This story was published in the December-January 2012 issue of Facility Manager magazine, an official publication of The International Association of Venue Managers, Inc.  It is reprinted with permission from Editor RV Baugus.

Face it. When it comes to using social media to get traffic through your doors, the concern now is how to use it more effectively than should you be using it at all. In a world where software changes more quickly than a teenager’s moods, the successful arena manager begins by pondering  these questions.

Which social media platforms work best for my audience?

  1. How do I build brand trust and loyalty?
  2. What incentives should I offer to engage and hold their attention?
  3. What’s next?

Deciding which social media platforms work

If Facebook and Twitter aren’t your new best friends, they should be.  “Facebook currently has 800 million active users, who in turn each have about 130 friends they actively share information with on a daily basis,” says Ryan Sheehy, Advertising & PR instructor for the Nicholson School of Communication for the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

What does that mean to you?

“Facebook allows you to directly connect with folks invested in your product.  Research shows that those connected to Facebook are more likely to purchase your product,” she noted during a session on Building A Social Media Strategy for Every Type of Facility at the 22nd annual Area Management Conference in Orlando.

For the 18,000-capacity Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, social media has been a gift for reaching an audience beyond their regional area. Social media collects personal information from users that “allowing us to customize what we’re sending,” says General Manager Michael Marion. “Email is being replaced by social media sites as the preferred communication method for the younger generation. I look forward to the day we have half-a-million Facebook contacts and don’t have to run ads… just tell people individually,” he muses.

Unlike Facebook where one must agree to be friends, Twitter is a one-way conversation. You don’t have to follow who is following you. About a million of the roughly 200 million registered Twitter users daily cast their thoughts to the world. Their strength lies mostly in the under-30 crowd. “In Twitter-verse, young influencers carry the message to their world better than any traditional advertising,” says Kirk Wingerson, Marketing Division Manager for Orlando venues, including the Amway Center. In the social media session he co-led with Sheehy, Wingerson noted that if a fan tweets he’s going to see Lady Gaga perform, it increases the chances his friends will buy tickets as well.

Keep fans engaged by sending out timely informative messages, such as what’s happening backstage or maybe a personal quote from the celebrity to keep the buzz flowing among users.  For longer information, such as a cool article fans may want to read, use a url shortener. You can only use 140 characters on Twitter, but url shorteners like Bitly.com, condense the message.  The significance is “You can track what time of day the link is opened, where those fans are geographically located, and if they’re forwarding that message along,” explains Wingerson.

The overpowering success of social media is being able to assess ROI by examining click-throughs, retweets and viewing what is sent, though both Sheehy and Wingerson agree that television is still the most powerful advertising medium available among traditional formats. “You have to tailor your message to the audience. Younger people are the early users, but the older generations are wrapping their head around it. I don’t see a day when social media is all you do,” says Wingerson.

“What we all have to learn is that we’re trying to sell tickets to people who may never have lived in a world without internet. They likely don’t read newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch standard TV,” says Carl Hall, Director of Arena Management for the largest arena in the U.S, Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY. “We have over 133,000 Facebook fans. You’d be surprised how active the over-30 audience is, so you have to readjust your marketing dollars into social media that fits what you’re promoting.”

The key word in business these days is analytics. “Facebook can tell you how many clicks and track tickets bought,” says Marion. “The next step being talked about is putting a bar code on that ticket so money can be added  for purchases such as food or t-shirts. No more reaching for a credit card. That may translate to more sales.”

You know now how to reach your audience, but how do you retain their interest?

Building brand trust and loyalty

Forget messages that just say “buy tickets now.” You must connect directly to your key consumers.  This can be last-minute alerts that a traffic snafu has slowed parking, an embedded video glance at the band loading in, or it may be a message from influencers that they’re attending and encouraging their followers to do the same.

