Sportsbet taps into World Cup digital momentum with social marketing blitz

Australian betting agency reports a 400 per cent rise in engagement on Twitter in June thanks to content-driven social program

A real-time social media program around the World Cup that has triggered a 400 per cent engagement rise for Sportsbet’s Twitter channel couldn’t have succeeded without an integrated marketing approach.

That’s the view of Australian marketing director, Barni Evans, who spoke to CMO about the resources and planning needed to man such a large-scale social campaign, as well as the significant changes and investments Sportsbet has made to its marketing function to better tackle a multi-channel strategy.

The betting company kicked off its #keepthefaith social media program in June to take advantage of digital momentum building around the tournament and drive brand awareness. The program sees Sportsbet’s engagement team posting text, images and animated content onto Twitter that taps into key match moments 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Complementary PR stunts and marketing spend using the #keepthefaith hashtag supports these activities and provide additional content.

The social program delivered Sportsbet’s biggest-ever month on Twitter, serving up 400 per cent more engagement in June than the company’s previous record month.

Evans said social is one of 20 marketing disciplines represented at Sportsbet and a critical component in driving consumer engagement, brand awareness, purchase intent, conversion, and real-time feedback.

Although Sportsbet has used social to tap into consumer sentiment during other events globally, the Australian World Cup Twitter campaign was the company’s biggest to date because of the size and scope of activities, as well as its 24-hour response time. The program was handled by Sportsbet’s engagement team, whose job is to create and engage with content across social channels, mobile and Web platforms.

As well as adding more resource to the engagement team, the company needed to spend significant time ironing out any operational challenges, Evans said.

While content creation is crucial in delivering any social marketing effort, Evans claimed its World Cup activities would have failed without cross-functional marketing support from social strategists, digital operatives maintaining technology platforms, the public relations team, media planning and buying, and design and video production. Campaign management was also vital in bringing all of Sportsbet’s marketing programs across multiple channels together, he said.

“There’s no point having a successful social strategy that doesn’t integrate with our traditional media schedule or online acquisition programs,” Evans commented. “Then there is the rest of the business, which has to step up in line with our marketing teams, such as the trading team managing our betting markets. The ultimate reason for our efforts is to get people betting, so we have to have the best offers in the market.

“The IT team also needed to ensure the platforms stood up, and human resources was involved to ensure staff had the amenities they needed and were looked after as we moved to a 24-hour social operation.”


Above: One of Sportsbet's most popular tweets

Restructuring marketing

Sportsbet Australia’s World Cup social strategy comes off the back of complete overhaul of its marketing function, as well as a concerted effort to become more content driven.

Previously, the company maintained a site operations team to oversee website content and functionality. When they had time, staff would turn their hands to creating editorial content.

But with the platform diversification of recent years, digital is no longer about managing Sportsbet’s website, it also encompasses apps, mobile Web, three content management systems and nine interfaces, Evans pointed out.

“It’s a much more complex operation and as it has become much more complex, the skillset needs to be more about analysis and technology and less about creating content,” he said.

To address this issue, Sportsbet separated its digital marketing capabilities six months ago into two: The ‘digital platform’ team, which has a more technical skillset and maintains its digital platforms; and the ‘engagement’ team, which focuses on editorial content and entertainment. The company has also invested in additional headcount in both areas.

Evans said Sportsbet has avoided collaboration challenges through two initiatives: By moving offices last year and creating an environment that encourages cross-team interaction; and by making collaboration a core value during recruitment.

In recent years, Sportsbet’s total headcount has grown from 200 to 500 employees.

“The critical issue is the speed we are working at, so we have empowered all of our people to operate more autonomously, so there is not a lot of vertical approval processes for content for our social and website channels,” Evans continued. “The World Cup was a big test, and we learnt a lot during this process.”

As an example, Evans said the team observed decision-making processes were too slow during the first game of the tournament and subsequently reviewed and improved its approach.

“For me, this [program] also reaffirmed the lesson of planning, and that attention to detail is incredibly important to these processes,” he said.

“Eighteen months ago, we started doing our research on the World Cup… and tried to envisage how to operate in a 24-hour model, seven days a week. We kept coming back to analysis and brainstorming and in the future, we’ll apply that level of detail to more events than we typically have before.”

Selling to the executive team

Expanding marketing’s technical and staff investments of course takes money, and requires the buy-in of the wider company. Evans said his job was made much easier because of Sportsbet’s culture and belief in “playing the long-term game”.

Read more: CMO50 #7: Barni Evans, Sportsbet

“Investing in technology and people are the two core areas for us, and this [digital marketing expansion] was felt to be a sensible investment,” he said. “We don’t take it lightly – we seek to understand the long-term health of any market we operate in.”

Softer metrics such as likes, followers, engagement and shares are used to measure the brand’s success in social. These feed into aggregated marketing measures including spontaneous brand awareness, advocacy, and intent to purchase. These, in turn, layer up through the purchase funnel to harder business metrics such as Net Promoter Score, customer acquisition, frequency of traction, average customer value and customer lifetime value.

Related: How to prove social media’s worth in the marketing mix

“We track all of these on at least a daily basis,” Evans said. “Notwithstanding all the planning, we have changed course two or three times [during the World Cup program] in light of our performance, which we were able to do thanks to the way we are structured.

“Eyeballs on a site are only valuable if you can then service that business well. For example, the customer services team must be able to cope with those new customer queries we generate, so it’s important they are aligned with the marketing effort, otherwise the cohesion of our operations falls apart.”

Evans also highlighted the important relationship between marketing and technology, adding that the two sides need to foster a “give-and-take” relationship.

An example of this in action at Sportsbet was the launch of a new blogging platform, due just prior to the World Cup program. Because of other business issues across the company that IT needed to focus on, the marketing and IT teams jointly made the decision not to migrate across on the due date.

“It was a hard decision, and our marketing people were disappointed that it wasn’t to go live at the time, but in the grand scheme of things, we were not unhappy and it mitigated customer risks,” Evans added.

More details about Sportsbet’s Tweets and engagement strategy can be found in its Twitter blog post.

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