In Silicon Valley, even the sports teams are pros when it comes to applying the latest technology and user engagement tactics.

In the land of the tech giants and innovators, San Francisco Bay Area sports teams are not far behind. They are innovative, nimble, and—when it comes to using social media to engage their fans—they hit it out the park.

At a recent San Francisco Social Media Club event, the digital marketing managers of the biggest brands in sports in the Bay Area shared their insights and lessons for managing social media, engaging with fans, guiding their players, pleasing their sponsors, and making it work even during the off season.

1. Winning helps

Who doesn’t love a winner? Bryan Srabian, from the San Francisco Giants baseball team, and Kevin Cote, from Oakland’s Golden State Warriors basketball team, could not agree more with the fact that winning helps create momentum with fans. The 2014 World Series Win of the Giants provided the organization with heaps of user-generated content on social media. Think about this number: In the World Series alone, the team was mentioned 1.34 million times across social media! SF Giants World Series Win

The winning effect is particularly relevant for the Golden State Warriors basketball team, which is having an incredible 2015 season. The press coverage generated from winning streaks and play-off bids turns more people to social media to share in the excitement. It’s not uncommon for a post (see below) to have 3,000 likes and 49 comments! Cote, the Warriors’ Senior Digital Director, is embracing and leveraging his team’s victories to help prepare for less fortunate times—not that he’s expecting the team to lose anytime soon!

Golden State Warriors Score

2. Be authentic

The Golden State Warriors example expresses it quite well: You have to engage with the fans when you are winning, but especially when you are losing. Be brave and admit a loss.

Bryan Srabian of the Giants noted in an interview on Re/code, “I think it’s important for you to understand what your fan base is going through. You also want to know the sentiment because that dictates your strategy.”

Most of the representatives from sports teams at the event I attended expressed that having a dedicated person for each social media channel helps create a consistent voice and experience for the fans. And they all emphasized that providing a human voice that actually engages authentically with fans is key to credibility and trust.

Bad side: when your team doesn’t win. If no one says anything, no one cares. You want that passion. – @srabe #smcsfo

— smcsfo (@smcsfo) February 19, 2015

3. Engage fans in the stadium & give them something cool

Local hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, have experienced amazing results on social media by simply having limited edition water bottles available just for the fans that check-in at the stadium on Facebook. For each game, 3,000 people check-in via Facebook to show their friends they are attending the game—and maybe also to win themselves!

These sorts of engagement tactics (and their results) are vital to sponsors. The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, ensures Wi-Fi connectivity is available to all and created the @Café to allow fans at AT&T stadium to view social media conversations about the team’s fans and visualize their own posts on a 12-foot by 4-foot video wall. And yes, they can also get a cup of coffee there!

4. Give players a voice

Today, most professional sports teams provide some sort of media training to their players, and most professional players have their own PR team to help them with social media. Bleacher Report, however, one of the most popular online news destinations for sports, created Uninterrupted—a platform to allow players to record videos and share them with fans directly.

Bleacher Report's Uninterrupted.

Professional basketball star LeBron James and other players have recorded videos of themselves on the bus on the way to a game and sent shout-outs and messages of support to injured players through the site. Bleacher Report created this because it satisfies the desire from fans to hear from their favorite players and get to know them better.

5. Try new platforms & experiment

The Golden State Warriors have more followers on the Chinese social media platform Weibo than they do on Twitter! It turns out that the National Basketball Association (to which the Warriors belong) is hugely popular in China, and the Warriors team was quick to realize this and get those followers engaged.

The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, have experimented with Snapchat, tasking a younger member of the PR team to manage it. At the time of this writing, their snaps show the athletes preparing for the upcoming season during spring training in Arizona.


6. Be nimble and play hard

You can do a lot to engage huge audiences with relatively few resources. The Giants, for example, have a very small PR staff that manages over nine social media platforms for the organization.

Stanford University Sports has dedicated graphic designers that serve all of university’s sport teams. Yet they rely on ready-to-go templates to enable their on-the-road PR staff to put out branded images at a moment’s notice.

The Golden State Warriors have divided their PR staff into those who create content and those who distribute it. In this way, two staff members travel with the team and send content to the home office, which in turn focuses on delivering it and engaging with fans. This allows the organization to cover it all with a lean team.

7. Leverage your fan base to contribute to the bottom line

Perhaps the most interesting and innovative way of leveraging social media that I’ve seen (by any sports team) is the San Francisco Giants’ dynamic pricing based on social media sentiment analysis. So if fan moral is low and the Giants’ are expected to lose, tickets will be cheaper. The Giants were the first team to employ such a tactic.

As analytics firm Bridgei2i reports, the Giants employ this pricing for 2,000 seats per game. “This experiment is a very big success bringing additional $500,000 in revenue. The Giant’s ticket pricing model has included 120 variables while pricing the tickets.”

Want to hear more? See what the audience had to say about the panel.