How to Ace Social Media – 12 Tips from Wimbledon

Wimbledon is one of the world’s most prestigious sports tournaments and the crown jewelry of the tennis Grand Slams. At the sponsorship conference IEG, Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital with The All England Lawn Tennis Club, shared 12 tips on how rightsholders can take full advantage of the power of social and digital media.

The presentation was named “How to Ace the Opportunities Presented by Social Media” and following is an extract of the take-aways.

  • Follow Alexandra Willis on Twitter here, and IEG here.

1) Articulate your purpose

The most important role of social media is to articulate your purpose and what you stand for. As an example, Wimbledon goes back to its roots with their iconic attributes: grass, strawberries, whites, royalty and the hill.

”We spent a lot of time thinking about what we want social media to do for us, and we settled on the idea that social media for Wimbledon should be the next best thing to being there. How can we use social media to articulate what it’s like to walk through the gates for the first time and be greeted by this amazing structure covered in ivory?”

The second part of Wimbledon’s purpose is more tactical and they split it into two buckets. The first one is about acquiring new fans, and the second is about activating and retaining their existing audience.

2) Develop your tone

The second thing Wimbledon did was to concentrate the tone of voice and character in how you want people to interact with your content.

”We settled on the idea that Wimbledon should be perceived as a slightly bumbling, eccentric, English gentleperson. Gentle is very much a part of our brand DNA. But it should be fun, not stuffy or uptight, hence the reference to bumbling and eccentric.”

This tip is used by many brands to make relevant storytelling; by itself or help fans to tell the story to each other.

3) Treat each channel with respect

Wimbledon doesn’t want you to see the same content in different channels, at least not in the exactly same way. Treat every social channel with respect, and try not to do the same thing across all of them.

”We spend a lot of time and energy creating content. Am I just going to put it everywhere? If you haven’t thought about the channel, including what it is designed to do and how consumers interact with it, then that lovely piece of content won’t perform in the way that it should.”

In short, the tournament developed content strategies for each channel.

4) People matter

”People really, really matter”, Alexandra Willis says, according to IEG.

”If you’re going to invest your money anywhere, invest it in getting the right people to support you.”

Having the right people on your team who will help you do social media well is absolutely crucial. And don’t be afraid to ask the younger audience as an ”advisory board”, they will now.

5) Don’t be afraid to have fun

Personally, I find this tip maybe the best one to take with me to my next assignments. Don’t underestimate to get an ”OK” to improvise, and don’t forget to do just that.

”This was definitely a hurdle when we presented the strategy to our committee – that social media should be fun. An event like The Masters has always been very wary of any kind of humor or anything tongue-in-cheek.”

Mistakes are a part of life.

”I once posted a picture from a Beyoncé concert on the Wimbledon account. You make mistakes, and you move on.”, tells Alexandra Willis.

6) Embrace multiple platforms

There is, as the head of communication describes it, ”so much written about the power of video”, and moving pictures are very powerful.

”We had an illustrator create a series of animated GIFs to relive historic Wimbledon moments. It was a slightly different twist on pumping out archived content. That’s something that we’ve really tried to think about.”

To be ”digi-physical” also works well for Wimbledon.

The event created a giant hedge with the @Wimbledon sign.

It was intended to be a prompt for people to follow the official Wimbledon accounts, but it became a photo opportunity for people at Wimbledon.

Sometimes great ideas don’t fall out as you expect, but they become good anyway.

7) Pull from your audience…but also push to them

It’s important to know what your audience is interested in, but also to be confident in your own content.

The mix is easier said than done, and Wimbledon has divided their content strategy into three buckets.

A. Planned

The first type of content is the content that you can pre-plan.

You’re going to push it out at 9:02 a.m. on the first day of the tournament, it’s going to go to these countries and these audiences in these markets. That’s something we have begun to do more of.

The problem is that you can’t plan and produce all of your content in beforehand because A) it’s expensive and B) you might lose impact, you want to be live with your audience; the essence of social media.

B. Preemptive

The types of content you can try to plan for.

We know that every year the defending champions will open center court on the first day. Equally, we know that at the end of the week five people will be crowned Wimbledon champions. So how can we try to prepare for those moments and think about the ways we’re going to cover them?

Besides the sport, Wimbledon has some key events that are relevant to them throughout the year, such as National Strawberry Day, Christmas and other holidays. Preplan and fit your message into those kinds of events/holidays.

