Inside the social media command center at the Super Bowl

A team of 50 staffers and volunteers are answering questions, providing information, and finding people’s stories about the big game.


When it comes to the biggest U.S. sports event of the year, social media can’t be left to one or two people.

“For something like the Super Bowl or a big global brand, it’s not something where you can just hire a community manager, give them Tweetdeck, and call it a day,” says Taulbee Jackson, president and CEO of Indianapolis-based interactive communications firm Raidious. “That’s not realistic if you want to deliver any results from that.”

That’s why Raidious, along with the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, is dedicating a new, 2,800-square-foot downtown space to the effort. The “social media command center,” as it’s called, has a team of about 50 employees and student volunteers—working on rotating shifts—who direct people to events, answer questions, and otherwise help people get around the big game’s host city.

The command center is the first that any Super Bowl host city has had, but Jackson says it’s probably the future of big-event social media.

Calling the play

The host committee initially approached Raidious about helping with its social media strategy in October 2010, well before even last year’s Super Bowl. Around that time, Raidious was outgrowing its current office and looking for more space. So after a few months of research, the company gave the committee a plan that included the command center, which will eventually become the new Raidious office.

“A lot of it had to do with serendipitous timing,” says Jackson. “We thought, gosh, we could invest a little bit more money and make this the social media command center for the Super Bowl.”

Following what he calls “a lot of push,” the committee agreed to the idea. “As it is with many different marketing or communications efforts, social tends to be one of the last things people think about.”

By January 2011, Raidious was managing the committee’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. The command center itself was up and running by March.

Jackson says getting the command center and the accounts in place well in advance helped the company and the committee navigate such a huge undertaking. “When you’re dealing with a committee that’s got 63 different areas and 30 communications liaisons, you have to communicate with a lot of people about this,” he says.

The snap

The command center is “actually set up for the way Raidious works every day,” Jackson says. It runs like a newsroom, with about half the team working on “reactive content,” monitoring 300 or so keywords using the Awareness Social Marketing Hub.

“When [volunteers] see something in their keyword stream that they can find an answer to, they respond,” Jackson says. Those responses go to Raidious staffers for final approval, and then they go live.

The volunteers at the command center, all of whom come from local universities, are trained in the basics of the software, says Jackson, but there isn’t a ton of telling them exactly what to say. If a volunteer has a question, a Raidious staffer is right there to answer.

The other half of the crew works on developing new content, going around Indianapolis to gather photos, videos, and stories. For instance, a post on the host committee blog depicts what it’s like to be a fan at the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center.

To test the process, Raidious and some of the volunteers tried it out at the Big 10 Conference men’s football championship, Jackson says. “We tested a lot of assumptions about which keywords we wanted to look for, how we wanted to answer questions, and how many different ways we wanted to ask the same question to get an answer.”

The team’s keeping things interactive, too. They reached out to what they call the “social 46,” the 46 most influential social media users in Indianapolis, according to Klout. “They’ve been very proactive about helping us and visitors through the city.”

Visitiors to Indianapolis will find social sharing kiosks citywide; there they can tell their Super Bowl stories, Jackson says. And Raidious handed out 46 Media Day tickets to citizen journalists so they could bring back their tales for others to enjoy.

Full coverage

The host committee’s Twitter social media account’s not the only Super Bowl account out there. For example, the NFL has its own @SuperBowl account, but those accounts serve different purposes, says Jackson.

“The NFL is about football, they’re not in the visitor experience business the way Indianapolis is,” he says.

That doesn’t mean Raidious can’t answer football questions. The team in the command center uses a ChaCha database of questions and answers to be ready for any query that could come its way. Jackson says Raidious’s plan of attack is four-pronged.

First and most important is safety, he says. The command center is connected to a team at the stadium and a local homeland security center to make sure any emergencies can be reported quickly. For example, when some parts of the stadium were closed due to a wind advisory, the message went out within moments.

Next comes service—informing people about local hotels, restaurants, and other spots, as well as responding to negative remarks. In line with that, the team aims to capture what’s happening by informing people about concerts at the Super Bowl village or opportunities to be on the NFL Network.

Finally, there’s amplification, or finding people who are having fun experiences and echoing them. There will certainly be more of that as Sunday approaches, says Jackson.

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.

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