Organisations continue to witness a new wave of change as a shift from offline to online channels marks a whole new era for marketing brands. The online environment presents numerous advantages over offline marketing. The most outstanding benefit of the new dimension of marketing is the ability of brands to reach a vast population within a short time. Additionally, it creates multiple opportunities to engage target populations in interactive business while personalising the marketing content.
The World Wide Web (www) is an online channel whose access is unlimited across the globe. Everyone can access it at any moment and place. In this vein, organisations are increasingly exploiting the power of the online environment to market their brands. Social media avails a number of platforms on the World Wide Web. Social media avenues include creativity sharing sites, blogs, business networking, collaborative, and invitation-only social sites among others.
Numerous reasons including fun, entertainment, obtaining information, checking latest product promotions, and purchase of commodities among others lead consumers to visit social media channels. Recent research indicates a fast growing way of gathering information, reviews, and recommendations on brands and products by loyal consumers with the use of the Internet. Today, companies are in a position to reach customers in numerous ways while utilising the social media channels.
Different organisations have unique strategies regarding the use of online marketing and social media. Online presence is a critical strategy for the contemporary business environment. Social media presents numerous advantages for brands that wish to leverage their competitiveness and loyalty among consumers. Social media plays an integral role in the creation of brand loyalty for sports organisations. With more than 65% of online users utilising new media, the platform continues to witness drastic growth across many industries. These advantages can be extended to sports companies that intend to increase their marketing efforts and brand loyalty.
A growing body of literature shows that sports firms are increasingly embracing social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Blogs, Foursquare, and live chats. Social media channels enable quick access to consumers besides disseminating large amounts of information to vast populations who are interactive in nature. As far as marketing of a brand and loyalty establishment are concerned, social media presents a relatively inexpensive means to that end. Particularly, it enhances communication, the building of brands, establishing customer relationships, and managing the company’s image. This paper delves into the use of social media to leverage marketing and brand loyalty creation for sports organisations.
The current study will be guided by the research questions below.
- How do Twitter and Facebook influence fan identification?
- What influence do Twitter and Facebook have on fans’ relationship with their teams?
- What influence do Twitter and Facebook have on brand equity?
Based on the research questions, the following hypotheses were been formulated.
- H1: Fan identification is likely to have a positive influence on brand equity.
- H2: Brand relationships are likely to have a positive influence on brand equity.
Social media is a concept that can easily elicit a wave of confusion among sports managers or even researchers (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015). The question of what qualifies as social media generates the attention of scholars and marketing researchers. Despite its similarity with Web 2.0 and User-Generated Content (UGC), several scholars assert that social media is different. According to Hollebeek, Glynn, and Brodie (2014), social media can be traced back to the 1950s.
The high-speed Internet access contributed to the establishment and increased the growth of social media sites. MySpace emerged in 2003, Facebook 2004, and Twitter 2006 (Stavros et al. 2014). These three social media sites helped in the coinage of the term social media.
According to Kaplan and Haenlin (2010), social media are groups of applications based on the World Wide Web that follows the ideological and technological basis of Web 2.0 and allows users to create and exchange user-generated content (Pharr & Lough 2012). Eagleman (2013) refers the User-Generated Content (UGS) to as the collection of all the ways in which the people put social media into use.
Other authors define social media differently. For example Kietzmann et al. (2011) asserts that social media use mobile and web-based technologies to establish extremely interactive avenues in which users share, co-create, discuss, as well as modifying the user-generated content. Other authors emphasise on the significance of social media in influencing consumer behaviour through the creation of awareness, information acquisition and sharing, attitudes, buying practices, and communications that follow the purchase and consumption (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015).
Overall, the definitions and descriptions of social media bring out the idea of sharing, discussions, communication, purchase, modification, and the creation of content by the user (Lim et al. 2015). Some of the unique aspects of social media include the notion of networking that involves the meeting of digital strangers who share common interests, the creation of personal information profiles, sending messages to each other and sharing those messages with containing varied content to other users (Stavros et al. 2014).
Over half of online adults in the United Kingdom and the United States have two or more social sites. Research shows that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are mostly utilised to navigate content on the World Wide Web just as search engines do. The increased access to social media sites can be attributed to the near 100% penetration of mobile-cellular Smartphones globally. In fact, the users of social media access them at all times and places (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015).
Researchers posit that the prominence that characterises social media is attributable to the three sites (Pharr & Lough 2012). A close look into social media topics covered by many scholars and researchers shows that they focused on impression management and security.
