The sporting goods retailer is using a new social tool to help it jump into trending Twitter conversations before the moment fades.
In early May the Twittersphere was buzzing about Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder player whom the NBA had just named MVP. In particular, the talk was about his moving acceptance speech, in which he thanked his mother for the values she instilled in him and professed his love of the game.
When ESPN tweeted out a link to the speech, Champs Sports responded with a quick retweet and the comment "Game Is Real." (Playing on its own tagline, "We Know Game.")
The sporting goods retailer has been inserting itself more often into conversations like these since it started using a new marketing tool from social media management firm Spredfast.
"We were really intrigued with the idea of taking part in and staying up to date on conversations and trending topics. Our consumer is about the here and now," says Scott Burton, director of marketing at Champs Sports. "The more relevant we can be and more on time we can be with our kids today, the better we look in the long run," he says.
Called Spark, the tool can be bought as a stand-alone product or as part of Spredfast's social media management tool, Conversations, which lets companies track communications on their own brand pages. This new tool allows brands to go beyond that to track any related topics that they want to stay on top of and participate in.
Trying to do this using Twitter alone, Burton says, is like searching for a needle in a haystack. "It's easy to follow the NBA, but much harder to follow the particulars of the 9 million people following them," he says.
Although there are plenty of competitors to Spredfast that offer companies social media listening tools, such as Radian6 and Sprout Social, Spredfast claims there isn't yet another company offering a tool to help marketers locate and get involved in conversations outside their own pages.
"We sat down with marketers and heard a lot of feedback that they wanted to participate in more moments and be able to track their competitors," says Manish Mehta, chief product officer (CPO) at Spredfast. "This gives brands an opportunity to take advantage of moments in real time and market against them."
Spark lets marketers create personalized topics to follow, whether it is around an event, a celebrity, a competitor, or a topic's followers, and notifies them when there is activity in that area. Then, they can use the platform to insert themselves into the conversation, if they so choose.
Those who want deeper capabilities such as calendaring or importing data into the company CRM need to purchase Spredfast's Conversations tool as well, Mehta notes. Currently only available on Twitter, the product will also be available for Facebook in the near future.
Setting up a topic such as "NBA followers" lets Champ Sports see, for example, who is most active and what topics are trending among them. Sometimes, there are surprises on what fans are talking about. For example, a recent top trending topic among NBA followers was the popular singing competition The Voice.
Mehta says he also recently demonstrated the product to a fashion company, which found to its surprise that the most common image posted among its followers was Godzilla.
"This is not something they would have guessed," says Mehta, adding that it would have been a good marketing move to tweet out something that day on the topic – perhaps offering the mammoth creature a fashion makeover.
The tool also predicts how long the topic will remain hot, looking at activity over a 24-hour period, then predicting what it will do over the next four hours.
However, no tool can decide when a company should jump into a conversation; that is up to the marketing team.
"We look at what other brands are already interacting on that topic, or where perhaps no one has jumped in yet brand wise," says Burton, pointing to one factor in its decisions to participate.
Champs sometimes merely retweets relevant content – for example, a spotting of Jay Z wearing the Taxi Air Jordan 12, which is sold at Champs Sports outlets. Or a trending GIF showing Kobe Bryant spinning a basketball that transformed into a soccer ball, which the basketball player posted as a Vine clip on his Twitter account.
But Champs also uses the tool to get in on specific discussions and drive traffic to its page.
Recently, Nike announced the availability of its new Calvin Johnston shoe, called the Nike Zoom CJ2 Trainer "Spicy Tuna." Champs quickly secured an image of the shoe from partner Nike, which it tweeted with a link to where it could be purchased on the Champs site.
Burton says the result was an increase in traffic to the page with the Spicy Tuna shoe on its site. He did not say whether there had been an increase in sales, however.
Burton says Champs also sometimes chimes in to test feedback for a certain product: "We see how these comments track and amplify, so we use it as a barometer as well as an opportunity to interject."
While he couldn't give sales figures, Burton says that such posts have led to increased traffic around sports moments and topics related to specific athletes over the past 14 to 21 days.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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