Sports are an inherently social activity, so brands like Nike are a natural fit when it comes to social media marketing

To find out how the sports giant makes the most of this opportunity, I thought it would be interesting to see how it uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

This post is the latest in a series of blogs that have taken a similar look at major brands including ASOS, Tesco, Red Bull, Cadbury and McDonalds

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Facebook

Like most global brands Nike has separate Facebook pages for each of its product categories. This includes golf, snowboarding and FuelBand, as well as two football pages – one for the American version of the sport and one for the version everyone else in the world plays.

As far as I can tell the latter actually has the most fans of any of the Nike pages (17.2m), followed by the main corporate account (12.3m) and American football (2.4m).

Most of the dedicated sports pages are updated on a daily basis with videos or images, while the corporate page is updated about once a week.

The social teams are obviously lucky in that they have a huge number of athletes around whom they can create and share content, so the global football page displays a huge amount of content featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta, as well as a lot of product-related posts.

At the moment much of the content is around Nike’s “Be Mercurial” campaign to promote its Mercurial Vapor IX boots, including video clips of personalised boots that customers have bought online through NIKEID.

Interestingly the product-related content appears to get more interactions than posts featuring players, with one photo gallery of new boots attracting more than 35,000 ‘likes’ and almost 1,000 comments.

Similarly, the American football page is updated several times per week with a focus on athletes and products.

Nike is well known for running major branding campaigns, so its Facebook pages don’t feature the smaller competitions and sales promotions that we’re used to seeing from consumer brands.

Instead it uses its social channels to cross-promote larger marketing campaigns, such as the #MyTimeIsNow initiative that it ran last year during the European Championships.

This year it is using the hashtag #MakeItCount as away of trying to encourage sports teams to train together using its Nike+ products, which are discussed further down this post.

Twitter

As with Facebook, Nike has individual feeds for its subsidiary brands, including golf, basketball, FuelBand, Nike.com and football.

For each of the feeds the focus is very much on responding to @mentions rather than pushing out marketing messages, and the rate at which some of the more popular accounts respond to users is quite astounding.

For example, the Nike.com feed (766,000 followers) responds to more than 100 tweets per day regarding order queries, stock information and product details.

It ranks alongside ASOS as one of the most active customer service feeds I’ve seen so far, and on top of that the sports brand also operates a Nike Support feed to resolve product questions and technical needs. This dedicated customer service feed also answers hundreds of questions per day.

The sports feed are also good at responding to @mentions, though not to the same level as the Nike.com or Support accounts. For example, the Nike Football feed is on hand to give out training advice, product information or encouragement to other users.

Similarly, Nike Running responds to a huge number of people to discuss their training schedule and give motivational advice.

Personally I’m a big fan of Nike’s Twitter strategy and would like to see more brands adopt a similar approach. It would obviously require a sizeable investment, but it goes a long way in turning customers into brand advocates.

For example, if you’ve just bought a pair of Nike football boots and the brand then personally responds to you with training advice and a few words of encouragement, then you’re definitely going to consider that brand when you buy sports products in future and may even recommend them to your friends.

Nike has also achieved some notable successes by using Twitter as a central tool in its marketing campaigns. During the London Olympics it managed to outshine official sponsor Adidas with a massive billboard and social campaign around the capital.

Nike eschewed the usual celebrity endorsements in a campaign that celebrated everyday athletes. It bought up hundreds of billboards around the city featuring the hashtag ‘#findgreatness’.

Adidas, which spent tens of millions of pounds to be an official sponsor, ran a campaign featuring Team GB athletes and the hashtag ‘#takethestage’.

According to Socialbakers’ CheerMeter there were more than 16,000 tweets associating Nike with the word Olympic between 27 July and 2 August compared to 9,295 for Adidas.

Furthermore. Nike attracted 166,718 new Facebook fans during the Games versus 80,761 for Adidas.

Data from Experian Hitwise shows that Nike achieved a 6% growth in its number of Facebook fans and a 77% boost in engagement on its Facebook page compared to 2% and 59% respectively for Adidas.

But while that was certainly a social success, Nike also got its wrists slapped by the Advertising Standards Authority last year after footballers Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere tweeted marketing messages without stating that they had been paid by Nike to do so.

Pinterest

Nike has clearly researched the demographic profile of the average Pinterest user, as the only account it has established is for Nike Women.

It has created 10 boards and amassed a respectable 9,900 followers, however all of its pins are product related and link back to official Nike websites.

Nike isn’t alone in only pinning its own content – John Lewis also applies this tactic – but personally I think it’s a missed opportunity.

Pinterest is a great opportunity to develop the brand identity and create pinboards that reflect the company’s values, but Nike is essentially using it as an extension of its product catalogue.

Google+

As far as I can tell Nike only has one official Google+ page and it gives it the bare minimum of attention.

It is updated around once per week and all of the content is repurposed from Facebook. As with most brands the level of interaction with the posts is extremely limited, with each one attracting a few hundred +1s and tens of comments.

Overall it’s fairly uninspiring, but no worse than most of the other Google+ pages I’ve looked at as part of this series of posts.

Considering the amount of athletes that Nike has on its payroll, it should try to take advantage of G+’s unique features by hosting hangouts and Q&As.

Nike+

Not only does Nike do a decent job of marketing itself using the four main social networks, but it has also taken the time to establish its own unique social platform through Nike+.

It now has more than six million members that use it an average of three times per week.

Since 2010 Nike has developed a range of training products that are digitally linked using the Nike+ FuelBand. Users can then accumulate ‘NikeFuel’ points and set themselves goals or compete against other users.

It has proved to be a hugely successful product for Nike as it taps into the social aspect of sports by allowing users to track their progress using an iPhone app and share their progress online.

There are dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts for NikeFuel which are tied into the #MakeItCount hashtag.

It also allows Nike to run novel campaigns, such as the ‘Fuel your team’ initiative that currently allows users to show support for their favourite basketball team by earning them NikeFuel points.

Having used a Nike FuelBand before I feel the product is a victory for marketing over usability, but even so it means Nike has a product and a social network that millions of people use on a daily basis which is an extremely powerful tool for driving brand loyalty.