Sports Influencers: How To Build Relationships With The Biggest Influencers In Your Industry

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For brands looking to make their mark on social media, traditional models of promotion aren’t always a guarantee of increased brand awareness.

Instead of dedicating a disproportionate share of the marketing budget to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ad spend, at WePlay we help our clients build meaningful relationships with key social media sports influencers who become worthwhile assets to the brand.

As a sports marketing agency with a digital focus, we have to be on top of the latest developments in social media – and working with influencers is becoming an increasingly important marketing channel.  Influencer outreach is not an exact science, but knowing the following 3 tactics will improve your chance of engaging with high-profile individuals and getting them to act.

1. How To Find Sports Influencers: Use your Network!

The earliest mode of influencer outreach, in any industry, is within the industry itself. As a fledgling shoe manufacturer, did Nike move into the football market immediately? No; Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight first had to build relationships with student athletes at the University of Oregon in the 1970’s.

“Brands today have to engage with influencers within their own network before approaching the more transcendent figures.”

sports influencers

What can Sports Influencers bring to your brand?

For our client MoneyGram Cricket we quickly identified that influencers in our network – including bloggers, podcast hosts and relevant popular Twitter accounts – were the essential channel to organically amplify the great content we were producing.

Initially, this led to increased viral reach for Twitter content, a signpost for higher brand recognition for our client. As we repeated this cycle, the rate of engagement among the brand’s audience and the influencers’ audience saw steady and sustained growth. Furthermore, we achieved credibility for the brand by having influential accounts see MoneyGram Cricket as a source for cricket insight and discussion.

For another client, sports betting company 888sport, we used the same tactic of building a network of sports industry influencer accounts to reach a larger audience, which successfully enabled us to surpass all expected campaign goals & KPIs.

2. Aim High and Be Persistent 

When the need arises to approach the big fish, the super influencer, sometimes to go in cold isn’t the worst thing you could ever do. Following well-known sales techniques, where individuals are targeted to get a bite, we leverage content to influencers in a similar way. The crucial phase in this operation is the follow-up.

“Ensure the influencer has a reason to engage with you, not just in the instant you’re looking for, but also for a second, third and fourth time. That’s when you may get a shot at closing an agreement with a power user.”

Using the example of MoneyGram Cricket once again, we first set out with a list of cricket players who use Twitter and engage with their fans on a regular basis. Perhaps more than any other sport, cricket fans are obsessed with the big stars of the game, such as Kevin Pietersen and Virat Kohli. Always use the influencer’s handle in a Tweet that goes out about them – even if they themselves miss it, the Tweet appears in search queries and will be picked up by fan accounts.

sports social media influencerstop 10 cricket sports influencers

We had no particular reason to go after Kevin Pietersen as a sports influencer, other than the knowledge that he was active on social media and would deliver brand awareness on a scale that our handle had not experienced before.

The opening Tweet led to the influencer checking out the profile and engaging with an infographic we had created earlier. Of the engagement received from KP’s interaction, we calculated that 40% of it came from Virat Kohli fans.

“What we had achieved in this example was talkability which, based on our client being a service instead of a creator of products, was a highly desirable outcome.”

When Kevin Pietersen engaged with MoneyGram once again some months later (as well as Dale Steyn, but who’s bragging?) we saw it as confirmation that the brand was now on KP’s radar, and relayed that information to our client for future consideration.

As well as knowing which major players on social media are a realistic target, it’s also vital to assess how you want an influencer to help your brand. Below we have categorised the broad scope of social media influencers into five profiles, for more detail into this model you can read an article we wrote for SocialMediaToday.

different types of social media sport influencers

The different types of influencers

3. Reciprocity – The Key to Building Relationships With Sports Influencers

We have to be very clear that social media influencers are not brand advocates; they do not have a strong connection with your brand and it is unlikely that they will share your content out of love for your products.

Once an influencer is involved in your operation, it is vital to keep them engaged and develop the relationship to a stage where they are more of an advocate than an influencer. The surest way to sustain the partnership with your influencer is reciprocity. Understand the dynamics between the brand and the user: are you a product-based brand and the influencer runs a blog? Send them your product, share their content around your product – but go the extra step and share their own content, when suitable.

We see the latest Adidas boots on the feet of bloggers long before they appear in stores, but what if a brand promoted their advocates’ blog posts (or YouTube videos) when they aren’t about footwear? That extra piece of appreciation is what could turn an influencer into an advocate and at that stage, they are happy to market for you, for free.

Ultimately, sports influencers are a short-term means to a long-term goal: to have a network of loyal users who share a genuine love for the sports brand and its products. The value of influencers or advocates is not defined by the size of their audience, but by their power to convert, and this should be driven by their conviction in the brand they are promoting.

Influence ultimately is the ability to turn awareness into action.

If you think your brand or business might benefit from leveraging the power of influencer marketing, you should speak with one of our team of sports marketing specialists

They can help you put together a sports marketing strategy that will get your brand in front of a range of new audiences. Take a look at our contact details, send us an email, and let’s get the conversation started!

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