Take It Viral! A Social Media Road Map For Sports Events

By Taylor Peyton Strunk

Although communication through social media is still, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new phenomenon, it’s hard to imagine how we ever operated any other way—and sports event planning is no exception.

The sheer number of social media outlets can be a little overwhelming. To help point us all in the right direction, SportsEvents sought the advice of a few professionals who have incorporated social media for event promotion into their regular routine. The results? Liked and shared! Read on…


No matter what type of event you’re holding, “The first step is creating a presence,” said John Souza, founder and chief strategist of Social Media Marketing University (SMMU) and Social Media Magic. “You have to have Twitter and you have to have Facebook and, depending on the type of event, you might add LinkedIn to the mix, too.”

Whichever routes you ultimately choose to utilize, Souza advised a handful of best first steps. At the top of the list? Don’t think an online push is a “once and done” checkmark item. “It’s social media suicide,” he said, adding that this is particularly true of recurring, annual events. “It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see [when working with events], where there will be a large blitz for the 30 days leading up to an event that then totally drops off and disappears as soon as the event is finished. The Facebook algorithm concludes that if no one visits your page for 11 months, you’re essentially an inactive account, so everyone who was following you, you’ve just lost all those people.”

One way to avoid such fallout, Souza advised, is to establish an editorial calendar on the front end. “Include what you’re posting with the event details for participants as well as sponsors and attendees. As the event approaches, you can add to it, but it won’t be so overwhelming.”

Additionally, to help build your initial following, “choose a hashtag you can use year after year,” Souza said, adding that another mistake to avoid is choosing something that is unique to a single year’s event. “A huge mistake is creating a Twitter handle or hashtag each year. If your followers don’t know about the change from a previous event, you’ve lost them. You’re starting from scratch.”

Souza also encouraged getting creative with social media options to draw interest and pick up followers, but to remember there is nothing new under the sun. “Learn to get the best results out of social media by using other successful campaigns as a road map. Do your research and find out what others are doing right and doing wrong and tweak what’s working for others to make it work for you. Develop your own set of best practices to keep people engaged.”


Heavy social media coverage was a contributing factor in raising the profile of a five-day national volleyball event last December that included the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Convention, the NCAA National Semifinals and Championship Match and the Under Armour High School All-America Match & Skills Competition in Seattle, said David Portney, manager of media relations and e-commerce for the AVCA.

“We ran ticket giveaways, sponsored campaigns and included many visuals to promote everything as a ‘can’t miss’ event for anyone in volleyball. We like to accomplish one key task to two different groups of people: attendees and non-attendees.” Using the same e-marketing campaign, Portney said he and his team addressed their followers as if they assumed all volleyball coaches were attending.

“We want attendees to feel proud about taking part of the festivities and showing off to their friends what an amazing experience they’re having. Attending our convention is an investment in their careers. We want those who are not attending to feel like they’re missing out on something special, so they need to join us the following year. I want a coach who couldn’t make it to Seattle this year to think, ‘Wow, that looks awesome. I better start planning now for Oklahoma City so I can be sure to make it in 2014.’”

To establish a following, Portney said he utilized several social media outlets, and took note of where the greatest feedback was generated. “We used many accounts including LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube, but the vast majority of our online promotions came via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are where our volleyball coaches are. With that being said, our LinkedIn presence has significantly increased over the last year, so we will spend more time on that in 2014 than we did a year ago.”

What else did Portney learn along the way? “My advice is to have fun with it. Too many times, organizations try to take too corporate of an approach and it certainly shows in the posts. I get really excited about our convention, so that rubs off when I’m posting about it on our sites. Be genuine, be excited, use visuals, give people an incentive to follow you with giveaways and behind-the-scenes looks.”

Additionally, Portney advised setting up a posting approval process before launching a social media campaign. “Usually the most successful posts happen in the moment, so by the time you get it approved to post the moment could pass. If there are sponsors involved with particular posts, it just takes open and honest communication with the sponsor about what your plan is and how you will go about executing it in advance of the event.”

Even after the last attendee has gone home, there is still work to do, Portney said. “It’s important to gather key social media metrics like interactions and brand impressions. These numbers can be taken to your supervisors and sponsors to show the effectiveness of the social media space. Our convention garnered 10,624,029 social media brand impressions, and I took that number directly to my sales director. Those numbers are tough to ignore if you’re a sponsor. Big numbers translate to big dollars.”


So, who’s responsible for posting, tweeting and sharing once the event is under way? “I would suggest having someone dedicated to social media during the event without any other duties,” said Scott Powers, executive director of Columbia Regional Sports Council in South Carolina. “We have had great events that do a great job with social media prior to and post event, but it’s obvious that person has other duties during the event as their posts diminish to almost zero.”

Renee Williamson, also with Columbia Regional Sports Council, agreed. “Social media requires a lot of attention. If you have anything else on your plate, that time is going to be divided and isn’t the best for engaging your followers. Having at least one person focused solely on social media ensures you have someone to reward and appreciate your social media followers.”

Williamson added that a common misconception she’s witnessed is that social media is free or easy. “To really be effective, you have to work at it and devote time and sometimes other resources. With a 24/7conversation happening online, it requires someone’s full attention. Social media is about giving followers the opportunity to have a conversation with your brand. So, if you are talking to participants online one minute and leave the conversation the next, that’s going to affect their overall experience and perception of your event.”