Ask any property or sponsor for the latest activation trends, and one topic consistently pops up: social media.

Not surprisingly, sponsors are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other online tools to amplify their message and connect with consumers.

Case in point: Social media was the fourth most popular leveraging platform in 2012 with 74 percent of sponsors using the medium, according  to the most recent IEG/Performance Research Sponsorship Decision-Makers Survey. The three most popular platforms: public relations, internal communications and hospitality.

Further demonstrating its growing popularity, social media eclipsed traditional media as an activation platform. Seventy two percent of sponsors activate through print, radio and other forms of traditional media, according to the survey.

The major benefit of social media: reaching consumers beyond sponsored events.

“Every consumer loves to attend events, but sometimes life gets in the way. When that happens, Coca-Cola can bring the experience directly to them,” said Sharon Byers, The Coca-Cola Co.’s senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing.

Byers points to the 2012 Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race as an example. The beverage giant used Facebook, Twitter and other online channels to engage consumers before and after the race.

“We were able to give them real-time updates from the racetrack and let them be a part of an experience they would have otherwise missed.”

Below, IEG SR highlights three recent examples of how companies are activating through social media--and how properties are helping them.

AT&T /ESPN College GameDay. AT&T Inc. in Sept. 2012 launched the On the Way to Saturday program to engage college football fans.

The program had four primary objectives:

  • Unite the company’s college football properties
  • Showcase the power of the AT&T Network
  • Bring the “What You Do With What We Do” campaign to life
  • Provide proof points that you can do anything with your phone with the AT&T Network

AT&T leveraged its partnership with ESPN’s College GameDay to create On the Way to Saturday, around which the company sent two fans on a road trip to every ESPN College GameDay location.

The catch: The two fans earned the road trip by using their phones to compete in weekly football-inspired challenges.

AT&T promoted the activities on more than 65 pieces of branded content each week. The telco promoted the content through a dedicated web site—way2Saturday.com—a :60 second feature on ESPN College GameDay, as well as Youtube.com and Facebook.

The social media component helped amplify the AT&T message and engage college football fans in a deep and authentic manner, said Travis Dillon, vice president of activation and property management with The Marketing Arm, which developed the program for AT&T.

“College GameDay provides a great stage, but social was the glue that connected consumers to the program.”

Consumers spent more time consuming content on the dedicated website then previous AT&T programs and returned at a higher rate, he said.

General Motors/Live Nation. In addition to providing reach beyond events, social media offers another major advantage: a low cost. 

“For years there was a perception that brands would have to spend $2, $3 or $4 on activation for every dollar in rights fees. Those costs have significantly decreased as a result of the earned media and consumer evangelists you can receive through social media,” said Russell Wallach, president of the Live Nation Network.

For example, Live Nation helped General Motors Co.’s Chevy Sonic activate its sponsorship of the Dec. 13, 2012 launch party for the music giant’s redesigned web site by posting photos of an on-site life-sized Chevy Sonic balloon on LiveNation.com.

Attendees also distributed photos of the flying car through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online channels, said Wallach.

“All of our fans became marketers of the car.”

Live Nation used geofencing technology to capture content from the concert. Similar to GPS, the technology allows companies and properties to capture content that emanates from a specific geographic area.

Similarly, Skype is using geofencing technology to capture content from its sponsorship of Lady Gaga’s North American tour. The Microsoft unit is posting the content on www.Skypeball.com.

EA Sports/Major League Soccer. Major League Soccer uses proprietary events to generate social media content for sponsors.  

The pro soccer league in September 2012 captured content from the launch party for Electronic Arts Inc.’s FIFA 13 video game. The event featured MLS athletes, musicians and other celebrities.

MLS and EA Sports posted content from the event on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels. “Content is definitely hot. “said Russell Sargeant, senior director of partnership marketing with Soccer United Marketing, MLS’ commercial arm.