Triathlon NZ's big, bold move into social media.
Also see our nine-step social media game plan - a guide to social media for New Zealand sports organisations.
In late 2010, Triathlon New Zealand (Tri NZ) signed off its social media strategy and began its move into social media with a series of bold steps. Not only ramping up its presence on Facebook, it integrated it into its website, and launched a social media-dependant off-shoot, TRIBE.
Tri NZ put online communities at the heart of its drive to increase members, brand awareness and improve general communication with, and between, members. Despite the ambitiousness of the approach, staff resourcing and budget have remained minimal.
Communications manager John Whiting describes the results as very successful, including a four-fold increase in registrations and the maintenance of interest during the off-season. He says a successful social media campaign depends on clear aims, interesting and frequently-updated content, the right online tools and a willingness to engage and evolve.
Why social media?
What was the original impetus for moving onto the social web and in such a big way? Were you looking for things like branding opportunities, increasing membership, communicating better with members?
For us, the initial push coincided with the complete redesign of our website and also the restructuring of our membership process.
Prior to November 1, 2010 we charged $10 per season to become a member of Tri NZ, which resulted in around 2000 people on our database – a very small number of triathletes compared to those competing in events. On November 1 we launched our new-look website as well as the TRIBE campaign, aimed at providing a forum for New Zealand's triathlon community.
The membership fee has now been wiped to zero and our database is now approaching numbers of 8,000 and is still growing six months on. The driving factor was to create an interactive forum to connect us with members, to connect them with relevant resources and information, and to raise awareness of who we are and what role we play.
Who's your target user?
Our target audience is simply anyone interested in the sport of triathlon who wants to stay up to date with what's happening in the New Zealand triathlon scene and with our organisation.
How important is using social media to help members or potential members talk to and interact with each other online, as opposed to talking with Tri NZ? Or is it more about their relationship with Tri NZ?
Social media has become a vital way for members to interact with one another. Triathlon is a very social sport and members are generally very tech-savvy, hence there is a huge online community around the world that we are tapping into.
Equally important though is that we create a dialogue directly between us and them. It's very important to put a personal experience behind our social media also. As I'm the only person who monitors and posts content onto our pages, members have come to know me personally, which keeps them engaged rather than seeing posts from a faceless organisation, which can quickly become stale.
We'll get onto your specific uses of social media below, but how does social media relate to TRIBE? Is TRIBE more or less dependent on it?
Social media is the motor behind TRIBE. TRIBE is basically our rebranded term for a member of Tri NZ, and the online community aspect of it is huge. Without social media, our TRIBE members would still be given news and info through our regular email newsletter, but Facebook, Twitter and YouTube enhance their experience a great deal.
So you're seeing results from this
We have definitely seen huge results overall from our social media project. The largest benefit I would say has been significantly raising the awareness of our brand, who we are and what we do. When I began working at Tri NZ it seemed there was a lot of confusion about us and what role we actually played in the sport, but now this seems much better because people can clearly see and hear from us, and directly interact.
Our membership has already risen hugely with plenty more potential. Members are telling others about us, and because we are satisfying their need and keeping them engaged this lead to more people wanting to join and follow us.
Despite achieving a great deal in a short space of time, I still believe we have huge potential to go even further and will be implementing more initiatives throughout the year.
You chose Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as your main platforms. What are the advantages of these?
With so many social media outlets out there, it's easy to get carried away. I decided to keep it to these main three and do them well.
The benefits of all three are huge for us, while they all give us something a little bit different. The benefit of Facebook is its huge user base first of all. We have people from all around the world with us on Facebook and it is a primary place for us to pass on information, photos and interesting content.
A lot of this directs people to specific places on our website, which in turn drives a lot of website traffic (around 18% overall). Facebook apps are also hugely useful.
Which Facebook apps are you using?
At present we have links to our RSS feed, Twitter and YouTube all from within our Facebook page.
Describe your use of Twitter
Twitter we use to update followers on content and info, and it is a huge well of knowledge for us. We learn a huge amount about our members and what they are looking for through Twitter.
The immediacy also means I can tweet live race updates as well as results straight away. YouTube is great for posting video pieces I record with athletes and other interesting snippets. People are very visual and would rather look at a video or picture than read a chunk of text!
What's your approach to YouTube alternative Vimeo - are you catering for that?
Not at this stage as we have no great need to. YouTube more than fulfills our needs.
You're using audio athlete interviews (“TRI-casts”) a lot. How's that going?
Our TRI-casts are going extremely well. This was an idea I had to bring our members and fans closer to the athletes in an interactive environment.
The feedback has been great and we are getting good hits on all of them. They have also created a buzz with the athletes and have had good buy in which makes my overall job a lot easier!
What role does mobile play in your approach?
We are ever mindful that a lot of users are browsing through iPhones or Android devices. We always test everything to ensure it works on these platforms and I am currently looking at the possibility of creating an iPhone app.
The ITU iPhone app is terrific and is a good example of what works well (although their staffing and resources are huge).
Events are obviously very important in your social media use. Do you plan distinct mini-campaigns, creating web content specifically for them?
We write race previews and reports for all events run by us (Contact Tri Series) and those are promoted through social media. I also do my best to promote as many other events and results as possible and I think we're doing a good job of that. As an advocate of the sport, it's important that we give everyone an equal leg up.
Do you have a ‘voice of management' (for example, your Chief Executive) on Facebook, Twitter or blog?
No, but we do have a voice through me, the Communications Manager. I believe this personal aspect creates a much warmer environment and something people can relate to.
