Businesses have been expanding their marketing and communication efforts to engage people with their brands through sites such as Facebook and Twitter and they discovered that being open, rather than just engaging in push marketing, helps.
The more individual teams released original content from their Twitter accounts, such as score updates or player profiles, the more followers they gained and engagement they initiated, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Sport Management by Nicholas Watanabe, an assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri, along with colleagues there and at Louisiana State University. They analyzed the Twitter accounts of all 30 MLB teams over 13 consecutive months. By monitoring the daily rise and fall in the number of followers for each team's account and combining those trends with the amount of activity from each account, the researchers were able to determine which activities led to gaining more Twitter followers.
They found that day-to-day increases in content creation and differences in team success on the field caused little change in the number of Twitter followers. However, they found that larger trends made significant differences in fan engagement and total followers for each account.
"The common way of thinking for businesses, including professional sports is that they need to be on social media," said Brian Soebbing, a coauthor on the study. "However, little research has been done on how businesses and organizations can maximize their consumer engagement and interaction on social media, and thus, very few best practices exist that are backed by research. This study shows what works to drive fan or customer engagement, as well as what is not successful. Business managers know they need to be on social media, yet many do not know how to handle social media metrics to maximize positive outcomes for their businesses. Hopefully this paper is one step toward providing insight into that practice."
Trends such as an increased number of total tweets from an account over a long period of time, as well as long winning streaks, overall winning percentage, and how often teams played on national television all helped increase the number of followers a team had on its Twitter account, while long losing streaks and fewer tweets led to losses in total followers. Social media producers can't necessarily control success on the field but they can make a difference in maintaining fans. When the Pittsburgh Pirates were at the tail end of the losing losing streak in the history of major league sports, they couldn't be bothered with media engagement - and it is only now that the public is starting to embrace them as a result.
Watanabe and his colleagues also found that while higher levels of activity on teams' Twitter accounts such as original content creation led to more followers, that trend did not apply to activities such as "favoriting" or "re-tweeting" messages produced by other people.