Sponsorship and Social Media: Getting It Right

sponsorship and social mediaA question I get a lot is about how to use sponsorship on social media – do I have some kind of step-by-step formula for social media success. The answer to that is pretty simple:

There is no formula. It’s not about a formula.

We all know how social media works; people follow you, you provide compelling content and interesting experiences, those followers engage. It’s a very powerful tool for leveraging sponsorship, and sponsorship is a very powerful tool to foster that engagement.

HOW you engage with sponsorship, however, isn’t something that can be done using a formula, no matter who tells you otherwise. If you know how best practice sponsorship works, social media will naturally form a large and very important part of your leverage plan. How it looks will be a function of a few things:


Sponsorship is now win-win-win, with the third “win” going to the target markets. The goal for sponsors should be to create several small, meaningful wins that a large proportion of fans will get. In order to find the wins that you can provide through social media, or that are share-worthy for fans, you need to know what’s meaningful to them.

  • What are the best things about being a fan? Is there some way you can amplify that fan experience through social media? Is there some other way you can amplify the fan experience that people are likely to share in social media?
  • What are the worst things about being a fan? Can you improve those things through social media? Can you improve them some other way, in a way that is likely to be shared?
  • Is there a way that you can use social media to make fans feel more a part of the experience? Closer to it? A participant, rather than a spectator? More like an insider? Or can you make them feel closer in a way that they’re likely to share?
  • What about fans who don’t attend (remote fans)? People who are interested in the larger themes? How can you add value to them?

Fan priorities

Whether you’re sponsoring a museum, a festival, a team, or an association, the fans will have opinions and priorities. As a sponsor, you can reflect that, thus aligning yourself with those fans.

  • Are they celebrating or commiserating?
  • Elated or frustrated?
  • Are there controversies to address?
  • Comebacks, rebirths, or glimmers of hope?

Whatever the fan priorities are, your brand should be prepared to share and reflect those priorities. Your voice around sponsorship should always be that of a fan, not of a corporate automaton.

“Proud sponsors”, my arse. You should be giddy with excitement! You should be stoked!! Losing season? Have a look at the ad Vodafone created way back in 2001, when the New Zealand Warriors couldn’t seem to win a game. Kiwi fans still know this song.

Property responsiveness

Some properties are really bloody stingy. They may be ninjas at social media, sharing all manner of exclusive content, but they don’t make anything meaningful available to you. This doesn’t mean the above strategies are out of your reach, but it does mean you’ve got to take a different angle.

Create your own content

One of your best options is to use the access that you do have to create some of your own content. Skip meet-and-greets, and instead use appearances, access to artists or experts, or whatever you have to create great content.

Ask for content no one else has thought of

Can’t access the team? Access the trainer or the nutritionist. Can’t get face time with the star speaker? Ask to do a 20-questions email interview a few weeks before they arrive. Ask for valuable content that is super-easy to facilitate, and that likely no one else is asking for, and that doesn’t form the frontline of the property’s social media strategy.

Get fans to create the content

The key to this is finding something that matters to the fans and giving them a place to share it. Brewer and major ice hockey sponsor, Molson Canadian, did just that with their “Official Guide to Playoff Grooming”. If you’re an ice hockey fan, you already know that when your team gets into the playoffs (AKA “finals”), fans have rituals, and a lot of them have to do with grooming. Molson decided to celebrate this, creating an introduction video and inviting people to submit their own photos and videos on a Facebook page they created. Let me tell you, compared to what was submitted by fans, the Molson video is positively tame!

Use ambush techniques

No appearances? Or your partner is blocking you from accessing the experts or IP you need? They’re living in the dark ages and you need to go around them. Approach the sponsorship like you’re using social media to ambush it, and create something – or several things – that don’t require any IP or permissions from them.

The Molson example is something you could do with no cooperation whatsoever. Another great example is this viral campaign from Puma, which actually was an ambush. In 2010, soccer game day happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. They created a virtual Valentine that could be sent from a soccer fan to their beloved. The most famous was this English one, with soccer fans singing the super-romantic “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, but they also created one in Italy using the song “Ti Amo” (“I love you”), and one in Korea around their national Children’s Day.

The video below is the generic version. The real one was customisable, with a link to a personalised message and the video being sent to your loved one.

“Be every-fing that you need” indeed. If my husband sent me this, I’d melt on the spot. Hell, yeah, you can go to the game!

The upshot

There you go… a few ideas, some angles, but no formula. It’s all just about applying the principles of best practice sponsorship to one of the most flexible and ubiquitous marketing channels you’ve got. And as those channels continue to change – becoming even more amazing – just keep applying best practice, and you’ll know the direction to go. Not sure you understand best practice well enough? I suggest you download my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” for a primer.

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses, covering the whole sponsorship process, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass for sponsors and Getting to “Yes” for rightsholders.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive Sponsorship Systems Design service for large, diverse, and decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.


© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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