Digital Sports Marketing, Twitter, and Le Tour de France 2020

As part of the Digital Media for International Marketing module I am leading this coming academic year on the BA(Hons) Sport Marketing course, I will start sharing here on the blog brief analyses on different examples from the sports business industry that relates to the eight different topics we will cover during the first teaching block.

Possibly one of the first things that comes to anyone’s mind when thinking about digital media marketing in sports is to equate it to social media marketing – or to assume that the latter is the only way of approaching the former. Nevertheless, social media marketing is just a small part of the entire communication strategy that utilises different digital media channels to interact and engage with consumers.

When planning the brand communication strategy that utilises social media channels such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tik-Tok, Facebook, etc the most common recommendations are: i) you need to know your audience and the different social media they are; ii) you need to speak their language; iii) and you cannot be too salesy in your message.

But have you wondered why the message needs to be different on social media channels in relation to more traditional media channels as television, newspaper, radio?

Some would say that it is because you are engaging and interacting with a different audience – normally assuming it to be an younger audience – who also speaks a different language and thus are not willing to accept this type of sales message commonly found on traditional marketing strategies. Nevertheless, I believe that if you buy solely into this explanation you might end up missing the point of the whole media disruption (see here other analysis of media disruption in sport) idea, and especially how messages spread (see here another analysis on media spreadability and sport) within social media and across different media channels.

If we look at the below visualisation – social network analysis (SNA) – from Stage 13 (Châtel-Guyon > Puy Mary Cantal) of this year Le Tour de France we might start understanding what I mean by media disruption and its implication on social media marketing strategies in sport.

social network analysis of Le Tour de France stage 13 showing media disruption and its effect on social media marketing strategies
Social Network Analysis of Stage 13 of the 2020 Le Tour de France showing media disruption and its implication on social media marketing strategies in sport

In the above visualisation the node sizes reflect the authority within the network, the node colour reflects the prestige (blue to red), and the wedge colour reflects the weight (blue to red). So, what this visualisation tells us?

The users having the most prestige and authority within this network of cycling fans are teams and riders. This means that their messages are the ones users in this network value the most – and thus engage and interact the most. Moreover, we can hardly spot any cycling related brands – apart from the teams’ sponsor ones in the team twitter handle – having prestige and authority in this network. And what does this tells us?

The disruptive nature of social media has shifted the power balance in the production and circulation (spreadability) of messages within a medium or across different media (transmedia). And the implication for social media marketing strategies is that now brands have less authority and prestige within the community requiring them to approach their communication strategy on a different way. Being on an equal footing – or even on a lesser power position – with audiences means that brands cannot have their message on a one-way communication tone like in a sales pitch, but they need to try to engage their audience on a two-way conversation.

Above all, due to the disruptive nature of social media brands need to accept their new position within those networks meaning that firstly for them to communicate with their audience they need to find their way in, be invited to take part in those conversations, and then finally try to steer the conversation. Brands now are much like a guest to a party, and party-crashing it might end up creating more damage than good to their brand image.

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