The below post was contributed by my social media strategy consulting client Herbalife. I received no money for publishing it but would like to share their experiences of creating a new social media community for sports fans and what can be learned from it with my readers.

Sports are one of the great shared human experiences. Since the javelin throwing contests of the ancient Pharaohs and the first Olympics in Athens, athletics have been core to our social DNA.

Marketers understand this. They know their relationships with teams and players have unmatched power to build a brand, promote products and create a community of common interest.  Conventional channels for sports marketing, like logo placement on helmets and jersey, generate CPM and reinforce name recognition. But companies are just scratching the surface in terms of the potential of the online channel.

With the growth of social media, the web will become a most important platform for a company’s sports marketing efforts. This is because the medium itself is built around communal experiences. It is a digital extension of that shared human experience that has invigorated crowds since the days of the Parthenon.

Athletic sponsorships are a natural fit for the goals and values of nutritional company, Herbalife, which sells its weight management products through a network of over 2 million Distributors.

Herbalife’s network of relationships with teams and players runs the gamut from superstars to local heroes. Soccer is logical area of focus, given the global reach of the sport. Its sponsorships include Lionel “Leo” Messi and his European football powerhouse FC Barcelona. For those of you who don’t follow pro soccer, Messi recently won the FIFA award for world’s best soccer player for the second year in a row.

With business in over 70 countries, the company has approximately 180 sponsorships of athletes, teams and events across various sports niches. These endorsed athletes run the range from Indianapolis 500 drivers to Attila Vajda, the “golden boy” of flatwater canoe racing in his native Hungary.

For its flagship sports site, www.herbalifesports.com, it was critical to capture the sense of shared community around healthy living that bonds our athletes to the Distributors who sell the products.

At the same time, we faced the same practical challenges that corporate marketing departments face everywhere.

  • How do you generate enough fresh and exciting content to make your site a recurring destination with limited editorial resources?
  • How do you create a relationship between your brand and your athletes so that it doesn’t feel forced or contrived?
  • And finally, how do you find the right balance of messaging around sports and the company products for fans coming to follow their favorite team or player? How do you give them the sports news they crave and introduce Herbalife in a way isn’t a blatant pitch that might turn them off?

To answer these challenges, we created a multi-faceted creative and technical strategy for the sports site:

  • To solve the problem of generating fresh sports, content we reached out to our teams and athletes themselves. We used APIs from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Flickr to integrate our sports partners’ social media presence into the content creation process.
  • The site’s content strategy is focused around the user needs – the need for the latest sports news as well as information around how our athletes use Herbalife nutritional products to train and perform. This reinforces the relevance and authenticity of our sports endorsements around products aimed at a healthy lifestyle.
  • Finally, the site understands that sporting information will be essential to an audience that isn’t yet familiar with the Herbalife brand. The site provides news articles, scores, standings and schedules that a fan would expect to find on their favorite team or athlete. Mission number one is to build trust and credibility with sports fans that this is a site worth visiting. Over time, that will translate into a positive relationship with the Herbalife brand.

Like any vibrant community, a web site should create a virtuous circle among its members. In our case, the community is comprised of our company, our athletic partners, our Distributors and users everywhere who are passionate about sports and nutrition. Just like any happy sporting event, whether it’s the World Cup or your neighborhood AYSO game, we want to make sure everyone who shows up has a good time with people who share common interests.

Today’s blog post was contributed by Dmitri Ragano, Senior Manager of the Interactive Team at Herbalife International.

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