by Josh Catone
This article was originally posted on MASHABLE
For sports leagues, social media represents an unprecedented and unparalleled opportunity to connect with fans on a personal level. That’s especially true for non-team sports, such as golf, which tend to be more star driven and benefit greatly from fans making a personal connection with players. The PGA Tour, which operates the main professional golf league in the United States, is a firm believer in the power of social media to serve fans and expand the Tour’s footprint around the world.
“Social media offers opportunities not only to communicate with our fans, but also to offer unique access to the sport,” said Scott Gutterman, the executive producer of PGATour.com, the league’s official web site. Gutterman said that the league hired a dedicated social media employee in 2007 and has worked with its partner Turner Sports to make social media a core part of their editorial and marketing focus.
The PGA Tour’s Social Media Footprint
The PGA Tour currently operates a number of active social media accounts. The central hubs of their social media presence are their Twitter account (~20,000 followers), their Facebook Fan Page (~37,000 fans), and their YouTube channel (~4 million views). Each of these social media outlets gives the PGA Tour a platform for posting news, scoring updates, calls to action, and multimedia, as well as a place for fans to sound off, ask questions, voice concerns, or generally connect with Tour officials and each other. The Tour also offers a freeiPhone application with video updates, live scoring, player cards, and course reports.
“Our goal on these platforms is to extend the PGA Tour experience and let the fans get involved no matter where they are digitally throughout the day,” said Gutterman, who admits that though their audience numbers are not as high as the Tour would ultimately like, they’ve found a lot of value in the direct connection with their fans. “The social media platforms that we run, as well as those that we don’t, have become an important feedback mechanism for the PGA Tour. It gives us a chance to see almost immediately what our fans think about certain events or topics.”
In addition to the Tour’s official channels, many players have also embraced social media and have the support of the PGA Tour. Over 40 players can be found on Twitter, from veterans like Stewart Cink and Ian Poulter(over 2 million combined followers), to rookies like Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel. Further, a number of Tour events have their own profiles on both Twitter and Facebook, allowing the events to connect with local and national fans all year round, not just on the weekend of the tournament. The PGA Tour tracks these Twitter users using a collection of Twitter Lists.
“These platforms serve as valuable messaging platforms to create awareness, drive ticket sales, and provide information about each tournament’s year-long charitable initiatives,” said Gutterman.
What the Tour Has Learned
Like many older businesses adjusting to the new world of social media, the Tour has found that developing the skills necessary for the two-way communication of social media doesn’t happen overnight. How to create and sustain conversations with fans is something that the Tour continually works to perfect.
“Dedicating resources to both monitor and keep the platforms active is very important,” said Gutterman. “We have one dedicated social media coordinator that manages all of our platforms, but several of us participate in keeping the fans engaged and informed throughout the week.”
Keeping fans engaged includes things like posting competition updates, discussing media stories about golf, sharing golfing tips, or asking fans for their opinions on a number of different topics. It all requires a top-to-bottom commitment to social media from every employee.
“You cannot delegate social media to a single employee. While the Tour has a dedicated Social Media Coordinator, the job of interacting with fans, posting timely content updates, and supporting player and tournament objectives must be broadly distributed to be effective,” Gutterman told Mashable. “Social media touches nearly all of our 30 employees; it is too important to delegate to a single employee.”
According to Gutterman, the Tour spends a good deal of its time encouraging fan activity. “During competition days, our Facebook page essentially becomes an online gallery where you can find people rooting for their favorite player,” he said, noting that on Sunday, that fan chatter picks up even more as fans speculate, comment, and debate what’s happening on the course and on TV.
What’s Coming Next
The PGA Tour’s social media efforts have so far been mostly siloed — a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, an iPhone app — but one of the Tour’s immediate future goals is to bring that fan interaction directly onto PGATour.com. “We are still researching the best way to implement on these platforms. This is one of our biggest short-term goals and we expect to start enhancing some of our site features with commenting later this year,” Gutterman told Mashable.
The Tour’s FanZone page, which connects fans to the Tour’s official social media accounts and has been instrumental in driving traffic to them, is a start to that vision. “We see great opportunity in expanding the use of these platforms for our coverage and continued fan engagement,” said Gutterman, who also noted that the PGA Tour hopes to find better ways to aggregate social media content in one place in order to make it easier for fans that don’t use those social platforms to connect and participate.
The league also wants to develop unique social media events around its tournaments and players. Events, such as tweetups and or live video chats, could occur at tournament venues or online. Current rules banning cell phones on the course (because they could be distracting to golfers) have made the logistics of certain in person social media events difficult thus far.
However, the PGA Tour is committed to expanding its social media presence. They’ve come a long way since their live tweeted coverage of the 2007 Player’s Championship, which that began their forays into social media. “We are only at the beginning,” assured Gutterman.