C. Reactive

Thirdly, there is the stuff that you can’t plan for; the main part of live sports events.

David Beckham came to Wimbledon a couple of years ago and caught a rogue tennis ball. The piece of content was until recently one of the most watched videos across the BBC’s social channels. It’s one of those things that you don’t know is going to happen, but you can make sure you’re ready by having the right tools and the right people.

A personal tip for ”reactive social media success” is to do as the number five above, to plan for it. What I say is that you have to make room for spontaneity in your time budget and create a culture for your staff that makes them creative enough to capture the moment you never now will happen.

8) Content first, partner second

One of the things that social media offers is the ability to create and monetize new revenue streams. But if you are going to succeed you have to put the content first and the partner second, Alexandra Willis says.

Wimbledon has a good case with Evian, putting the brand behind the content.

That’s really difficult when someone is sitting there saying ‘hang on, I’m paying you lots of money, I want my brand in the copy, I want a pre-roll, I want a post-roll, and I want product placement.’

If you want your audience to engage with a piece of content, the worse thing you can do is to oversell it.

If you put out a piece of content that is too commercial and too heavily branded, nobody will watch it and no one will engage with it.

On the other side, without your sponsors, many event rightsholders can’t engage their visitors at all.

9) Invest (wisely) in collaborations

Collaborations between events, influencers and other rightsholders can be both good and bad, Alexandra Willis tells IEG. You have to invest your time and budget wisely.

Influencers are probably the most common collaboration category.

We did something with Food Tube, which is a channel in partnership with Jamie Oliver around strawberries and crème. Tom Daley (Olympic diver) came to Wimbledon and did one of his microblogs about his journey and how he enjoyed the experience.

But partnerships can also be made between different rightsholders, which from the beginning can be seen as competitors.

Last year, Wimbledon collided with the UEFA European Championship.

When that happens, everyone forgets that tennis exists and they all concentrate on football. So we went to UEFA and said ‘Is there some kind of content series we can create to cross-promote both of our events?’ It was particularly appropriate because the two finals were on the same day.

The solution was Wimbleskills, that asked both tennis fans and pro soccer players to show their skills with a tennis ball.

10) Test and track what you do

This tip is pretty interesting, and kind of made me think how so many clubs in team sports (leagues) can be so horrible in social media.

We’re a two-week event. We don’t have a warm-up or a practice event. It’s very difficult to test stuff. Football clubs have the luxury of opportunities once or twice a week. We find this particularly challenging.

Alexandra Willis makes an example with video formats.

The tradition is to deliver content on a 16:9 display screen; now everyone is consuming content on a phone. Is that the right way to create video content, or should we create it square? We spoke with Facebook about this, and they said ‘well, have you tested it?’ We just ran some tests with the same piece of content on our web page and the square performed five times better than the non-square.

So come on soccer, football, ice hockey, handball, volleyball and all other league sports… test! (At least in your preseason…)

11) Treat platforms as a collective

When you think about your website, you should think about social media as well. Social and digital channels go together.

There might be other people who are part of that collective. We have broadcast partners and official suppliers. If we’re creating content for our own channels, we should think, are there opportunities to leverage what they bring to the table?

Last year Wimbledon gave content to Bleacher Report for their daily Snapchat Discover story. It helped the classic tournament to reach a different audience.

12) Don’t force it

Alexandra Willis last tip is to not force your content.

We had an exhibition of the most famous posters in tennis a few years ago at the Wimbledon museum. The most famous poster in tennis is called tennis girl. It’s a picture of a lady hitching up her dress and holding a tennis ball. We used that as a piece of content to promote the exhibition. There was an uproar. ‘How can you use sex to sell an exhibition?’

We thought ‘Oh no, what are we going to do?’ So we crafted an apology and we got a barrage back the other way saying ‘What are you doing? Why are you reacting to these people who are overly sensitive?’

Stay true to who you are and don’t force it when you don’t have to, Alexandra Willis finishes.

And it totally connects to her first mantra: to start with your purpose.

I have been playing tennis since I was a kid and followed the tournament ever since. One of my main takeaways from their digital journey as a tennis fan is that it’s done without losing the touch at all. Social channels have made Wimbledon more ”open” than ever, but it’s still as exclusive and mysterious as it’s always been.