Die hard fans all over the country lit up with pride Wednesday after San Francisco’s 8-3 win over the Tigers. Yet with all the buzz surrounding the Giants and the World Series, there’s an unsung hero amidst the freaks, pandas and beards – his name is Bryan Srabian, SF Giants Social Media Director (not to be confused with general manager Brian Sabean). Srabian and his social media team have skillfully created an enormous amount of the hype and fan loyalty resulting in “the golden touch” that’s been said to follow the Giants wherever they go. It’s not surprising that Pablo Sandoval’s historic performance in Game 1 of the World Series had fans in a frenzy. ”The Panda”generated the second-most social media comments in postseason history, according to the MLB Giants blog.
Ongoing social media efforts orchestrated by the Giants have assured beyond a doubt that these record breaking wins are no accident. The clever and creative digital strategy which the Giants have organized has earned them a marketing victory of World Series proportions.
The Characters & Story
Turning individual players into a brand is one of the most notable and unique things the Giants have been able to do using things like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This strategy turned San Fransisco athletes into baseball’s beloved super-heros. Sandoval, the huggable, teddy-like third basemen who hit home runs in his first three at-bats Wednesday night, is named “Kung Fu Panda” for his resemblance to the roly-poly cartoon character. Whether it’s “The Freak,” pitcher Tim Lincecum; ”The Beard,” injured closer Brian Wilson; or ”The Baby Giraffe,” Brandon Belt, the gangly first baseman - the mass appeal generated by these characters is astounding.
I attended a Giants game early in the season and couldn’t help but notice that even though Wilson had been injured all season, every corner stand was selling out of “Fear the Beard” clothing and bobble heads. The hooded Panda hats also filled the vendor shelves around the ballpark. Entering AT&T Park was similar to entering through the gates of Disneyland where the San Fransisco never-never land of orange and black was fully decorated with stuffed animal hoodies and full beards hanging on the faces of grown men.
During Game 1 of the World Series (and leading up to it) the cameras couldn’t stay away from Brian Wilson who said,
“”I can’t control what the cameras do,” he says. “It’s just that people are starting to pay attention, videotaping it, recording it. Social media these days can blow anything up.”
Other MLB teams have put forth some witty attempts to gain social media notoriety, including the Washington Nationals. In July 2012 a group of their players recorded a YouTube video reading a paragraph from the now infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” book. But there is no other team that has continuously built up their story using social media like the San Fransisco Giants, especially this season.
How did they come up with these alternate personas which are so widely recognized and adored? And why aren’t there other players on other teams marketing themselves to gain this kind of nation-wide support and recognition?
Srabian explains that their ultimate marketing strategy was to tell a compelling story.
While guys like A-Rod are busy throwing phone numbers to supermodels – guys like Wilson and Sandoval are able to leverage their equally quirky moments into positive PR. Instead of ending up on TMZ, their personalities have turned them into like-able, funny, personified characters which fans cannot get enough of.
But not all professional athletes are on board with the idea of inviting fans into their life through the social media spotlight. Troy Trevor Tulowitzki, shortstop with the Colorado Rockies, on the subject of social media marketing and developing a personal brand told me in a hubristic fashion, “That’s not me. I don’t need that kind of thing.” Tulowitzki may not think he needs a marketing team – but who would turn down the kind of energy and support that the Giants have experienced throughout the season?
Perhaps the SF players have learned to knock down major league egos in return for love, support and the powerful vibes from their die hard devotees. In an interview on SHOtime, Lincecum explains that he isn’t one to be in the limelight. But even things like this YouTube nugget with close to 50,000 views, where Lincecum talks about shyness as his Achilles heel - it all adds to the compelling story of baseball and this extraordinary team. Having this bond with fans is proving to be invaluable for the Giants. Srabian’s strategy would not have worked without the support from the entire Giants organization, but they managed to knock it out of the park (sorry couldn’t help myself).
“People feel they are a part of the Giants’ story,” said Adam Kleinberg, interactive marketer. “It’s the entire brand experience. … They have created something unique but part of the fabric of San Francisco.”
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