Social media marketing is huge. Every savvy business owner knows there is tremendous value to social media use. Every marketing professional spends time each day cultivating social communities for clients, and staying on top of social trends.
The other thing marketers are constantly trying to do? Find a way to show the real return on spending the resources required to create a robust social media program.
I guess it is no surprise that a business as envelope-pushing and in-your-face as the UFC would be ahead of its competitors, and most other businesses, in harnessing the latest technology to extend and engage its fan base.
The UFC trails only one major sporting organization in the race for Facebook “likes,” behind the NBA; pretty impressive for a “niche” sport. In addition to pictures and videos leading up to and following each event, the fan page features exclusive videos, a shopping tab and even fan contests that incorporate sponsors, like the current promotion calling fans to vote for their favorite Hooters girl. The “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined” favorite will be an honorary ring card girl for an upcoming event.
At this weekend’s UFC 130, the organization trotted out another genius move in its social media marketing efforts, this time looking to build its Twitter following. As each fighter was introduced and made their customary entrance to the cage, a graphic including the fighters name and, yes, Twitter handle, appeared in the lower third of the screen.
Sounds like a fairly simple ploy, right? But in an age where athletes’ every move are scrutinized, tweets from athletes cause a stir and negative press seemingly every week, and governing leagues have placed restrictions on social media activity of their employees, the UFC is welcoming and pushing viewers to follow the online activity of its fighters. In fact, given the public perception and understanding of just how off the cuff, rough and often times crude the UFC fighters are, there are probably few concerns over what exactly these men will do or say via social media. Image is important to the UFC, but clean cut and mild-mannered does not fit the bill.
Sure, not every rogue move is a smart one. Just because a company rows in the opposite direction doesn’t make it smart. But take a look at past elements that have helped propel the organization to its current status:
1) Accessibility. How much would it cost for a day of training in a particular sport with some of the world’s best professionals? To give you an idea, Dwayne Wade’s Fantasy Camp in 2011 boats a gaudy price tag of $12,500. Yet nearly all UFC fighters train in public gyms or own their own facilities, and they train and teach with the “regulars” for the given monthly membership. This kind of interaction is priceless for fans, and Twitter, while not as exciting as swapping sweat with a champ, gives fans the connections they crave.
2) Familiarity. The single greatest marketing move the UFC has made in its 10-year history was the creation of the hit Spike TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter.” The reality show pits 16 up-and-coming fighters in six weeks of competition with the winner earning a major UFC contract. The drama, antics and quality of competition have been great for the sport. However, the fact that fighters are now coming into the organization with a following despite no collegiate competition, and the ability for fans to follow the career of a warrior from prospect to champion (just look at Season One winner and former Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin) are unparalleled in importance for the sports rise in popularity. By tweeting regularly, fighters are forming their legions of fans and driving ticket sales and Pay-Per-View buys for each passing event.
3) Personalities. Hate them or love them, the fighters in the UFC have some pretty polarizing personalities. Whether it’s the crazed and hilarious “Rampage” Jackson, the unbeatable yet humble Georges St. Pierre, or the WWE superstar-turned-MMA champ Brock Lesnar, the athletes that make up this sport can reel in fans of any kind. Twitter is simply another vehicle for spreading the words and thoughts of these characters.
4) Power. It’s not just the fighters and the organization’s marketing team that has Twitter in a triangle choke. UFC President Dana White actively Tweets about MMA news, live event happenings and scavenger-hunt type giveaways in the host cities of various fight nights. The often criticized and never filtered promoter has over 1 million followers.
No matter how you slice it, the UFC pushing Twitter on its broadcasts and developing the platform as a real asset is a win for the sport and the company. They are light-years ahead of where other sporting organizations fall on the social media trend line, and it is paying off.