Apparently, the 2012 Olympic Games aren’t just any old Games. They’re the world’s first social Olympic Games.

Sponsors are lining up their social campaigns, most notably BT’s Storytellers and Lloyds TSB’s ‘Local heroes’ campaigns.

But what of the (hundreds) of brands sponsoring major but non-Olympic events? The Grand National, FA Cup, Six Nations, Wimbledon, and the soon-to-be-not-the-Carling Cup? 

We did some digging around to see how some of the brands currently sponsoring major events are using social media to make their sponsorship deals go further…

Budweiser, sponsors of the FA Cup, scored a first when it broadcast the qualifier game between Ascot United and Wembley FC live on Facebook, free to view for fans (over 18) who’d liked the Budweiser page.

Assuming that the brand has done its homework right in the first place, and its sponsorship reaches the right audience, this was a neat idea that got it thousands of additional fans on Facebook and a shedload of publicity.

Heineken’s sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup included most digital rights across social media, and its ‘This is the Game’ campaign used social channels (but not necessarily particularly social tactics on those channels) to show extended ads and films featuring a variety of rugby legends.

But Aviva (premiership rugby sponsor) is struggling a bit to attract fans to its Facebook page, despite competitions and its own rugby app.

The Grand National got social with its own Twitter feed this year, but sponsors John Smiths stayed in more familiar territory, focusing mostly on in-event promotion (giant cans and billboards), ads and event promotion campaigns, and a great campaign to get users registering for a share in its racehorse, Smithy.

Virgin created an entire social media marathon, an exercise in customer service and crowdsourcing that capitalised (in name at least) on its sponsorship of the London Marathon, and incentivised people with spot prizes for taking part. A lovely way for people to interact with Virgin brands.

My take on using social media to further sponsorship deals is:

Don’t be afraid of the obvious

If you’re an airline, fly people, and create a social campaign around the people you fly. It’s not enough just to put your logo in front of your target audience, do something that they’ll notice, and that they’ll associate with your brand.

Back the right horse 

Make sure you’re ready for it. Dow Chemicals (and the Olympics organising committee) has been heavily criticised for its involvement in the Olympic Games, because of its ownership of Union Carbide, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster.

That’s the kind of publicity you don’t want, so don’t court it. If you have a sponsorship budget, be choosy as to where you spend it and make sure the rights you’re buying can be explored in social channels.

Check what scope your competitors might have to trump you by using guerrilla tactics (last year, according to Neilsen research, Nike achieved more social media and online association with the World Cup than its biggest competitor and World Cup sponsor, Adidas). 

Embrace technology

With great content usually available to most sponsors, the ‘how’ (you communicate the idea) is arguably as important as the ‘what’ (your core proposition might be).

The winners will be those who use technology to their best advantage, integrating campaigns cleverly in social spaces to bring the idea to life. The possibilities for apps, dedicated sites, and even virtual worlds, are brimming with opportunity. 

Do something different

Don’t just give away tickets, or rely on a logo on a stadium. Do something interesting to get heard. 

Plan your legacy

What will you do with your community after your sponsored event is over? Plan to migrate new fans and followers to other campaigns, and keep up the momentum. Don’t let your social campaigns end when medals are handed out.