  1. Act proactively when there is a complaint on one of your platforms.  “The worst thing you can do is ignore a complaint,” says Wingerson. “Negative word- of-mouth exponentially travels farther than positive comments.”
  2. Use feedback from quizzes and surveys to improve. This establishes two-way communication and you can “use it as a tool to monitor who’s saying what,” advises Sheehy. “Three words to remember: build, engage, respond.”
  3. Create a blog by tapping into local bloggers. Treat them as legitimate media. “We invite a fan attending the show to get a true fan perspective,” relates Hall, and will occasionally “give tickets to a mom whose kids are passionate about that artist or event so they’ll write a blog. We don’t use staff unless they’re passionate for that event.”
  4. “Hire someone young who understands social media,” says David Ross, CFE, Director of the 7000-seat Show Me Center at Southeastern Missouri State University. “Facebook’s numbers are driven by females 55-65 who want to see pictures of their grandchildren. It’s forcing younger demographics out. They don’t want their family to know what they’re doing. If you’re not into those shifts, then you’re always a day late.” He adds, “Trust your instincts. If you’ve been successful in what you’ve done so far, hire someone to fill in the voids you’re not doing.”
  5. Embrace social media. Compared to traditional media, the costs to be effective are minimal as recent Dunkin Donuts, Skittles and Old Spice campaigns have discovered. “Facebook fans will ‘like’ an average 10 pages,” says Sheehy.  “About 75% will eventually unlike a page, so your chance to establish two-way communication—and therefore, trust–is to discover why someone disconnects.”
  6. Pick two to four platforms that make sense and master those. Facebook and Twitter are the most obvious, but You Tube is the second most popular website in the world. Develop your own channel. Embed artists’ videos on your website or put links on your site to theirs. That builds excitement for your fans and generates tickets sold for you and music sold for the artists. It’s a win-win.

What incentives should be offered?

Every arena has giveaways, whether it’s a t-shirt, beer cozy, or a bumper sticker. Rewarding fans who respond to online surveys is easy. What else can be done?

Four Square is a geo-location app that has fans check-in to businesses. Between 2009 and 2010, Four Square has increased business traffic by 3400%, notes Sheehy. Once in the facility, reward them with t-shirts or discounts at the concessions. “One of the successful Four Square campaigns by McDonalds cost them $1000. They encouraged fans to come to the restaurants searching for gift certificates. Not all McDonalds had them, but this one day campaign drove more than 60,000 followers to their social media platforms and gave their followers a reason to keep checking back.”

Four Square also spurs rivalry and camaraderie while driving business. Barring any concerns about privacy, the app notifies your friends where you are. “Someone who checks in frequently can become the ‘mayor’ of that business, which can create competition among peers. That drives business,” says Wingerson.

“Leaking” information can make fans feel special, as if they’re part of an exclusive membership. One of the most effective ways Wingerson saw this done was by Lady Gaga, known as a Social Media All-Star who routinely responds to “her monsters” (fans) posts herself, or will provide behind-the-scenes footage. In this particular instance, her latest song, Judas, that was to debut that night at the Amway Center was “somehow leaked” early that morning. Fans who had been queued all day with nothing to do but check their social media accounts downloaded the song. By that evening, they were able to sing along with her.”

Make a certain section available to fans and followers. Make them feel connected and they’ll stay loyal to your brand.

One word of caution about offering incentives:  if you’re giving away merchandise, make sure it’s done in an open, public place. It was a hard-learned lesson said Hall after 400 students rushed a university classroom seeking two hidden tickets.

What’s Next?

                Social media is changing as fast as the prices on electronic equipment.

The constant challenge is using what’s now available to bring in guests. “Probably every business here (at the conference) has Facebook and a website page, but are we getting most from it?” ponders Marion. “We’re all also asking, what’s the next step coming down the line?”

Here are some of the up-and-comers:

  1. Vimeo—a high-quality video sharing service
  2. Mashable.com –the source for social media news
  3. Photobucket—valuable for storing photographs in one location for easy media use and access
  4. Flickr
  5. Gowalla
  6. Stumbleupon (searches for other websites based on stated personal interests and drives 50% of traffic to social media sites, which is huge!)
  7. Google+ (a meld of Twitter and Facebook)
  8. QR Codes. They now come in colors and are becoming more readable than earlier editions. Can take you directly to a phone number, video or address. Verizon Arena uses a QR Codes on their posters.  It takes users to artist videos or directly to purchase tickets.
  9. Facebook and Ticketmaster have partnered. In effect, ticket purchasing has been married to social working. The impact is that once a fan purchases a ticket, it’s posted on the user’s Facebook wall, along with a handy link for friends to also purchase tickets near them.

Above all: have fun with social media. “People go to concerts not just for the music, but for that shared experience,” says Wingerson.” As arenas, we need to keep our social media messages conversational, friendly, and engaging. Soft sell works better than hard sales pitches.”

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI, for which she is on the Membership Advisory Council and the Industry Advisory Council. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com

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