Finding the Bigger Event Engagement Picture

This blog post originally appeared on the Meeting Professionals International blog. Since its publication, the website has been redesigned and older blog posts are not longer available. It has been republished here with permission.

As far as Matt O’Neil, vice president of brand and media for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, is concerned, game day extends beyond the one day a week that the team is on the field. And he believes that event professionals should take the same approach to social marketing for their events.

This was one of the messages delivered to approximately 150 meeting, event and travel professionals who descended on The Star in Frisco, Texas—the new headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys—during Omni Hotels & Resorts’ “Be Collaborative” professional development series. Omni is building a hotel as part of The Star in Frisco complex, which will have 300 rooms and roughly 30,000 square feet of meeting space when it opens in July 2017.

Following a presentation about the latest hotel industry data and how it can affect availability and pricing, O’Neil delved further into the social and marketing techniques his team uses to promote a brand that has long been known as “America’s Team.”

“There’s a calendar year of 365 days that we have to engage our fans,” he said. “There’s just a bigger picture than your events. There’s a longer window in which you need to engage your people and your fans and your customers.”

O’Neil oversees a large area for engagement, managing the team’s marketing, advertising and creative services; content providers (radio, television, internet, social and mobile channels); and what he calls “event presentation” for game days or third-party events: content for the AT&T Stadium video board and activities that occur in the plaza or at halftime.

“Anything else that touches the brand in any way, I either directly control or have influence in or feel responsible for,” he said.

The importance of the brand is paramount, according to O’Neil.

“It’s 365 days a year of how you are filtering your brand into your experience,” he said. “It’s wildly important to the success of your business.”

O’Neil said the job of deciding what the brand is has shifted from the business owner or event planner to the customer or the attendee. As a result, attendees’ post-event reaction has been even more important.

“They come home…and someone asks them, ‘Hey, how was that conference, how was that meeting?’ If they don’t say ‘great,’ you’re screwed. They’re not coming back next year,” he said. “That hurts your personal brand and hurts your meeting or event for next year.”

Every single touch point matters to the brand, and O’Neil says that creating the best content for social media is a major part of that. The turning point for the Cowboys was creating a parody of the popular “Mean Tweets” video, inspired by the feature on the late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live! The video ended up being the most-watched video on an NFL team website five times over, driven entirely by social and signaling to O’Neil and his team the importance of creating extraordinary content just for social media.

As a result, O’Neil and his team look at five areas when creating content for social media marketing.

O’Neil says authenticity is key when communicating with attendees. If you’re not familiar with a certain topic, turning to your speakers is a good way to get it right.

“Tell [speakers], ‘If you’re going to speak at this conference, then I need five social posts from you.’ It’s super easy and it’s authentic,” he said.

Another suggestion from O’Neil is choosing a voice, saying that the “default” voice for social media is witty and cleaver. He said the voice should reflect the makeup of your audience, pointing out that the voice for an event for construction workers would differ from an event for senior citizens. He added that when it comes to the voice, it’s not about you, rather it’s about your audience.

Another key is posting at the same interval on a regular basis. O’Neil says that if you publish a blog post (or any other social channel) every Tuesday, then your audience will come to expect that and it’s important to maintain the schedule.

O’Neil says that in addition to posting regularly, one of the most important factors is that material should be the absolute best work you can produce. He judges the strength of content by how many times it has been shared.

“I am a finicky share person,” he said. “It better blow me away for me to press the ‘share’ button and give it to my network.”

Speed and Timing
Putting the content out at the right time is also critical. O’Neil said that the Cowboys’ take on the popular “mannequin challenge” video, shot prior to a plane ride back following a road win, garnered 13 million views, while similar videos by other teams only received a fraction of that. He said distributing it at the right time of day (social media was still active following the win) made the difference. Putting it out the next morning after the plane had landed might not have been as effective.

“Think about putting out content that is relatable to more people,” O’Neil said. “Social media, especially Facebook, allows you to target in a really good way.”

He said that as close as fans are to the Cowboys brand, many times fans still see the players as almost super-human. Their objective then is to produce material that makes the players relatable and human to everyone.

O’Neil talked about the number of videos that were produced before the season featuring then-starting quarterback Tony Romo. After Romo went down with an injury in a preseason game, the material was rendered unusable. His point underscored the importance of staying up to date when producing content.

“How are you being relevant to your fan base?” he asked. “What is going to be relevant for them to hear right now?”

Social Distribution
“When you put out a great piece of content, before you press publish, who are you contacting to help amplify that message?” O’Neil asked.

He said that a post on a social channel with a small number of followers will obviously not go anywhere. Distributing carefully thought out material to the right channels, though, can lead to bigger gains.

“How are you creating great content, how are you thinking through every single word you’re putting out there?” he asked. “How are you drawing people to the meetings, to the conferences, how are you doing it?”

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