The sports industry has received limited attention of social media researchers and scholars. Nevertheless, some researchers have linked social media to marketing and brand creation in the sports industry (Stavros et al. 2014). Journalism sports scholars have linked social media to communication. For instance, there is a linkage between athletics and the use of social media.
Social Media Marketing
A wide range of businesses from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and Multinational companies (MNCs) are embracing new media and social network marketing and rigorous communications, which form an integral part of promotional and branding strategies (Pharr & Lough 2012). A number of factors pull these companies to the use of social media marketing. First, it is the most cost-effective and easy platform to communicate and share information over vast populations.
Second, the behaviour of social media users particularly viral following and sharing makes the avenue effective for instant information sharing (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015). For example, once users come across new information concerning a product, service, or system, the habit of sharing with other individuals in the network sites makes such it flow rapidly (Stavros et al. 2014). The users pass company or product information to their followers who in turn share with the additional users in their network.
This idea is often referred to as ‘viral sharing’ in social media. It creates a multiplier effect that increases the audience for the information (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). Companies that are in a good position in social media continue to boast the consequences of the social media multiplier effect (Killian & McManus 2015).
Additionally, social media networking has a positive business impact that is ingrained in the behaviours of the users. The tendency of users of the platforms to take the initiative of marketing among them can be undoubtedly beneficial to a company that has well established its social media presence. This behaviour creates a dynamic ecosystem that rears and cultivates connections among the individuals and the content they generate and share (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015).
Social media users are renowned for developing discussions about ideas, services, or even products and brands. The discussions revolve around their experiences whether good or bad and even post the advertisements for those products (Pharr & Lough 2012). It is a common practice among social media users to post advertisements for products or services that offered positive experience (Stavros et al. 2014).
For instance, followers of sports icons such as Wayne Rooney often post positive comments when the England striker scores for the National team or the affiliate international club Manchester United. A customer who enjoy the first experience of Starbucks coffee, will mostly likely post images on Twitter of Instagram commenting positively while tagging the company (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). These actions benefit such companies as they promote the products to the social media networks.
Social media allows existing and potential customers to start debates concerning the products or services they want, need, like as well as those that they do not like. These discussions take place in real time (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015). As such, companies can take this opportunity to tap into this enormous and inexpensive data and establish personal relationships with customers for a better product, service. It is a source of competitive advantage.
Sports business companies such BWIN have realised the strength and benefits of social media marketing. Through Twitter, the company engages a vast group of enthusiasts of Real Madrid, which their company’s football club, in discussions, suggestions about the players and what they as loyal customers expect (Stavros et al. 2014). It is worth noting that sports companies engage in an immense rivalry as far as players, trophies, and reputation are concerned.
Traditionally, football clubs could not publicly share information about the potential players they targeted to purchase (Pharr & Lough 2012). Doing so was termed as leakage of information that could attract unprecedented competition. In the wake of social media, clubs share information on the players they wish to join them (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015). This information stimulates important debates on social media involving supporters of rival clubs. As a consequence, rival clubs get the information and join the chase for such targeted players (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015).
Practitioners can now serve customers better with improved products. Thanks to the social media users’ interactive nature. The ability to establish conversations among individuals, companies in communities of customers and sellers where the buyers generate content and create value (Stavros et al. 2014). The emergence of social media with its potential to facilitate interaction between customers and marketers continues to capture the attention of managers intending to understand and offer better services using these online-based platforms (Pharr & Lough 2012).
Sports companies can increase measurements of their success by generating the overwhelming interest of employing social media presence as a strategic approach (Filo, Lock, & Karg 2015). Brand loyalty emerges from the ability to respond to competitive threats, greater sales and revenue generation, and creating a strong customer base (Mancuso & Stuth 2014).
Research shows that individuals are most cautious and adept in allocating attention to information, especially in the wake of additional stimuli bombardments. As such, marketers can benefit from this growing behaviour by finding reasons to engage customers in interactions aimed at addressing their wants. Establishing ways to address customers in small groups or individually can give them an easy way of identifying actual needs of their customers (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015).
Social media is known for putting customers at the centre of the business world as it gives marketers an opportunity to interact with consumers and indulging them into brands through varied ways of innovation (Filo, Lock, & Karg 2015). Social media is a wealthy source of information for customers in the contemporary business world. Customers search for information about desired products or services (Parganas & Anagnostopoulos 2015).
Once they get it, they begin to identify available options, study information of selected options, and compare them to choose the one likely to deliver the most suitable outcomes in terms of quality, price, and satisfaction. Alternative evaluation is a common behaviour of consumers in the modern business environment (Stavros et al. 2014). A major contributor to this consumer behaviour is the presence of numerous companies a common market segment (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015).
