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How ‘Socialtainment’ Advances Entertainment PR

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Article originally published by O’Dwyer’s

This virtual water cooler has made marketers and communicators view sports and entertainment events like they have new eyes. As the lines between sports and social media blurred more and more this past year, it’s time to ask: Are we poised for a new genre in entertainment?

The greatest innovators in sports have, over time, realized a simple truth: it’s all about entertainment. More than 40 years ago, NY Jets Quarterback Joe Namath revolutionized the sports landscape by being the first to embrace that truth. “Broadway Joe” always treated football as entertainment as much as sport. His ubiquitous presence in commercials and on late-night talk shows proved to be as important as his on-the-field performance.

Back then, Joe Namath was the exception, but in today’s hyper-connected, always-on age, his example would be the rule. The social engagement built around sporting and entertainment events is now as important as the events themselves — let’s call it “the show around the show.” And with more than 560 million fans who “like” or follow sports teams online — that’s nearly 60% of all Facebook and Twitter users — it’s clear — social media is the newest (and very valuable) player on the field.

Twitter had a blockbuster year. At the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Madonna’s halftime performance broke the Tweets Per Second (TPS) record at 10,245, which was broken again just 90 minutes later during the game’s climactic conclusion with 12,233 TPS. Equally impressive, Twitter also recorded 9.66 million mentions during the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games.

In fact, this year’s summer games have been dubbed the “social games” — a nickname it lived up to with 116 million posts and 102 billion shares on Facebook, not to mention the 12.2 million “likes” individual athletes received to their fan pages. And who can forget the 11,000 TPS the Grammys telecast received, including the literal stop in activity while Jennifer Hudson performed a tribute to Whitney Houston, followed by an immediate spike in tweets to discuss her performance.

Not part of the social dialogue? Then you’re missing a big part of the show.

No surprise this trend has spurred on a cottage industry of products, including SportsYapper, an app that lets fans talk as they watch sports. Billed as the 24/7 place for uninterrupted sports talk, it features Facebook and Twitter cross-posting and designated “yapp streams” for every professional sports team as well as NCAA football and basketball teams. In less than four months since it launched, SportsYapper has received 50,000 downloads, with users engaging for more than an hour on average.

The second screen experience is here to stay. According to Nielsen, 86% of tablet users use it as a companion device when watching TV. No longer can you divorce the two. And with the advent of products like the “Watch with eBay” app, whereby consumers can buy in real time the merchandise associated with the program they’re watching, we have entered into a new world of mobile commerce — aptly named “couch commerce.”

This is changing the way brands, sports and entertainment properties, networks and even athletes and celebrities use social media to engage with key stakeholders. No longer can social media be viewed as an add-on or afterthought; it must be at the heart of the brand’s communications and engagement strategy. If done right, it enables a bond to be created with the desired audiences, growing engagement from a one-time conversation to an ongoing dialogue.

Where the gold standard for PR professionals used to be a placement in the likes of The New York Times, more and more a strategic Tweet from a brand spokesperson, or accumulating and connecting with more social followers is the type of engagement that companies crave.

First-time Team USA sponsor Citi put digital at the center of the company’s Olympic activation with its Every Step of the Way program, which engaged the American people to help support local sports programs through simple social media activities, while enabling a different dialogue and connection with customers and non-customers alike. And, more recently, the 2012 Ryder Cup embraced social media for the first time, amassing 80,000+ followers.

Social media will undoubtedly evolve, as will the way communications practitioners incorporate it into plans, but it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t here to stay. And with the kind of year 2012 has shaped up to be, it feels like it’s only just arrived. As the lines between sports, entertainment and social continue to blur, we need to push ourselves and our clients to continue to step outside their comfort zones, and embrace “the show around the show.”

Mary Scott is managing director of Matter, Inc., a Daniel J. Edelman company.

Feature image by Pat Williams

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