Social Media Ghost Town: Google Plus

Today’s post comes courtesy of Griffin Booth, Sports Career Consulting’s blog manager and guest blogger.

Last summer’s much anticipated released of Google + introduced another social media platform to the masses. According to ZDnet, G+ amassed 5 million users within the first month after launch. While G+ does not yet compare to the 1 billion users on Facebook and 500 million users on Twitter, the platform does boast 400 million registered users (as of November 2012), making it the 4th largest social network in the world (these statistics derived from expanded ramblings). This helps support the fact that G+ still maintains a significant number of global users and offers another great opportunity for sports brands to connect with fans.

Google has, for the most part, been a leader in innovation. With “Project Glass” and a driver-less car project on the horizon, it’s a safe bet that Google’s commitment to creating an unparalleled user experience is unwavering. That commitment only reinforces the untapped potential of their social networking platforms. To underscore this point, consider the unique features G+ offers, such as the “hangout” feature, a tool enabling multiple users to live video chat, creating a new and unique way for face-to-face communication to occur. From a sports business perspective, what better way for teams to promote their athletes and connect with fans or for athletes to promote brands in which they represent?  G+ also offers an easy for news and updates to be posted as well so that fans no longer need to look up a “page” in order to get their information about favorite teams or athletes. Considering the potential of G+ to help brands connect with fans, how have those in the sports industry integrated G+ with their overall digital strategies?

Brands:

A recent post on Forbes online highlights the most profitable brands in the sports market. Heavyweight Nike reigns above the competition and has long been a leader in the digital space, but has been largely dismissive of G+. Nike currently stands at +337,660, with 338,243 in their circle. Considering the millions of consumers that consider themselves fans of the swoosh, Nike has done little via G+. The last posted was in May of 2012, ironically promoting Nike Golf using the face of one of their top athletes in Tiger Woods. Nike’s rival, Adidas, has a smaller presence with +9,317 and 7,328 in their circle. While Adidas doesn’t post to G+ every day, they have frequently promoted commercials and encouraged fan interaction. In addition to commercials, Adidas has posted a ton of content, including interviews with sponsors, and product release dates. Another Nike competitor, Under Armour, is also active on their G+ page, but has yet to reach a wide audience. Under Armour currently stands at a +487 with only 184 fans in their circle. While this is relatively low, Under Armour continues to take the time to provide promotional content within their page, with the hope that more consumers will take note. On the flip side, Gatorade, another premier sports brand, has not posted to their G+ page since June. Subsequently, they currently sit at +695.

Meanwhile, in the Forbes list of most valuable sports brands, ESPN ranked second behind Nike. While they are more than just an apparel industry, ESPN is highly active within G+. Their page caters an amazing 2,214,671 followers with a +2,243,674. ESPN doesn’t let their fan base down, consistently posting on their page every single day. ESPN not only posts highlights on their page, but also creates points of fan engagement through polls and hangouts, while promoting commercials as well. They are a leading example of how using G+ can be an extremely valuable medium for connecting with and engaging fans online.

NBA:

With the recent tip-off of the NBA season, the NBA home page stands at a +1,538,135 and has 1,503,893 in their circle. However, despite the millions of followers on the page, the NBA did nothing to promote the much-anticipated beginning to the season. It is certainly interesting to that, with all the hype and anticipation of an NBA season, that the league would not take the opportunity to maximize its online reach by communicating information to fans via G+. The Miami Heat’s G+ page offers another head scratcher. The Heat stand at a +19,127 and have 18,361 in their circle. They are just coming off winning the NBA championship, and are loaded with stars headlined by Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. Despite all the excitement surrounding the franchise, the Heat have NEVER posted to their G+ page.

Alternatively, the LA Lakers standing at +889,971 and having 893,358 in their circle use G+ extensively. The team offers up-to-date interviews of players, promotes merchandise, and highlights key upcoming events. The number of followers could indicate that the consistent activity on G+ will result in higher levels of fan interest.

However, the Milwaukee Bucks also do a good job of continuing to update their page as well. They have posted videos of players getting involved within the community, as well as promoting links to promote ticket sales. Unfortunately, the efforts have not yet resulted in a jump in fan interactions as the team boasts just +6,195 with 4,798 in their circle. Is it simply a case of the Bucks playing in a smaller market or is G+ not providing an attractive option for those fans who are active with social media? It will be interesting to see if the team’s commitment to activity on G+ will result in more connections with fans in the future.

NFL:

The NFL G+ page stands at +585,030 and has 564,647 followers. The NFL page has just recently started to post more frequently, which may be helping drive followers to their page.

Meanwhile, the defending Super bowl champion NY Giants have a +512,722 with 513,954 in their circle. They were active on G+ during the pre-season, but have yet to post at all during the regular season. This raises the question as to why the organization does not provide content when public exposure is in its highest demand.  The in-state rival NY Jets have a +4,910 with 4,579 in their circle. The Jets haven’t had a posting on their page since April, which could represent the small amount of followers on their page. Each of these respective teams have a “fan page” as well. This is a sort of “unofficial” page that contains up-to-date features on players and game recaps. For example, posts include if a player is injured or the score of a recent game. However, no fan interaction is had within these posts, as well as no promotional material for consumers.