Attitude and perception of customers on products and brands is a result of information processing and evaluation (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). Customers will develop a positive attitude towards products and brands that eventually their criteria as far as quality, price, and needs’ satisfaction are concerned. Customers’ attitude on products and brands are good predictors of the information search and evaluation processes (Parganas & Anagnostopoulos 2015).
Companies that do not provide rich information about their products and services on social media channels are likely to build a negative attitude of customers (Pharr & Lough 2012). On the contrary, those firms that well established on social media and are constant in providing real-time information about their products or services and respond to customers’ questions in a timely manner are likely to build positive attitudes of consumers. Researchers argue that information exposure is selective (Stavros et al. 2014). Customers search for information about products that are relevant and address their needs.
In this regard, the companies entering social media marketing avenues should choose to avail information that aligns with customer needs (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). Organisations that offer inconsistent information are likely to expose customers to negative experience. Attitude is a consequence of experience. Negative experience results in condescending attitudes of potential consumers towards a given product or brand. Therefore, firms should strive to provide relevant and consistent original information that builds trust and generates a positive attitude (Pharr & Lough 2012).
Social Media and Sports Branding
The use of social media has not left the world of sports untouched. Sports professional teams, companies, and stakeholders rely heavily on social media for communication. The websites for the teams are now revamped and synchronised with social media channels to facilitate the flow of information regarding activities, events, and offers from the management to the stakeholders and supporters (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015).
The teams attach a high degree of importance to these social media accounts, which relay information to potential customers, stakeholders, and prospective sponsors. Consumers and brands create groups on social media that can have varied names including brand page, fan page, groups or communities (Pharr & Lough 2012). These pages constitute what is termed as online communities or virtual communities.
Brand communities are specialised, non-geographically bound groups of people that are based on organised sets of social connections among loyal customers of a brand (Stavros et al. 2014). A brand community shows tree traditional indicators for the virtual groups including shared consciousness, rituals, and beliefs. Additionally, they create a sense of moral responsibility. The advantage of online brand communities is that they boast non-geographical freedom.
The content they develop can be shared across borders. This notion of geographical freedom benefits the brands since sharing of content can flow to potential customers outside predetermined places.
Customers follow particular brands on social media for varied reasons. Each individual has different needs and interests, particularly due to the varying social-cultural differences. However, with virtual communities on social media, it is difficult to demarcate these differences in needs and interests. Researchers reveal that it is possible to identify the different needs of online communities when it comes to a certain brand.
Various reasons make consumers follow brands on social media include becoming fans of reputable brands such as Nike, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Ronaldo. In this regard, these individuals desire to receive updates and promotions about these chosen brands (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). Therefore, any information created by these brands through links is accessible to the followers through links that allow the readers to share to their social media networks.
The needs for following sports brand online fall under four categories including functional, social, psychological, and hedonic. Functional needs are based on information, efficiency, and convenience. Social needs include communication, connections, engagement, and trust. Psychological needs are emotive and entail the desire for affection, belonging, and identification. Last but not least, hedonic needs comprise entertainment, enjoyment, amusement, and fun (Mancuso & Stuth 2014).
It is worth noting that functional needs can go beyond information searching and include transactions where the buyers purchase and look for decision-making purposes and the firms selling the commodities (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). Social media such as Twitter allow users to search for the brands and information they wish by using hash tags and keywords, which filter the vast information and only availing the relevant one for the user.
Social Media and its Significance in Sports Marketing
This section dedicates focus towards the different scholarly views advanced regarding the significance of social media platforms on the marketing for sports brands.
In the past few years, the use of social media among adults in the United Kingdom has grown markedly (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). These channels have gained unprecedented importance, usage, and influence as far as brands marketing is concerned. Besides proving its importance as a communication tool, social media has attracted the attention of marketers of contemporary organisations (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). The witnessed democratisation of corporate communications is the result of usage and the influence of social media (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015).
The good news is that the number of active users of social media sites is impressive and still continues to grow exponentially.
According to Wonyul (2015), Facebook newsroom in 2013 revealed that the number of active daily users reached 656 million on average in the entire world. The number of monthly users exceeded the 1 billion mark. This crucial information is a good indicator of the potential that social media presents for sports marketers. Facebook contains numerous pages for many brands that organisations use to reach customers, share information, and discuss consumers’ issues regarding the products or services (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). With the number of pages created by brands and the users increase, so do the content and promoted posts shared on the platform (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012).
