How to command conversation: 3 Social Media Command Centres

We explore three very different approaches to managing social media interaction in real-time at the NRL, Telstra and MasterCard

As social media increases in importance as a brand marketing and communication strategy, so too has the need to effectively measure and analyse it, as well as become part of the conversation in real-time. According to Altimeter Group, 42 per cent of companies consider social media monitoring one of their top three priorities for 2013.

To cope, the industry is seeing a rise in the ‘social media command centre’, a dedicated temporary or permanent facility which pools together social management and measuring technologies, digital and social strategists, customer support teams, brand creatives and LED screens into a hub-style environment. These centralised rooms are increasingly proving their worth through better end-user engagement, raising awareness of their products and services and driving new styles of conversation between brand and consumer.

In this article, we delve into three very different examples of a social media command centre to see how brands are utilising both temporary and permanent infrastructure plus technology to drive their social communications to a whole new level.

The mission control pop-up: Tapping into Origin fever

The State of Origin is the biggest sporting series in Australia; a battle of brawn between New South Wales and Queensland that captures the attention of millions of TV viewers and attracts thousands of event goers every year. Because of the provenance and nature of the game, there is lots of social conversation. But up until this year, game custodian, the NRL, wasn’t able to capture and engage with this information in a real-time way, nor capitalise on any of the potential sponsorship and commercials opportunities available should social’s true worth be measured in an effective manner.

Enter digital marketing agency, VML, and its pop-up ‘Mission Control’ offering. The agency was one of the three key partners who helped Gatorade in 2010 with its social mission control centre, which is well-known from its successes during the US Super Bowl series, and is now offering the same capabilities to Australian companies.

VML MD, Aden Hepburn, told CMO State of Origin social conversation has traditionally been disjointed, and developed organically. The NRL wanted to build a social strategy to aggregate the volume of conversation together and respond to it quickly.


NRL’s Mission Control room

To do so, the NRL opted to unify all social and marketing activity around the #origin hashtag already used by many fans. VML then pulled together customised software platforms to provide a centralised view of conversations across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and the Web in real-time. This was used to create visualisations across 10 50-inch LED screens, which formed the central hub of the Mission Control room during the three State of Origin games.

Not only was social data viewed in real-time, the VML and NRL team also analysed the game on the fly and pushed out social communications within minutes of a user’s social post or game update.

“We grouped activity into ‘catches’ – one for Queensland, one for New South Wales and one for the NRL voice,” Hepburn said. “Digital strategists then used tools that visualise data to find the influencers of the conversation on the fly, and track conversations to get involved in.”

As well as celebrities and sports stars, the catches check if an individual is an ‘avid’ fan and adds them to the monitoring list. Key posts are briefed into a workflow engine, which a creative team of six people pick up and create content from on the fly using pre-made templates. Content is then picked up by NRL approvers, who vet it, after which community managers post it in real-time.

“From start to finish, it takes as little as five minutes for a custom piece of content that meets call by call plays, game by game plays,” Hepburn said.

The Mission Control centre was tested on a weekly Friday night game and backed by strategies, process documents and training. In terms of staff, VML brings in the technology, creative, project managers, strategists and community managers. “We then field in a couple of NRL guys experienced in the game, to do what they do every day: enhance the quality of the conversation,” Hepburn said.

Traditionally, the NRL measures its success and sells sponsorship on the reach of its games, making broadcast measurements vital. Hepburn said the mission control centre also gauged its success using total reach and engagement in social, chalking up more than 1 billion impressions during the three-game series including 1.8m Twitter hashtag impressions.

“We’re building this [social] as an asset that the NRL can sell into its next rights deal, or as a valuable extra engagement stream,” Hepburn said. “Our job was proving this new revenue stream and commercialising the social community. This deal grows the value of social next year if the NRL wants to offer sponsorship of the social community separately, or bundle a new sponsor strategy together at a higher value.”

'Next up: Telstra and MasterCard's social experiments

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