These two teams differ greatly from other NFL franchises, such as the Green Bay Packers. The Packers stand at +79,279 and have 79,023 in their circle. The Packers remain active on G+ and are just coming off a “hangout” with WR Jordy Nelson. The Seattle Seahawks also regularly update their G+ page, encouraging a consistent flow of communication with fans. As a result, the franchise has +70,861 and 70,915 in their circle, despite the fact that they receive far less attention on a national scale than major market teams. They also utilize G+ as a tool for promoting merchandise.

Soccer:

Major League Soccer’s G+ page stands at +744,668 with 750,126 in their circle. It is interesting to note that the MLS, a league that doesn’t receive the national attention enjoyed by the “big four” professional sports leagues in the U.S., has a bigger following than the NFL, MLB or NHL. This could perhaps be attributed to the MLS’ commitment to activity as their page provides frequent posts, often engaging fans through the “hangout” feature, and opens up many opportunities for communication with fans. As an example, they recently polled fans as to which goal was the best of the year.

In exploring the activity of MLS teams, it was interesting to see how the rivalry of two Pacific Northwest teams, traditionally rich in soccer fandom, translates on Google’s social media platform. The Timbers stand at +1,104 with 1,006 in their circle, while the Sounders stand at +235,776 and have 237,374 in their circle. The Sounders maintain regular activity, recently featuring a post inviting the public to a viewing party before a playoff game, because they believe “it’s a great way for the organization to connect with fans.” Meanwhile, the Timbers organization has only shared one post (ever), which likely translates to the small number of fans following their page. Sean Gates, a Timbers fan and avid G+ user, has tried reaching out to the organization for more posts with no such luck. He strongly believes that G+ is an under appreciated and under-used platform, particularly in the case of his favorite team., Until the Timbers commit to communicating more frequently with fans through G+ , Sean will continue to follow the G+ page of the Timbers’ bitter rival (Sounders) instead.

Internationally, Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate competing soccer clubs in terms of G+ success. Barcelona stands at +2,505,568 and has 2,504,321 in their circle, while Real Madrid stands at +1,863,727 and has 1,843,394 in their circle. Based on those figures, one might ascertain that G+ might be a social medium more popular with European sports fans. However, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case because other popular European teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal don’t have nearly the number of followers (with 45,277 and 13,837 respectively).

NHL:

While the NHL’s lockout continues, I was curious to see if the league is doing anything within G+ to remain close to their fans. The NHL G+ page stands at a +311,495 and has 288,356 fans in their circle. While trudging their way through the lockout, the NHL obviously wants to do anything and everything they can to warm up to their fan base, and it appears they are by taking advantage of G+ as an additional channel for fan communication by posting daily. While the NHL continues to maintain a close relationship with fans via G+, however, individual organizations have failed to do the same. Teams like the NY Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings rarely post. It will be interesting to see if this ultimately results in a disconnect with fans on some level.

Individual Athletes:

It was interesting to note that some of the most popular athletes on G+, many with millions of fans within their circles, are inactive users. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade hold 1,566,819 and 1,933,863 followers respectively on their page, yet only Wade has posted any content within the last three months (and that was back in September where the posts appear to be promoting something).  LeBron has not posted anything to his account since May.

Carmelo Anthony (708,308 fans in his circle) and Chris Paul (1,361,362 fans in his circle) interacted with fans via a hangout before the Olympics started, but have failed to post anything since then. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most popular athletes worldwide, currently with 1,982,573 fans in his circle. Yet, despite a few posts (one in particular was ironically promoting his Facebook page), his account has remained relatively dormant.

So what can we conclude from this brief analysis? Unfortunately, not much, other than the apparent trend is that there are a lot of inconsistencies with how brands, professional organizations, and athletes are using G+. Compared to other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, you would never see a brand, athlete, or property not interacting with fans in some capacity on their page. It is apparent in the research that the more time a brand spends into updating a G+ account, the more followers attained. Starting with the “hangout” feature, the innovation Google provides offers unique ways to engage fans in ways other social platforms cannot match. Perhaps teams, brands and athletes should be doing more to drive fans to G+ based on opportunity alone. The more consumers warm up to G+, the more potential teams, brands and athletes have to build fan loyalty. Whether they choose to step up to the plate, however, remains to be seen.

Griffin Booth is in his first year as Sports Career Consulting’s Blog Manager.  He is a recent Washington State University graduate where he majored in communications with an emphasis in broadcasting.  Booth began his career as an intern with sports radio 950 KJR in Seattle where he was responsible for managing the show’s podcasts.  He later gained experience as a news anchor, producer, and reporter for Cable 8 news in the greater Pullman area. In addition to his role with Sports Career Consulting, he is currently an intern with Washington State University’s Cougar Athletic Fund, helping to raise money for student-athlete scholarships.  Born and raised in Seattle, Booth is a huge fan of all Seattle sports. For any questions, comments, or feedback please feel free to contact Griffin by email at gbooth206@gmail.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter @gbooth6.