Today, Facebook is more revamped and its user interface is easy for more dedicated consumer-brand interactions. The number of promotional ads for corporate brands has increased than ever before. It is easy for a Facebook user to create a fan page and create traffic towards it. Sports brands can utilise this advertising opportunity to enhance marketing efforts for their products and services (Wonyul 2015).
Twitter is a social network for micro-blogging (Mancuso & Stuth 2014). The number of Twitter users has skyrocketed every year with over one billion accounts created by 2015 (Wonyul 2015). Over 200 billion tweets are sent daily by the over 2oo million daily active users. The average number of followers for each account exceeds 200 on average. Twitter comes second as the biggest social network after Facebook.
It is a free social network and a micro-blogging site. It enables users to receive tweets from others through an automatic tweets delivery system to the user followers (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). It is common on Twitter to see users following their favourite sports icons, teams, clubs, and managers (Wonyul 2015). Sports organisations have embraced Twitter as a social network to facilitate communication with their fans across the globe (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). Also, sports organisations utilise social media channels including Twitter and Facebook to market their teams.
Through Twitter, these organisations share upcoming fixtures, results, player ratings, club performances- all geared towards creating brand loyalty and competitiveness (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). Today, it is easy for a user of Twitter to follow the events of an on-going match through live tweeting and Twitter-based commentary. The followers of these brands engage in conversations during the events where they suggest on the changes that might make the teams perform better. The fans use the platform to criticise players who miss chances or poor managerial decisions regarding the on-going match (Wonyul 2015).
Twitter is very interactive as the parties involved in discussions can emanate from groups to which all the users do not belong (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). For instance, a user who follows Real Madrid and joins an interesting discussion of celebrating a remarkable gaol may decide to press the ‘retweet’ button. The retweeted post appears to the user’s followers who are not necessarily followers of the original source of the post. Twitter allows such users to join the conversation and ‘retweet’ the posts. The events and posts end up going viral on the social network. The original post reaches multiple networks created by the different users (Wonyul 2015).
The above framework explains how powerful Twitter is as a marketing social media platform. It offers a feature that Facebook has not yet conceptualised. Only the followers of a brand page on Facebook can comment on the original posts. Unless other users in a friends’ list join or follow the page, they are not allowed to engage in the on-going discussion (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012).
It is not until their request to join such a page is approved that they can engage in active discussions about the post. This feature is one of the constraints of Facebook as an interactive social media marketing platform (Parganas, Anagnostopoulos, & Chadwick 2015). An individual does not require too much effort to interact with the information available on Twitter. As Twitter continues to evolve, business firms have realised the significance of the platform in product promotion and information sharing (Wonyul 2015).
As a marketing strategy, the use of Twitter is a new concept. In this vein, information is required to guide sports organisations on how to utilise it effectively without falling into traps on online attacks. Many organisations such as those in the United States NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, WPS, and BWIN, FCB, RMA in Spain have enhanced their twitter marketing strategies (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015).
Sports organisations especially league teams use Twitter in an attempt to take the advantage of its capabilities to help keep customers aware and connected to the brand. Branding in the sports business has received extensive attention of scholars and researchers (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). Branding entails the creation of customer relationships. Twitter is a strong element that makes sports branding highly possible.
Through interactions between spots firms and their fans on Twitter, their brands remain strong in the market. Loyal customers have a tendency of critiquing undesired trends of their favourite teams of clubs (Watkins 2014). For instance, when the English team Arsenal Football Club performs poorly as unanticipated by their fans, the supporters throng Twitter raining their concerns after the poor performance (Wonyul 2015). Engaging in relationship marketing forms an integral part of social media marketing and branding.
Twitter and Branding
Twitter is a micro-blogging site that connects consumers and brands. Unlike other social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter gives a limited number of characters when creating content; precisely 140 characters. (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). The messages are shorter than those on Facebook. However, as mentioned earlier, twitter content and messages reach a larger audience than Facebook, making it more vibrant and advantageous to branding.
Its orientation is not only limited to a personal network but is also open to all users to interact unless they have blocked each other from interacting with posts. Facebook revolves around a personal network where only friends, subscribers, and follower can view content (Wonyul 2015). On Twitter, the users collaborate in the creation and sharing of content (Lim et al. 2015). Brands including sports firms create content and engage a vast community with the use if hash tags that are used to organise broad conversations and topics. Sports fans use this feature often when talking about a particular brand, event, or major topics concerning games and players.
The hash tags identify a particular event, or brand such as #MUFCvsMCFC, #Nike, #Bwin, and #Ronaldo to engage fans in discussions surrounding that topic (Watkins 2014). The hash tag connects Twitter users in a country, region, and even worldwide with the teams and provides an outlet to openly manifest fandom thus intensifying individual’s identity with the bard or team (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015).
