Super Bowl Sunday and the social media line of scrimmage

When you’re writing about social media, it makes sense to use social media, so when I started thinking about the impact of these services on major events like this weekend’s Super Bowl 2013, I went on Twitter and asked my followers for their take.

Within seconds, an IT and telecom industry consultant named Mark Goldberg, based in Toronto, posted a provocative reply. “Or is it the impact of events like the Super Bowl on social media?” he asked. “Which is on top?”

It’s an interesting question, and one that underscores just how much services like Twitter and Facebook are changing the way we experience the big game. Even if you don’t follow football at all, it’s been nearly impossible for anyone who follows the news to escape the rampant speculation on what TV commercials will air, what stories they will tell and whether they will make the kind of impression that marketers want.

Salesforce.com, a company that offers business applications via a cloud computing model, has been trying to capture some of this activity in more quantifiable form via its Marketing Cloud (a Canadian-made product originally known as Radian6), which has been tracking mentions of various Super Bowl advertisers and whether consumers are talking positively or negatively.

Although no one can predict with certainly who will win the game on Sunday, Salesforce.com’s data suggests Mercedes Benz should get a trophy for its pre-Super Bowl social campaign. This included a teaser clip on YouTube showing model Kate Upton washing the new Mercedes CLA, which pushes viewers towards its Facebook page.Some find it racy. Others find it sexy. For Mercedes, it’s the fact that a major conversation of more than 15,000 mentions that is probably most important.

Surprisingly, BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) is the runner up with its teaser ad to promote BlackBerry 10 and the Z10 and Q10 smartphones.

For Renny Monaghan, Salesforce.com’s Canadian chief marketing officer, it’s a big change from the old days of Super Bowl advertising.

“It was always looked at as a pinnacle event for brands. You could reach 100 million people with a commercial,” he says. On the other hand, “It was like a firework – it blew it up, it did its purpose and then it disappeared.”

Not anymore. Expect to see highly integrated campaigns that continue long after the last touchdown in this Sunday’s game, where companies use contests and other techniques to get people tweeting, commenting and sharing information about various products and services. As Monaghan points out, this is marketing that isn’t simply an interruption during the Super Bowl. It’s an integral part of the Super Bowl, at least to those who participate.

Where will it all end, you might wonder? I think we’ll see some companies push the limits of what’s an acceptable degree of social engagement around big-ticket events like these, with some campaigns that turn consumers off by being too in-your-face, too persistent, too directive.

Much like the coaches who have led their teams to victory at the Super Bowl, working in social media is less about trying to coerce people and more about influencing behavior. The brands that strike the right balance will achieve something like comraderie from their current and potential customers. The others will soon realize that people tune into the Super Bowl to watch others play – not to be played.

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