Bullish on Social Engagement

Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Jeremy Thum, director of marketing for the NBA's Chicago Bulls, shared some insight into the Bulls' full-court press approach to engaging customers within and across digital touchpoints.

Engaging customers online is no easy task. It requires not only ongoing interaction within individual channels, but also integration between those touchpoints. Jeremy Thum, director of marketing for the NBA's Chicago Bulls, knows these challenges firsthand. In preparation for our participation at the upcoming Social Customer 2011 conference, Thum shared some insight via email into the Bulls' full-court press approach to engaging customers within and across digital touchpoints.How do you keep fans engaged?

We do this in many ways. Here are five that we're currently focusing on:

  • Bulls.com, our official team website, is an absolute content factory. The website is constantly updated with new content of the highest quality, including editorial content from Sam Smith, who covered the Bulls and the
    NBA for the Chicago Tribune for 25 years and authored the best-selling The Jordan Rules. It also includes BullsTV, our in-house broadcast-quality, made-for-web video production team that creates several hundred original pieces of video content per year. Additionally, Hall of Famer and six-time world champion Scottie Pippen contributes written columns on a regular basis. And of course, Bulls.com contains all the relevant, up-to-date team information, including stats, schedules, rosters, broadcast information, etc.
  • During games Bulls.com morphs into a second-screen experience with an app created by the NBA known as "TV Companion," which features live stats, scores, shot charts, and our favorite: the live fan chat. We experience such high participation with the live fan chat that we had to put a registration gate up to keep the conversation under control. The registration options are Facebook, Twitter, and BullsConnect, which is an extension of our Bulls-branded fan community BullsConnect.com.
  • New this season, we launched Harris Pregame Live, which is a live streaming simulcast of our pregame show on our Bulls Radio Network. Fans can tune into Bulls.com 30 minutes prior to tip-off on most game nights (and all upcoming playoff games) and catch special guests and great segments prior to joining the fan chat that begins at tip-off. Also, we stream our coach's postgame press conference live on Bulls.com.
  • Brand new was the announcement of our Live Score Alerts that allows fans to text the word score to our shortcode BULLS (28557) to receive a live score bounce-back during any game; player stats are available, as well, by texting in a player's last name. This is separate from Bulls Mobile Alerts, our opt-in mobile alerts program.
  • Additionally, we have an e-newsletter, and we use BullsConnect as a commenting platform on our Bulls.com editorial content, use a Flickr page for game-action photos, and post videos to a not-used-often-enough YouTube page. We also interact with fans on our Facebook fan page, which has about 1.8 million fans, and on our very active Twitter account, which has about 100,000 followers.

Why an online customer community? What's the goal?
As funny as it sounds now, when we began our Chicago Bulls Facebook fan page in late 2008 we did so under the assumption that there would be an interest in connecting with our brand in the social space, however, we couldn't be 100 percent certain. As the fanship -- and positive interactions -- grew, we took used that experience and the precedent set by other pioneers (Phoenix Suns "Planet Orange," Cleveland Cavs "Cav Fanatic," and Portland Trailblazers "iamatrailblazersfan.com") in the NBA as evidence that building a Bulls-branded fan community website would be beneficial to fans and to the Bulls organization. The goal is to be the fans' most comprehensive digital resource for Bulls information and experience, and our fan community website BullsConnect.com is just one example of a tool used to accomplish that goal.

How do you define success?
In the digital world, success is a moving target. For newer initiatives it is tough to know what a successful level or membership or participation is. We discuss this in an imperfect apples-to-apples comparison with similar initiatives from teams around the NBA to provide a barometer.

Is the community integrated with other customer engagement efforts?
Absolutely. When we decided to build our fan community website, we engaged with Pluck (Demand Media) specifically because they provided us a set of tools that we could employ to not only build a "standalone" fan community website in BullsConnect.com, but also use across other existing components of our digital marketing platform. Examples of which include the commenting you see on editorial pieces on Bulls.com, as well as the BullsConnect login for our live fan chats.

What are any next steps you might have for the community?
This is just our second full season having BullsConnect.com up and running, so we are still in the "grow, grow, grow" stage. Other NBA teams have leveraged their online fan community for group ticket events, watch parties, apparel sales, etc. Additionally, Demand Media is constantly improving its toolset, which will provide some exciting opportunities to more tightly integrate with our existing Facebook presence. Beyond that, the possibilities are limitless as our intent for BullsConnect.com, from the beginning, was to simply create the space for fans to fill with their own content, suggestions, and ideas.