The use of social media, especially Twitter plays a crucial role in branding. It is possible for brands to stimulate communication among thousands of followers regarding products and services. In fact, researchers posit that Twitter is a useful social media channel in the three phases of the marketing process ranging from pre-purchase, to purchase to post-purchase (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). Twitter is useful in marketing research, marketing communications, and customer service. It is possible to establish strong brand connections with consumers through Twitter (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012).
The consumers who are already connected to the brands through Twitter disseminate the messages to their networks hence, creating more traffic towards the brands and promotions (Watkins 2014). The creation of brand communities on Twitter has been highly praised as it strengthens the consumer-brand relationships besides enhancing the consumer experience with the brand.
After the consumer-brand relationships have been established, Twitter has been shown to be helpful in strengthening and maintaining them. Marketing scholars suggest that relationship marketing includes high levels of consumer involvement. Twitter provides an interactive capability that allows the possibility of continuous communication among consumers and brands. Through this capability, brands can engage consumers in perpetual discussions about their products, experiences, suggestions, and complaints (Wonyul 2015).
Twitter provides room for the creation of relationships similar to those exhibited by interpersonal behaviour. These relationships make customers develop a sense of belonging when they identify with the brands (Lim et al. 2015). The feeling of benefiting from the relationships is evident.
Mobile Apps, Social Media, and Brand Experience
Today, mobile social media offer a vibrant outlet for sports brands to establish relationships with enthusiasts (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). Social media has been conceptualised as a group of mobile marketing applications that permit the creation and sharing of user-generated content. The social media platforms are accessible through smartphone and tablet apps (Parganas & Anagnostopoulos 2015).
These mobile-based applications allow the individual to stay connected with their interpersonal networks easily (Wonyul 2015). Today, it is easy for the users to make reservations (open table) and monitor their weight (lose it!) (Watkins 2014). Numerous professional sports teams have succeeded in creating mobile apps that are integrated with social media channels to enhance user experience and increase interactions among the teams, loyal consumers and fans (Hipke & Hachtmann 2014).
The users have aces to inside information about the professional teams (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). These apps have interactive features that link fans to each other when they visit them. For instance, it is common when a user uses a mobile app and below the posts, one can view comments of other users. One is allowed to add comments if they are already fans of the teams through Facebook or Twitter (Kohli, Suri & Kapoor 2015).
Foursquare and Gowalla founded in 2009 and 2007 respectively succeeded in creating the first mobile apps that are integrated with social media (Wonyul 2015). This innovation marked a new era of social media and mobile marketing synchronised (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). For mobile marketing to thrive successfully, three conditions are required: the availability of network at all times, users’ ability to access the network, and possession of the mobile device, which can be a phone, netbook, tablet, or an iPad among others (Watkins 2014).
The use of mobile social media provides shared experiences and content that gives the foundation for customer-based brand equity. Witkemper, Choong, and Waldburger (2012) classify the user of social media into various categories including strangers, groupies, victims, and patrons. Mobile social media integrated apps enable the brands to monitor the consumption behaviour, which is critical in successful relationship marketing (Parganas & Anagnostopoulos 2015).
The brand develops an intimate knowledge of their consumer including information regarding the user current locations and consumptions habits (Watkins 2014). Apps like Check-ins are sources of data for brands to gather data about the location of their consumers and measure the frequency of check-ins at their premises (Kohli, Suri & Kapoor 2015).
Mobile apps are increasingly becoming information hubs and convenient tools for evaluating information about sports teams (Wonyul 2015). Additionally, team information, mobile apps have been shown to increase fan experience with the teams. The mobile apps play a significant role in extending the team to the level of mobile experience. This situation enhances intimate attachment to the brands and teams (Killian & McManus 2015). Therefore, mobile apps can be regarded as a revolution in the sports branding (Kohli, Suri & Kapoor 2015).
Sports brands that wish to engage consumers in mobile social media have no choice but create mobile apps to assimilate activities into the daily lives of their followers (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). Moreover, sports brands can individualise the mobile apps to consumer’s preferences and interests and engage the followers through interactive features of the app. Marketing researchers reveal that mobile apps enhance the creation of user-generated content (Parganas & Anagnostopoulos 2015).
Wonyul (2015) adds that when consumers take the initiative to install mobile apps for preferred brands, it only shows the level of trust and loyalty they have for them. Therefore, the sports brands can gain in numerous ways upon the creation of mobile apps (Watkins 2014). Besides the numerous marketing, promotional, and branding benefits, the sports brands have the opportunity to gauge their level of growth and the impact on the ground about their products and image (Killian & McManus 2015).
