The UFC just broke their own personal best for social media reaction during UFC 193, they are the fastest growing sport on the planet and through their use of real time social and live streaming they are leading the way when it comes to digital sport. Let’s explore how they’re doing this.
— Shanda (@UFC_Shanda) November 26, 2015
It’s safe to say that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) didn’t have the easiest of starts, at one point almost going out of business. The US-based mixed martial arts sport was banned in 49 states, and networks weren’t keen to broadcast their content.
They’ve had a turbulent time, but things are now looking extremely bright. A huge part of their success can be put down to the way they fully embraced social and digital.
Of course they’ve learned along the way and have been led from the front by the fantastic Shanda Maloney who heads up their social strategy and has been instrumental in building brand awareness over the last three years.
A business born in the digital age, they’ve grown hand-in-hand with social media and it’s allowed them to really connect with their key demographic – male 18-34 year olds – and recognised it as a great way to expand and market globally.
Experts at content
Many modern brand content calendars may have anywhere between 2-10 social posts planned a day. The UFC will post on average at least one piece of content an hour, every day across multiple social media channels. It’s not all one-way broadcasts either. They actually interact more than most mainstream official sports accounts.
They understand that each platform is different and don’t just post the same content out across all channels. They create original platform-specific content, taking advantage of their in-house editorial teams and the fighters themselves who are constantly training and supporting their social media efforts.
From one event to the next there’s a methodical episodic strategy deployed – from announcing the fights, to press conferences, weigh ins, open training sessions, the walk to the ring, even down to the walk back out of the ring, post-fight interviews and reactions – everything can be found on social.
Support from the top
Most importantly, Shanda and the team recognise the power of the 600 athletes on the UFC roster. Using the athletes’ influence and deeper connection with their fans, the team are able to distribute messages better and with a higher rate of success, co-ordinated via Dropbox.
Dana White, the President of UFC, is a huge fan of social, referring to Twitter as “the greatest marketing tool in the history of the world”. With 3.4 million Twitter followers (at the time of writing) he’s consistently advocated the use of social media to engage with fans, bringing in professionals to train the fighters to use it.
2011 introduced a Twitter bonus scheme, incentivising fighters to be active and creative on social media and rewarding those who added growth with a quarterly cash payment for the largest increase in followers (until some of the fighters started buying followers to win the bonuses!). That aside, they’ve consistently demonstrated support and an understanding of a strong advocacy programme that would make most corporations green with envy.
Video is building the hype
Video has become hugely important in all strategies across social and it’s easy to see there have been some clear winners over the past 12 months as the big social channels have been fighting it out for video views.
In the last part of 2015 the UFC has benefitted hugely from the battle for video between Facebook and YouTube further helping raise the profiles of Rhonda Rousey and Conor Mcgregor. However this wasn’t luck, if you read anything around Shanda and her team, they were already producing platform-specific content that happened to get picked up in the algorithmic tidal wave of views caused by Facebook’s determination to have ‘more views’.
They understand cross-pollinating fan bases – capitalising on the public feud between Flloyd Mayweather and Rhonda Rousey and using it as an opportunity to target new fans through social advertising. They know there is a huge crossover when it comes to their sport and fans of WWE and have therefore created collaborative content, working with media creators like Jenna Marbles to drive commercial interest. You can find out more about that in this awesome podcast published earlier this month.
Livestreaming and 2016
Many said 2015 was the year of livestreaming, and UFC were at the forefront of bringing behind-the-scenes and real-time content to their legions of fans.
Livestreaming is a vital part of their strategy. Not only have they streamed full fights live via Facebook in the past, their use of Periscope and YouTube livestreaming is key to engagement and sales.
They’re now starting to embrace Blab in new and interesting ways, using their athletes to do behind-the-scenes commentary with a watch-along behind-the-scenes with the fighters during their show adding another level of interactivity.
Periscope and Vine allows them to bridge the gap between TV and behind-the-scenes from backstage to the ring, literally walking you to the ring. In this way, they’re also walking their fans up to the paywall for their UFC Fight Pass product and PPV events.
— UFC (@ufc) December 13, 2015
They’ve embraced vlogging with some of their most recent episodes reaching around 800k. In the week leading up to a fight, they will record the fighters 24/7 and turn that content around in lightening time to show the best bits and chop up content to be distributed natively across all other social channels.
They livestream everything around the fight – press conferences, to weigh ins, open training sessions, to media calls. You can essentially access everything about the UFC now via social. Except the fight (on most occasions), which is ultimately the final destination for the fan. This is now behind their own paywall and so you can see why and how social media is so important for them. It acts as the ultimate sales funnel, giving fans unprecedented levels of access.
Their social strategy is underpinned by a great website, emails, podcasts, infographics, GIFs. You name it, they do it. A small but mighty team who are truly leading the way in brand social marketing and so it will be interesting to see how that develops in 2016.