Tweeting for game tickets
Sep 06, 2010 (The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Next month, if all goes as planned, about 300 smart-phone-carrying contestants will spend a Saturday shooting video, snapping pictures, tweeting, updating Facebook and otherwise digitally socializing at preset locations around Charlotte.
Their goal: to win Carolina Panthers tickets by beating opponents in an "Amazing Race"-style social media contest.
The Oct. 23 competition -- called Panthers Purrsuit -- marks the latest, and perhaps most ambitious, local twist on a staple of the social media age: contests drawn up by companies or charities to pull in Twitter followers and Facebook fans.
Usually, retailers mount such contests. But in a sign of the increasing reach and clout of social networks, all kinds of businesses -- even NFL football teams like the Panthers -- are getting involved.
Despite having almost 50,000 fans on Facebook and more than 9,000 on Twitter, the Panthers say they want more. They want to build the kind of generational loyalty that older teams like the Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers enjoy.
They figure social networks, with their appeal to the young, can help.
"That is the future fan of the Carolina Panthers," said Mike Mahoney, a sponsorship sales executive with the team. "You can never have too many fans."
The Allen Tate real estate firm signed on as title sponsor. President Pat Riley said selling real estate is all about building relationships, and so is social media. He wants to keep in touch with clients, even after the sale.
"People only buy homes every 4.3 years in America," he said. "We need to make sure when you buy a house that you understand we're not here today and gone tomorrow."
A Twitter search last week turned up tweets about all sorts of social media competitions.
The Biltmore Estate congratulated the winner of a Christmas wine label design contest. A Charlotte notary public service talked up its essay contest, offering a free wedding package to the writer of the best "how-we-met" essay.
The Shoppes at University Place offered a $20 Visa gift card to the person who came up with the best names for two new swans in its lake.
Charlotte Jewish Day School generated significant buzz on Twitter and Facebook last week with its campaign to win $500,000 through a Facebook contest run by Kohl's department stores.
To vote for the school, supporters had to click a button agreeing to let Kohl's access their friend lists and information they've given Facebook about their hobbies and preferences -- not an uncommon way for corporations to use contests to gain information about potential customers.
With help from high-profile local Twitter-users like Nathan Richie, head of the Social Media Charlotte networking group, the school made its way into the top 10. Voting ended Friday; winners will be announced later this month.
Also last week, the Earth Fare store in SouthPark chatted about its free smoothie giveaway for every 50 new Facebook friends. Asked about the response, the manager, Tom Bahl, dubbed it "mediocre."
Still, he added, conventional wisdom says you need a Facebook page. His store's page has about 250 fans. And if you don't use contests or other means to drive people to the page, Bahl said, "it's kind of irrelevant."
Critics have questioned the marketing value of social networks, especially since measuring their dollars and cents impact remains more art than science.
Still, companies figure that with half a billion people on Facebook alone, it would be foolhardy to ignore social networks.
At the very least, proponents argue, the networks let firms engage with customers and get feedback, and that helps business over the long term.
"What companies are looking at now... is building a brand," said Jim Risner, co-founder of Votigo, a San Francisco-area firm that runs contests for Ford, Coca-Cola and other corporations. "Before it was building your e-mail list. Now it's building your fan base and building your followers."
Business is brisk enough for his firm to charge anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 per contest campaign; it has opened an office in India and is opening a third in Colorado.
Scott Hepburn, the local consultant who dreamed up the Panthers Purrsuit contest, said he hopes it shows how companies can take social media to the next level.
"A Facebook status update is nice," he said, "but how can you harness the energy your customers have?"
Eric Frazier: 704-358-5145 or @ericfraz on Twitter.
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