Social media and mobile apps provide brand managers with an outlet for generating brand experience (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). The behaviours associated with a particular brand from purchase to consumption of products, services or systems. In this regard, sports brands should strive to look for ways of enhancing the brand experience through the employment of social media and mobile applications (Lim et al. 2015).
This section presents the methodology used to carry out the research for this paper. The aim of the study is to show the influence of social media on brand marketing. This paper entailed the study of secondary sources of data regarding the influence of social media on sports marketing and branding. The specific concern of the study entailed to establishing the impact of social media on brand relationships, fan identification and in turn the consequence of such influence on teams outcomes.
To achieve this research objective, a recruitment of fans of the English Premier League (EPL) was carried out with the use of social media to take part in a survey aimed at measuring their social media behaviours besides evaluating their identification with favourite teams. The recruitment also sought to assess the fans’ perceived relationship with the team as well as their perceptions of the club’s brand equity.
This study entailed the use of a single team as opposed to multiple teams. As such, only the fans of the Manchester United Football Club Team were involved in the survey. Data collection was carried out in a three-month period from March through to May in 2015 during which the season was the peak. The selection of this period was based on the fact that during the peak of the season football fans exhibit unmatched interests in the English Premier League. Therefore, social media activity was perceived to be more utilised towards the end of the season as the football fans show their committed support to favourite teams.
Recruitment of participants was done by posting messages with embedded links to the survey on the teams Facebook age, Twitter handle, and the inclusion of the celebrated #MUFC hash tag. The survey was programmed to take only 10 minutes to allow for non-tedious completion by the fans. The social media users whose ages range between 19 and 45 years have a tendency of overlooking content that is detailed. For this reason, a 10-minute essay was deemed briefer as compared to a 30-minute essay that would be tedious while reading on the social media. A Likert scale ranging from 1t-o 7 was used to allow the fans to rate themselves as fans of their favourite team, where 7 indicated a highly involved fan.
The number of collected surveys totalled 384, which were also utilised in the analysis. The mean age of the participants was 22 years old. The percentage of the respondents in terms of gender was 67% males and 33% females. Concerning social media use, 64% of the sample demonstrated their active use of Twitter, 36% used Facebook to follow the preferred teams.
Measurements and Scale Reliability
The elements and variables measures included fan identification, brand relationships, and brand equity. Social media engagement was measured by asking the respondents to show the degree to which their feelings towards social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook to connect with their favourite team. The data was measured on a 7-point Likert Scale. Fan identification was assessed as a continual variable where 5-item fan identity scale was adopted.
Again, a 7-point Likert scale was applied allowing users to indicate the extent of their feelings towards their clubs of preference. Additionally, the brand relationship, which is a result of social media involvement, was measured among the fans. Fans were required to show their degree of agreement or disagreement with 5-items on a 7-point Likert scale. Last but not least, brand equity was assessed where the participants indicated their extent of agreement or disagreement with 8 items about their overall perception of their favourite teams based on a 7-point Likert Scale.
Analysis and Results
The data analysis involved the use of a series of regressions. The First, a regression analysis was done in line with the primary research questions, the influence of social media user identification with Twitter and Facebook, brand relationships, and perceptions of brands (brand equity). The second part of regression analysis involved testing the hypotheses. H1: Fans identification and brand relationships yield positive effects on brand equity.
Social Media and Brand outcomes
A standard multiple regression analysis was carried out to provide answers to the research questions. The first set of research questions asked about the influence of Facebook and Twitter on the element of fan identification, which was the dependent variable (Watkins 2014). Twitter and Facebook platforms were the independent variables. The analysis showed that the two social media platforms had a significant influence on fan identification. Both channels were found to significantly predict fan identification with football clubs and teams in the Premier League.
The research questions examining the influence of the two social media platforms on brand relationships were investigated. A regression analysis was conducted to provide answers to the above research question. In this case, brand relationships were the dependent variable while Twitter and Facebook remained the independent variables. The framework was shown to be significant predicators of brand relationship. The direct influence of social media use on team’s brand equity was asked by the third research question. The regression analysis conducted to answer this question reveals that Twitter and Facebook are significant predicators of brand equity. Twitter is a stronger predictor that Facebook, as shown by a regression analysis.
Brand Outcomes and Brand Equity
The hypotheses were tested. Both hypotheses held that sport brand outcomes, fan identification, and brand relationships have a positive influence on brand equity for a sports club. In this case, brand equity was the dependent variable while fan identification and brand relationship were independent variables. Results of the multiple regression analysis carried out revealed that the model was significant predictors of brand equity.
