Taking a more relaxed, informal approach to engaging audiences has been the key to a doubling in Facebook followers for Little Athletics Victoria in 2017 as its audience has increased from 5,800 to 13,100 while Instagram has also grown by 73%.
Shunt Creative sat down with Little Athletics Victoria’s Communications & Marketing Coordinator Lachlan Rayner to discuss his role since starting with the organisation early in 2016.
One of the first things Rayner did was to dismantle the very formal approach that the sporting body took to their social media channels. By being more engaged and relaxed with their messaging, Little Athletics Victoria has seen impressive audience increases across all their social media channels in 2017.
S: You started in this role early 2016, how did Little Athletics manage its communications prior to then?
Lachlan Rayner: “I had an association with Little Athletics initially via an IT committee. Everything was centred around Facebook but it was being used as a communication channel of sorts to reinforce emails or memos that went out to centres. In terms of audience numbers, it wouldn’t have been unusual for a club or centre to be doing better than the state body.”
S: Most of the content then was formal or official communications rather than actively trying to engage an audience?
LR: “Definitely. I think the first thing I realised when I started in the role is that we have a membership base of 20,000 children plus in most cases two parents or guardians so our immediate potential audience that are already engaged as part of the Little Athletics ‘family’ is going to be at least 50,000.
“To have only 3,000 odd followers on Facebook, a small number on Twitter, a new Instagram account and no LinkedIn, it was clear social media hadn’t been a priority.”
S: With this kind of latent audience the sport clearly had plenty of potential for growth?
LR: “Absolutely and that’s what really excited me about the role.
“I come from a business IT background and I think that has helped me in terms of utilising data analytics, understanding what works on our website, or on Facebook from a technical perspective. It certainly has helped me market the sport better online.
“My goal from the outset is increasing overall engagement. We know from a school point of view athletics is the most requested sport and we know when the Olympics comes around every four years it’s a massive deal.
“Athletics is in the back of people’s minds all the time but it’s never in the forefront. One thing I noticed is the more you are engaged online the more it helps to shift the culture and some of the stereotypes around athletics. Everything we released used to be so formal and every email had to be checked multiple times. If something went wrong it was a massive deal.
“Even though I’ve not yet completely overcome these obstacles, with social media I think it’s helped that we can relax everything, we’ve got a bigger presence and the majority of people that are online are now there to see their children run or share photos. The more informal atmosphere our social network portrays will help drive engagement and retention going forward.”
S: One thing we’ve noticed with Little Athletics is that tradition is important. Social media then has given you an opportunity to challenge some of the associated formalities, experiment and try different things?
LR: “I believe the success of social media is built on the fact that its constantly evolving. Whereas I don’t think Little Athletics changes much, if at all.
“We’ve got 100,000 kids competing nationally with 20,000 in Victoria, so we have still been able to continue to grow our membership. It’s just taken a little while for the organisation to catch-up and embrace social media.
“The website was the main communication driver and we relied a lot on the centres to bring information to us. When I came on board I was given leeway, I was able to purchase equipment and given the opportunity for trial and error and to pursue video content.”
S: How are you managing that?
LR: “It can be tricky and we’re still trying to work it out. As we only have five big events a year what we do between competitions can be quite challenging. We have to ensure we maximise those competition days, get as much content out of it as possible and increase our network and online reach.
“Video has been a big one. For the first time, we recorded all of our finals at one of our relay championships. At another championship, we did a live stream, simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube. We achieved around five or six hundred people live streaming constantly. As this was a two-day championship, on the first day we decided to stream just the finals and on the second day, due to how well it went, we streamed the whole thing.
“The benefits have been enormous. This is the first season where we’ve got footage from last year, we’ve got a library of marketing material to use going forward so we don’t have to keep creating content from scratch.
“To make engaging content is about not necessarily the medals that kids are winning but the people and personalities on the fringes. Our Instagram account is particularly good at bringing groups of kids together having fun and that’s what I found has done really well.”
S: Is it just you or does everyone in the organisation get involved with creating content?
LR: “Traditionally it was the domain of one person who would collate all the content across the sport in Victoria and would send out EDM’s twice a month.
“Now we’re all more proactive and talking to centres to try and get them to send in content and utilising each other’s channels to reach respective audiences.”
S: Was there a strategy around Rio 2016 in terms of how you approached social media and did you get any sort of halo effect or bump in terms of engagement or new participants?
LR: “Around the Olympic Games, the Olympics branding and assets are very restricted. It was difficult approaching that legally therefore we had to work closely with Athletics Australia to try and ensure that we are promoting and using content the right way.
“We do traditionally see growth in membership due to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games but we’ve never really done any marketing around those events. It will be interesting to see coming off the Rio Olympics if we’re able to, with these recently implemented marketing strategies and increased online presence, to attract and retain more members.”
S: Was there a bump in your social media following beyond those events?
LR: “Nothing noticeably different in terms of online numbers with regard to Rio which is surprising but I would imagine we will probably have a little bit more going on around the Commonwealth Games next year as it’s much closer to home.”
S: Are they any types of content that work particularly well for audience engagement, and has there been anything that’s gone really viral?
LR: “I always find photos and content without a news article attached or links to results from events has generated good results.
“A great example of a post that really resonated was at one of our state events last year where a child fell over mid to back of the pack and I was right there taking the photo. One of the other competitors stopped and picked him up and we posted that as a feel-good story and that probably did the best in terms of getting shared and engaged with.
“I always know that close-up, group shots do better. I’m also not a huge fan of posting images that have a low resolution. I am starting to realise little things, and this is more from an IT point of view. I try wherever possible to maintain consistency with how I share posts and links.”
S: Where do you see social media and the way Little Athletics Victoria engages with it heading?
LR: “One thing with little athletics in general is that it’s management has always been very in-house but it’s changing. We never used to speak to external stakeholders or communicate with other sports across various business areas. Whereas I’m very much looking at what other people are doing for ideas. I’m not afraid to look at what other sports and organisations are doing and take inspiration.
“The aim is as long as we can keep growing we can keep providing an area where our community can enjoy what they see online and get engaged with it and hopefully engage their neighbours, friends or their community. If that happens, I think I’m doing my job.”