Posted on 20 June 2014.
This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Alexandra Willis. She is the Content and Communications Manager at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) who look after Wimbledon. Meaning she is one busy lady at the moment!
The 2 week event starts on Monday with reigning champion Andy Murray number 3 seed, though probably not one of the favourites on 2014 form. The event has also been in the news with new initiatives with IBM and #DSLondon sponsor Grabyo. So what can we expect to see this year to keep fans engaged both at the event and watching from their homes?
To start with I asked Alexandra about the new IBM Social Media Command Centre, a platform that has been developed as a behind-the-scenes tool rather than publicly available. There are two main areas in which it will benefit both parties..
“It’s a great tool for IBM to use to monitor social buzz, enabling them to be able to balance their hosting requirements. So they know when to ramp it up when there is a rush of traffic and also scale down when things are a little quieter. For us it’s about being able to see what the main topics people are talking about are and adjusting editorially. A good example would be Eugenie Bouchard in Australia when she reached the semi-finals – we can react and then tailor the content accordingly, making sure people people receive what they’re interested in at that particular time.”
But it’s not only from an editorial perspective that the Command Centre is helpful. They will also be able to see where people are tweeting from, who the influencers are, what are the trending topics and how people are responding to their posts, either positively or negatively. They’ve also made sure that they are screen grab-able so that they can fed into broadcast if needed and also enable them to produce a daily digest looking at who the buzz has been about.
Another big new move this year is the recent deal with real-time video sharing platform Grabyo. It’s not a new concept as both the US Open and Australian Open have done similar with recent Twitter acquisition SnappyTV, but it’s a really interesting one that fans will love.
“We were impressed by the capability to share video content in real-time. We’ve decided not to commercialise it and instead are putting our focus into ensuring it is the best fit possible for our output. We want to encourage people to tune into broadcast and engage with matches. We’ll be showing moments such as walk-ons, crowd reactions and funny moments rather than match highlights. We’re not competing with the broadcasters but complementing what they do and encouraging people to tune in.”
Another IBM/Wimbledon initiative that has gained the attention of many in the industry, especially following a launch event at the Apple Store in Covent Garden with Tim Henman last week. In previous years the technology has concentrated on interacting with fans who are not at the tournament. Now they want to bring those visiting the famous venue more into the fold.
This ‘Hill Vs World‘ idea has been born out of wanting to interact with all fans no matter where they are. Using the IBM Social Media Command Centre to power it, they will be asking fans questions throughout the tournament. The difference here is that fans on Henman Hill will be asked a question and a hashtag to respond. The same question will be asked on other platforms and in broadcast with another hashtag. Then they’ll compare the answers, a bit like a Twitter battle, pitching both sets of fans against each other.
One issue that tennis has to face every two years is a clash with major football tournaments, such as the World Cup. So I asked Alexandra how they deal with this. Do they just ignore it and go on as usual or embrace it?
“We’re not going to ignore the fact the World Cup is taking place, in fact quite the opposite. On Google Plus we’re running a fun campaign where we’re asking fans to send in their photos of where they’re watching Wimbledon. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Brazil for the football or anywhere else in the world. If we tried to ignore it then it would be counterproductive. It’s also interesting to see what impact second screen viewing will have and see if the World Cup actually has less of an impact than usual.”
Google Plus has long been a platform that has split opinion within the industry, not just in sport but digital as a whole. But it’s one that Wimbledon has embraced and seen them grow to above the 1m fan mark. So how did they achieve this?
“In 2013 we ran a competition where we asked fans to send in photos of them in their Wimbledon whites or showing the grass they were playing on. People really like the creative engagement and getting involved. Our success has been in sharing pictures, both our own and fans, and the link with YouTube is also strong. Tailoring content for specific platforms is important and I think fans appreciate that.”
So what else can we expect across the Wimbledon social media platforms? On Twitter they will have a Twitter Mirror installed in the queue and they’ll be asking people to get involved with a daily selfie competition. On Instagram they will be installing an ‘InstaBooth’ in the player’s lounge where the players will be giving their thoughts on how the day has gone and other behind-the-scenes info.
The ‘Live at Wimbledon’ shows will be back on YouTube. Providing daily content from every day of the competition with their studio set up and commentators giving fans alternative insights into the game. There may be a Google Hangout or two but the issue of player access means that this is hard to plan for.
Another interesting area for events such as Wimbledon is, what do you do to engage with fans and carry on using social media platforms for the other 50 weeks of the year? It turns out to be one that is very much down to the event owners themselves and there is no set rule.
“This is where social media has proved to be really strong for us. People appreciate updates from around the year, whether it be the courts covered in snow or players turning up for a hit. Some of it is planned and some is done on the fly. We don’t know when a player might turn up but we do know when certain events are happening so we are able to plan for them.”
At the end of the tournament, all these activations and ideas will be looked at both internally and externally and everyone will have a view on whether it was a success. But what does success look like for Alexandra?
“Numbers are not so important to us. It’s more about engaging with fans and ensuring anyone who wants to follow the event can do so. The perception of the brand and ensuring that all fans have a good experience across all platforms is really important to us. Last year we saw almost 20m users across all devices, with over 50% coming from mobile devices. Although we’re expecting a bit of a dip this year due to the World Cup.”
Thanks to Alexandra for taking time out to speak with me during what must be one of the most hectic weeks of her year. You can follow Alexandra on @Alex_Willis and make sure you catch the tournament which starts on Monday!