However, only fan identification had a positive influence on brand equity. Hence, this result supported H1. The brand relationship had a negative influence on brand equity, hence, not supporting H2. The results of the multiple regression analyses are in the appendices page. The present study looked into the influence of social media on anticipated outcomes for sports brands marketing. Particularly, the use of Twitter, which is a micro-blogging social site and Facebook, a social networking channel were examined with a view to establishing their impact on sports branding and marketing.
Establishing relationships between the brand and consumers forms a central part of integrated marketing communication (Hyoryung & Kannan 2014). The use of popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as identified in this study, have positive influences on the marketing of sports brands (Griffiths & McLean 2015).
Discussion and Implications
In overall, Twitter witnesses a large number of shared messages about sports brands. Even though Facebook usage was good, its usability is restricted to the closed networks of users (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). The open sharing of content across vast online communities is not as rapid as it is with Twitter. The use of cross marketing by the Football teams promoted their usage of social media. Those teams having active cross-channel marketing clearly show an understanding of the role of social media in marketing their brands and the value of creating social media brand communities (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015).
Social media is widely accepted and applied in strategic communication and marketing in diverse organisational contexts. Recent research indicates that studies within the context of sports brands are limited. The current study contributes to a body of knowledge in advancing the studies of how social media platforms influence the marketing and branding of sports teams (Watkins 2014). This study happens at a time when the social media platforms witness an ever-increasing number of new users across the board (Hipke & Hachtmann 2014). The smartphone boom and the creation of corporate mobile-based applications have contributed to the fast growth of social media usage among young adults (Hyoryung & Kannan 2014).
Facebook and Twitter are the commonly used platforms despite the two having different structural features and utilities (Yadav, Joshi, & Rahman 2015). Each channel allows brands to create and disseminate unique messages to their followers. The shared content has been shown to be mutually beneficial to both the brands and the audiences. The brands gain from widely shared promoted information with marketing messages to a vast community of social media users.
Social media allows users to provide direct feedback to the brands (McCarthy et al. 2014). Also, the social sites give fans a chance to publicly display their associations with teams or clubs they term as favourites. In this way, social media provides a two-way interactive framework between brands and consumers. It makes it possible for emotional attachment between these two parties (McCarthy et al. 2014). This situation, in turn, creates a favourable climate to establish consumer-brand relationships.
The findings of this research study support the use of social media for sports brands who intend to leverage their marketing and branding efforts in a changing business environment (Killian & McManus 2015). Additionally, social media allows these brands to meet strategic brand outcomes. The study supports the use of Twitter in particular as part of the integrated marketing strategy for sports brands.
This is because the social media platform, which is a micro-blogging site, was found to have a stronger influence on the brand outcomes than Facebook. Sports teams utilise Twitter to foster interactions with fans besides engaging them in dialogues about various topics concerning the teams (McCarthy et al. 2014).
According to the findings of the study, fan identification requires a special attention and consideration when building relationships and enhancing brand equity. The study found that social media has the strongest influence on fan identification with favourite teams (Erdoğmuş, & Çiçek 2012). In turn, fan identification was found to have the strongest impact on brand equity. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that these effects were moderate. Sports brands require more proactive mechanisms and strategies to increase fan identification with their teams (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). Social media is an inexpensive excellent opportunity for sports brands to increase fan identification with team and clubs.
However, social media can be improved further by creating mobile apps that allow for integration. This innovative undertaking will have a profound influence on sports brads promotions and marketing (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). For instance, the use of a mobile app will allow fans to comment on information shared on them as long they are signed up for the different social media platforms supported by the brands.
The social media channels can be improved to facilitate two-way dialogic interactions between brands and consumers (Witkemper, Choong, & Waldburger 2012). Most of the consistent research studies maintain that the two-way dialogic capabilities of social media remain highly underutilised despite their huge potential influence on enhancing marketing and enhancing brand equity (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015).
A growing body of sports literature indicates that fans that identify more and get involved with teams have a higher tendency of reaching out the contents on social media (Wonyul 2015). For instance, fans that identify themselves with Manchester United are more likely to flock on Twitter and Facebook in search for content relating to the team. In overall, social media has been in this study to have a moderate influence on brand equity for the sports teams (Meng, Stavros, & Westberg 2015). This result can be explained by the fact that the two-way communication capabilities are underutilised. In this sense, leveraging social media as an important outlet to interact and connect with team enthusiasts allows the sports brands to improve brand relationships (Erdoğmuş, & Çiçek 2012).
