
We continue to grow and many of our departments are using some sort of social media engagement platform. Digital is going to be a part of our entire organization very soon, if it has not already. Our Sales Team, our sponsorship team, our community relations team, even our game day entertainment. We crowd source answers for in game contests. Again, eventually everyone will be using digital media in their day to day jobs, but for now, we are just getting started.
Does the organization encourage its players to engage and use technology and if so how?
We definitely encourage our players to use social media. We give them a media training at the beginning of the season and focused on social media this year, more along the lines of how to engage and what to say. We continue to have an open relationship with our players and talk to them regularly, but we like to encourage those who use it to be themselves. More and more of our guys are coming up from the minor leagues on twitter so we are trying to connect with them earlier.
What do you think are the next trends teams will use to better engage with fans online?
I think we continue to see photo sharing being hot and I would be interested to see when Video Sharing becomes as easy and user friendly. I also continue to see a number of Fan/Game apps on the market place, but no one has quite figured out gamification yet. But the 2nd screen is here, fans are using their smart phones and tablets all the time, while they are at live events or watching at home. They enjoy sharing their experience, photos are top of the list, check ins, comment on the game, and let their voice be heard as well as connect with others around this shared experience. I definitely see more rewards or loyalty based platforms for teams to reward their most active fans on digital channels as well as obtaining more data and becoming smarter with that data. I also see teams try to do more within their own stadium/arenas. Fans are bringing technology with them and teams must find ways to engage with them at the game. Fans are becoming participants in that experience and teams must capitalize on that.