Do you have agreements with athletes for their use of Facebook, Twitter, etc? Have you run into any problems with their use of either? Has their use of social media outside of Tri NZ been a bonus for you in, for example, generating conversation and interest?
Like many sports, we have encountered times when athletes overstep the boundaries within social media. It's very important that athletes realise the possible implications of what they are saying in a public forum. We have implemented casual ‘training' sessions with athletes in which we fully inform them of some ways to stay out of trouble online.
On the flipside, there has been a huge bonus for us with athletes being online. I have unprecedented access to information, what they're up to, photos, how their training is going and have personal dialogue with them. A huge part of this though is building mutual trust, they know I won't abuse this and must at times respect their privacy.
Do you have official metrics for social media, for example, we want to generate this many conversations on Twitter, this many ‘likes' on Facebook?
No we don't, I find it a bit of a waste of time trying to put a rigid figure on things like that. The online environment is incredibly fluid, therefore I try to be the same. That doesn't mean I don't set goals though, but that is probably more in the way of saying we want ‘x amount of followers by this date' etc.
What are the most important indicators of social media success for you?
For me the best indicator comes through website analytics. I use Google analytics for our website traffic, and this tells me where visitors are coming from [for example, from Facebook or Twitter] and the trends that are created.
For Facebook also, the number of comments is a really positive sign of the times. On Twitter the more mentions the better, especially when athletes mention, giving us an easy link to more followers.
Did you find that your ‘likes' increased steadily over time, or more after specific events?
Yes, our numbers in all categories have continued to increase over time and users have remained engaged through a period where traditionally interest begins to drop with the local summer of racing coming to an end.
On the subject of updating, how have you found resourcing for Facebook, Youtube etc? Roughly how many hours a week administration would there be?
I add this into part of my role throughout the day but at a rough guess I would say perhaps an hour a day, sometimes two.
Do you have dedicated social media people?
Just me, myself and I.
Which platform takes the most time to administer?
YouTube, simply because of the video editing and posting process.
How have you found Youtube? It can be labour and resource intensive, from filming to upload.
YouTube is great. If you don't know what you are doing though, it can take up a lot of time especially the video editing side of things. For a typical video (under 15 minutes) I would record something with an athlete for example then could load onto my laptop, edit through my software and upload onto YouTube within an hour.
Who's in charge of your social media design and management? Your marketing people?
Me again (multi-tasker!)
Has it involved significant budget?
Not at all. Social media has cost us nothing to set up and maintain, other than my labour hours, which are worked into my salary anyway. I mocked-up all the designs and structure myself, while I also have experience with video and audio editing as well as a bit of graphic design.
Strategy and upper management buy-in
How much of your social media strategy was documented and how much was done on the fly? Would you say it's a case of having basic aims and principles, on which to evolve?
It's crucial that you nail down exactly what you want to achieve from social media before you get started.
When I first stepped into the role of Communications Manager in October 2010 I began documenting a social media strategy based around things I had learned from my previous job as a Sport Producer for TVNZ Online.
There are so many companies out there who get into social media without clear objectives and meander along without getting anywhere. This type of approach runs a huge risk of doing the exact opposite of what you're looking to achieve – in that you end up annoying and alienating clients by shoving content down their throats without satisfying what they are looking for.
As with any online environment, we have evolved a great deal since launch and it is crucial to remain dynamic in this field. If you don't evolve, you will fail.
In creating your social media strategy and in your practical experience, which teams, organisations or people did you look to for inspiration?
An interesting question, because a lot of the things we have done are still new for a lot of sporting organisations in New Zealand. There was no real structure that I looked at and said ‘yes, this is for us'. I decided it was better to grow a plan based around our specific needs and goals rather than replicate another.
Was it easy to get management buy-in? Were they nervous and did they need convincing?
Our CEO at the time, Dave Beeche, was completely onboard and enthusiastic about the evolution of this project. Our entire organisation is very open to the whole idea and very receptive once initial plans were implemented.
What were the major risks?
The biggest risk would be that efforts completely flop and you are ignored my members and fans. There must be some incentive for them to follow you and build trust with you, so you have to do what you do well from the start or the whole project will fail.
Advice for New Zealand sport and recreation organisations
What's worked the best in your social media use so far?
Prize promotions are a great way to get people initially engaged and keep them coming back. A crucial thing I would say it to make sure you have a rock-solid primary product before even thinking about getting into social media.
For example, we made sure we invested in a great website and with my content I'm producing we have the resource in place. Then from there it all becomes a lot easier once you have something of value to offer users.
Another important point is not to be shy to ask people what they want and are interested in. The ‘is great for this and users respect you a lot more when you show you are willing to listen to them and act on what they say.
Any aspects you'd do differently in retrospect?
Tough question – I can't think of anything social media wise that I feel we've done badly. Perhaps the one thing I would have liked to do would be find some budget to actually promote the social media outlets to gain more members.
What's next? Overall, are you looking to change your approach in some way? Or is it a case of keeping on as you're going?
In the meantime it's a case of keeping up the things we're doing well, learning from the numbers and feedback and making changes content wise. Other than that I will continue looking at ways to adapt and, as I said earlier, the one thing that is likely on the horizon shortly is an iPhone app.
And no plans for video streaming at this stage, but it'd be something very exciting to offer perhaps in the future. We'd have to weigh up costs to set up and in bandwidth usage.
Tri NZ took to Twitter (and Photobucket) soon after winning the Communication Excellence prize at the 2012 New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards.
Triathlon New Zealand