Social media presence inside each EPL arenas is integral to each of the team’s social media marketing strategy (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015). Research shows that all the EPL teams recognise the significance of integrating social media activities with the real life fans experiences (Ashley & Tuten 2015). Fans indicated that they constantly follow team’s news and updates, game scores, and checking upcoming fixtures using social media channels.
In fact, the traditional website has little relevance to the provision of information to the social media users. As such, sports brands that fail to revamp and integrate their websites with social media platforms are likely to suffer a loss of fans identification and brand relationships. This study finds out that fans monitor team’s information using live tweets and ‘retweets’ on Twitter and posts on Facebook. Thus, it is seldom to find team’s fans looking for information on the team’s websites. The sports brands ensure that the fans do not miss anything by providing real-time updates on social media platforms (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015).
Recent research shows that websites are shifting to providing information on strategic choices of the brands but not timely updates and news. Therefore, the social media channels are replacing traditional websites (Abeza, O’Reilly, & Reid 2013).
It is not common practice to find real-time updates of an on-going match on traditional websites of sports brands (Brogi 2014). This is because such information would be irrelevant as only a few fans visit such websites. However, social media provides a lot of information for fans watching the match. In fact, fans will engage in discussions on social media about the on-going match where they suggest opinions to each other concerning the performance and anticipated outcomes (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015).
Even team managers use social media channels such as Twitter to interact with fans. It is predictable to see managers’ decisions becoming highly influenced by the fans on social media (Abeza, O’Reilly, & Reid 2013). For instance, during half-time, managers can engage with fans on twitter to see what changes are necessary to improve performance in the second half of the match. A manager’s decision that impresses fans will receive numerous ‘retweets’ and ‘favourites’ on Twitter and many likes, comments, and sharing on Facebook (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015).
The use of social media for interactions with fans is not limited to the on-going matches. In support of sporting literature, this study reveals that brands interact with teams’ fans even outside the sports arena (Brogi 2014). Today, the use of live chats is increasingly becoming common practice with many organisations including those in the sports industry (Ashley & Tuten 2015). Additionally, live video streaming of on-going games allows fans to watch games via their handheld devices as they interact with other fans on social media (Abeza, O’Reilly, & Reid 2013).
Live chats and online video streaming extend the fans experience. In turn, fans are likely to identify which create forums like live cats and video streaming (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015). This is because the fans feel valued by their favourite teams. These conversational tools enhance interactions between the brands and fans during on-going matches (Ashley & Tuten 2015). The live chat tool helps to gather fans in a shared digital location where they obtain frequent game updates and stimulating discussions around the teams (Brogi 2014).
In the wake of numerous social media initiatives in place today, many sports brand can track and measure their relevance in terms of the number of likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter (Ashley & Tuten 2015). Facebook Insights and Twitter Dashboard Analytics via Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, Bit.ly link tracking, Foursquare Analytics have created an internal document to track and measure return on Investments for organisations.
Numerous sports organisations are establishing partnerships with Randian6, which is a social media monitoring firm offering assistance to brands in tracking and evaluating, and analysing as well as reporting to enhance their engagement with followers and subscribers to their social media platforms (Dixon, Martinez, & Martin 2015; Abeza, O’Reilly, & Reid 2013). The tools provide sports brands with crucial insights concerning fan engagement and levels of interaction over the respective social media channels.
This study has identified crucial insights regarding the influence of social media on sports brands marketing and communication. The intensifying growth of social media platforms has not gone unnoticed in the professional sports industry. The paper carries out an extensive examination of past studies featuring the impact of social media on marketing and branding strategies for organisations including sports businesses.
With the research questions guiding this study, results have shown support for the hypotheses that social media promotes fan identification favourite teams. The consumer behaviour regarding information search on products, purchasing, and post-purchase interactions has greatly changed. In this vein, social media plays a critical role in providing sports fans with these capabilities. Marketing and branding have been highly influenced by the emergence of social media communities.
Particularly, social media enhances fans identification with preferred teams, the creation of brand relationships, and promotion of brand equity. In this sense, sports brands can gain additional advantages from the integration of websites and mobile applications with popular social media platforms. This study strongly recommends professional sports brands to increase their social media presence to reap inexpensive marketing capabilities and promote their brands.
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Table 1: Social media and fan identification (N=384).
Table 2: Social media and Brand equity (N=384).
Table 3: Social media and brand relationships (N=384).
Table 4: Brand outcomes and brand equity (N=384).
Table 5: Correlations coefficients among model variables.