The San Francisco Giants had almost as much success off the field as they did on it last season. The Giants won the World Series, the club’s first championship since the Giants moved from New York to the Bay Area. Off the field they saw rises in attendance (fifth in the National League last year) and increases in fans.
Those fans felt a connection with the team, thanks in large part, to the engagement between fans and the Giants social media platforms. The Giants currently rank in fifth in total fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter, only trailing larger market clubs like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
IMRESportsIQ talked to Bryan Srabian, the director of social media for the Giants. On only his second season on the job, he’s already helped implement innovative tactics to get fans involved from a social media perspective.
SL – What opportunities do MLB teams have from a social media standpoint to reach consumers and fans?
BS – The opportunities are endless. Teams have direct access to their fans, the ability to listen to their fans and engage like never before. Getting players onto Twitter is only the beginning. We have had a lot of success bringing our fans into the first row wherever they are and strengthened their connection with the Giants. It also allows us to be able to listen to feedback from our fans, learn from them and communicate, which is priceless. Of course we are in the business of selling tickets, but social media allows us to connect with fans whether they are watching in the ballpark, at home, or on MLB.TV around the world. There’s been a virtual community created, which allows us to have discussions with our fans.
Amongst other things, social media allows teams to really listen to fans and presents an opportunity to make a difference. In the past, we might not have heard from those fans who had trouble buying tickets; or had a suggestion about improving customer service; or who just wanted to be heard. If you have the right people in place, and the right tools, there’s tremendous opportunity to further engage with the fan and create a long lasting relationship with fans.
At the core of it though, fans want more. They want more stats, more photos, more behind the scenes access, more frequent updates…and they want it yesterday. The opportunities are there for teams to figure out what their fans want and deliver.
SL – How have you leveraged the Giants 2010 World Series win to gain more exposure through social media?
BS – The Giants have this unique opportunity with a very entertaining, youthful and talented team on top of a historic brand. Winning the World Series only took this to the next level. It started in the offseason with an amazing Trophy Tour throughout Northern California and New York (the original home of the Giants). We kept our fans abreast of the tour on our website along with Facebook and Twitter updates. We created a hashtag for fans to use throughout the three-month tour (#SFGTrophy). Fans kept sending us pictures of the trophy along every stop and it was amazing to see long lines of orange and black everywhere the trophy went. The tour itself made a huge impact, but social media networks allowed our fans to extend that experience throughout the offseason.
Another example is we teamed up with YouTube Sensation Keenan Cahill. Our special events team is really creative, cutting edge, and not afraid to try new initiatives. They reached out to Keenan and we created a video for our website that was also shared on Keenan’s YouTube Channel. The video features Brian Wilson, Cody Ross and our Mascot Lou Seal. It reached 1 million views in less than a week and the best part is that it was tied to a great charitable event we had at the park on May 25, which drove fans to our website helped increase ticket sales.
SL – What types of social media campaigns do the Giants have planned for this season?
BS – I am not sure I would categorize them as campaigns, but rather we are trying to integrate social media into our overall operation, and make it a more seamless approach. With that being said, we are exploring new uses of Twitter and Facebook, integrating our website (SFGiants.com) in new ways, and finding new ways to use social media to accomplish our goals. The above example shows that. One thing we have established is producing live events which are streamed on our website. For the first time, we streamed a spring training workout with live interviews, and took it a step further by doing a live Q&A with some of our players. We took the questions from our fans via Twitter and Facebook in real time.
In general, all of our departments are starting to incorporate social media into their plans, whether it is the All Star vote, or ways to integrate into our game presentation. We have had fans choose and vote for songs to be played during the game, and we’re even working on having fans choose player walk up songs. We also are planning our second Tweetup on June 24, which is going to be nothing short of #EPIC (the kids use that term on Twitter a lot).
SL – Winning the World Series has obviously led to more fans and followers. Do you ever alter your approach knowing you have a mix of diehard fans and new fans?
BS – I think it’s all about your core values and fundamentals. You continue to do things the way always you have but also evolve with new fans, new technologies and new challenges. You can never make everyone happy; but we try. The heart and soul of what we do is bringing our fans closer to the game. That means delving the lineups and key stats and providing updates and info on the team, which keeps our diehard fans happy. We also have recognized there is a new generation of fans, not just to the Giants, but to baseball. This has given us an opportunity to educate. It forces us to really not take anything for granted, and frankly it puts you in the mindset that someone might be making their first trip to AT&T Park or even their first baseball game.
I think the key is to listen first, engage your fans, and try to deliver what they want. It is constantly evolving. This isn’t something that you say “Set it and Forget It” - this space continues to grow and evolve very quickly and our fans are also growing. I thrive off of this. I think back to when we started our social media efforts and the small number of fans we had. We just kept delivering the right content and the growth was organic. We continued to feed off of that and our fans found us and the new fans kept coming as well.
There was a great story in the New York Times in April recently about Bay Area Little Leagues and how they are booked solid. There are thousands of kids now hoping to be the next Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey or even Brian Wilson. That is our opportunity, the future of Giants fans out there. How many people grew up listening to their favorite team on their transistor radio in school or in their bed at night? Social Media is now that medium that is connecting a younger generation of fans, and we have a great chance to connect with them.
SL – Do you encourage individual players to utilize social media? Why or why not?
BS – Our media relations department is great. I want to give a shout out to Matt Chisholm who is the Giants Media Relations Manager. He was the one who first recognized the need to get the Giants on Twitter and works with our players every day. We have an open dialogue with our players and more have jumped onto social networks this year. We do encourage to a point, but we never want a player doing something that they are not comfortable with. We also leverage our players using @SFGIANTS in different ways, but we are always in communication with our players and looking for new ways to connect them with our fans.
I’m generalizing, but baseball players seem to be the least interested in social media networks. Most teams only have a handful of guys on Twitter or Facebook. Baseball is a pretty grueling sport…162 games, lots of travel, not a lot of downtime. We are seeing more players coming up from the minor leagues already on Twitter, but most of our guys choose not to, and I think that is fair to say across the league. But the players who are on, they all do a fantastic job. On Twitter we have Pablo Sandoval, Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo. On Facebook we have Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Barry Zito.