A small liberal-arts college in Pennsylvania called Dickinson College asked Durham-based Laura Suchoski to speak to a group of students, faculty members and deans about sports, social media and the empowerment of women. That’s a lot to pack into a 45-minute presentation, much less an agency website article. So let’s hit the highlights and, like all Dickinsonians, aim to be “critical thinkers who see how everything is connected.”
Social media is quickly changing how fans and athletes consume sports. And when it comes to digital capabilities, we haven’t even left the starting blocks. As a social media manager formerly at espnW and now at McKinney, Laura spoke firsthand about how brands and pro athletes are strategically creating one-on-one virtual relationships, second-screen experiences and curated social media content to connect with consumers.
Consider Shaq. In addition to being a very tall former NBA player and a current “Inside the NBA” analyst on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal was one of the earliest pro athletes to adopt Twitter. As Laura says, “Shaq saw the opportunity to humanize his mega-celebrity status in order to thrive in the micro-blogging environment of Twitter.” From offering Random Acts of Shaqness to welcoming Oprah to Twitter, Shaq slam-dunked furthering the idea that celebrities on Twitter can be active participants in that community. Shaq did what all brands should: he used Twitter as a telephone, not megaphone.
Laura also talked about ESPN’s #SCtop10 hashtag campaign, a thriving extension of ESPN’s flagship SportsCenter program that relies on user-generated content; McKinney’s ongoing work for Mizuno Running in the Mezamashii Run Project, which unites and inspires the running community around the #IfEverybodyRan hashtag; and CBS’s live-streaming of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans that uniquely leveraged the second-screen technology by encouraging fans to discuss the game with their friends online, offering bonus camera angles of the game action, providing immediate access to Super Bowl commercials, and more.
As the above case studies showed, the relationship between social media and TV programing is powerful, especially when it comes to sports. “While live sporting events take up just 3 percent of TV programming in the average month,” explained Laura, “about 50 percent of all Twitter conversation is sports-related.”
After setting the social media scene, set on a fertile if not turbulent ground, Laura addressed how sports media companies use social media to empower and engage diverse audiences, especially women. “The truth is, women are using social media more often and in more ways than men,” said Laura, “particularly on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. According to recent studies, they’re also more likely to interact with brands in those spaces, and when we consider that a growing number of women are making household purchasing decisions, brands should use messaging and imagery that speak to women.” But there is far more at stake than monetary ROI.
Media dramatically influences who people think they can become — the more possibilities we see represented for ourselves on TV, our monitors, our tablets and our phones, the more able we are to imagine ourselves living out those possibilities. As Marie Wilson, founding president of The White House Project said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” By representing more women as leaders in (and on) all fields, advertisers and the brands they work with can help women see themselves as the powerful people they have always been. And one of the best tools for doing so is social media.
On the Dickinson College website, students are promised a “useful education in the arts and sciences that will prepare them for lives as engaged citizens and leaders.” The men and women in attendance were surely more prepared after Laura’s presentation.