Social stadiums; winning friends and influencing people

Social Stadiums_Facility Manager

As published by Facility Manager, April 2012

In the short time since that irresistible new temptress social media spectacularly entered the scene, it’s little wonder the world at large has been mesmerized by her candor.  Seductive, addictive, and on a bad day, awfully destructive.

The social media statistics are staggering; more than 800 million Facebook users, 200 million blogs, over 300 million Twitter accounts sending over a billion tweets per week, 8 trillion text messages sent per year, and 48 hours of footage uploaded to Youtube every minute, viewed by 800 million unique visitors per month!

According to renowned social media author Erik Qualman “we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.”

Yet it’s fair to say in terms of sport, many venue operators have been slow to harness the power and embrace the reach and usefulness of online community building.  The reticence is understandable given the most redeeming features of social media – edgy, instantaneous commentary – is contradictory to facility management’s somewhat conservative nature.  Indeed, the potential fallout associated with the cautionary tales frequently reported by mainstream media is cause for apprehension.  And perhaps more so for government owned and operated stadia whose operations are open to further intense public scrutiny.

Melbourne & Olympic Parks is such a venue manager.  It’s been less than 18 months since Australia’s leading sports and entertainment precinct plugged in.  Certainly with Rod Laver Arena (world’s second ranked concert arena according to Billboard) and AAMI Park (an internationally acclaimed football stadium) to champion, it has so far been a steep yet rewarding learning curve.

According to the Neilson Company, Australia ranks number one in the world for social media use.  Mobile phone Twitter usage rose by 350% in the past year alone. People now engage, anytime from anywhere.  With 96% of Gen Y’s on a social network, a demographic so well represented at the precinct’s events, the evidence was compelling.  Engage or be damned!

Initially, just finding out what was being said about the organization (which can be achieved via free web tools or paid monitoring services) proved instructive.  Thankfully the word on the street was mostly positive.  As a free focus group, regular ongoing reputation monitoring is a no-brainer.  Interestingly, as Melbourne & Olympic Parks has found, feedback intensifies as the community grows and they know you’re actually listening!

Of course most organisations are now well versed that one patron’s bad experience can be shared with millions within minutes, and worse, be picked up by lazy tabloids trawling Youtube and Twitter trails for juicy morsels to regurgitate, milking every last droplet falling from cyberspace.  What’s more, if handled badly, waiting for the odour to dissipate on search engines can take years.  Tip: owning the keywords of the venue’s Google search can be a very useful way of mitigating any negative links – so claiming IP across the various social platforms is an important, if not obvious preliminary step.

Used wisely though, the potent omnipresence of social media can’t be denied.  As demonstrated in 2011, it’s the stuff of revolutions.  Positive recommendations can be retweeted to millions.  Integrated, innovative online marketing campaigns and competitions can go viral, threatening to render expensive advertising obsolete.  Website traffic can be driven in large volumes to specific customer information, lessening the load on service staff.  Or to shift hard to move tickets.  A previously austere concrete stadium can even become cool!

However, finding the pulse of the audience can be tricky.  Content is king, especially persuasive, easily consumed images and video.  But unique content, as the venue operator, is sometimes elusive.  Encroaching on the tenant or hirer’s entertainment properties is poor form, and most likely unwarranted doubling up in any case.  Blatant selling will have followers jumping off quicker than Myspace. And where fanatical football supporters or passionate music fans are concerned, be prepared for trolls, haters and venters! Putting in place a policy of what can published, by whom, when and how often, is a key plank to a strategy that will also reduce the chances of being embroiled in regrettable exchanges potentially viewed by the world.

But that need not equate to being boring.  When the Foo Fighters’ recently became the first band to play at AAMI Park, there was scope to generate some buzz and deliver updates in a suitably relaxed manner.  Whilst the Foos’ hilarious rider was out of bounds, their amusing conditions of entry (leave your garden gnomes and light sabres at home peeps!) quickly became a featured story on the largest news websites across the country within hours.

But more valuable than the exposure and boost to AAMI Park’s Twitter following was reducing queues, confusion and disappointment at the turnstile, particularly with an inherently different and challenging crowd in attendance.

What has become apparent across many industries is that whilst social media may commonly begin with the marketing and communications department (and IT lending support), the rest of the organisation will eventually want or need to buy in.  Event operations, for instance, was another beneficiary at the two Foo Fighters’ concerts where patrons’ observations expressed via Twitter and Facebook enabled a real time response.

At the coalface, the event experience can be enhanced by social media in many ways.  Melbourne & Olympic Parks have partnered with Ticketek to enable tickets to be purchased and downloaded on mobile phones, thus averting box office queues.  The infinite uses of these ingenious QR codes in product activations and other marketing promotions are seemingly limited only by the imagination.

Melbourne & Olympic Parks is anticipating social media will also play a pivotal role in the patron experience at the Australian Open tennis in January.  Twitter and Facebook will be monitored round the clock to provide patrons with information including ticketing, seating assistance, food and beverage, lost children, lost property and live operators assisting with enquiries.   And some fun stuff, of course.

Getting to the essence of anything requires going straight to the source.  And increasingly people of all ages are finding there’s no better or faster way of doing so than social networks.  Fans, athletes, managers, administrators, officials and journalists have all been drawn onto a new playing field.  Social media is facilitating an exciting new connectiveness between all these stakeholders.  The wow factor of having questions and opinions responded to by those that previously appeared so aloof cannot be underestimated.

A deeper engagement and understanding of patrons has already paid dividends, albeit difficult to quantify in dollar terms.  Social media will not be the way Melbourne & Olympic Parks communicates in future – but it is another way, and one which will continue to greatly enhance interaction, the way the venues and events are perceived and, ultimately, considerable bottom line ROI.

We’ve probably all found innumerable promotions for social media seminars and workshops filling our inboxes, yet it’s fair to say none can claim to know best practice across every industry sector.  There are certainly many great ideas floating about and basic principles worth adhering to.  But for what it’s worth, Melbourne & Olympic Parks’ key learnings have been to first determine the possible benefits of any social media activity to our particular organisation; proactively become part of the conversation; experiment and learn what content and tone works; network and share knowledge; gradually build a worthwhile community; if an app is unaffordable, at least mobilise your website; and be flexible and open minded.

Technology is evolving at breakneck speed.  But don’t be afraid, it’s an exhilarating ride and one that sport and entertainment facilities cannot afford to miss.


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