Fans, Brands, & Social Media: H-E-B Part I

The Brand-Fan Challenge

In an era of binge-watching and multi-tasking, live sporting events offer brands an increasingly rare commodity: a captive audience. Well, it's a somewhat captive audience. Whether watching a game at home or in the arena, some consumers seem to carry a plethora of entertainment options in their pockets, including their chosen arsenal of social media platforms. So, for the astute sponsor, visibility alone isn't gonna cut it.1

To demonstrate this point, we wanted to examine a high-profile example. Consider this a mini-case study in how well traditional sports sponsorships translate into fan engagement online.

H-E-B and the San Antonio Spurs

Based on the tried-and-true, scientifically-sound methodology of watching games, with a little photo review the morning after, H-E-B was among the highly-visible sponsors during game 2 of the OKC - Spurs series (held at the San Antonio AT&T Center).2
Spurs vs Thunder - Game 2 w/ HEB circled The H-E-B/Spurs relationship isn't a one-off “playoff special”— they're the brand equivalent of long-time season-ticket holders, and with pretty good seats to boot.
HEB at ATT Center OKC vs SAS But what do their customers think about all this? Do the Twitter followers of a supermarket chain want to hear about the San-Antonio-portion of the NBA Texas triangle?

A Twitter Pseudo-Study

Using the twitteR package in R, we tried to get a sense of where the Spurs fit into H-E-B's “social” conversation. Without access to Twitter's “firehose”, this meant pulling 2,377 tweets from H-E-B's timeline, dating back to July 18, 2015. Of these tweets, 339 were not replies to other Twitter users (replies are often for customer support, or other consumer queries), and 115 of them had engagement traction at or above 10 retweets and 10 favorites.3

Though the volume of Spurs-related tweets from H-E-B was low (12 of the 115), they were among its most engaging content, occupying the #1 and #2 spots for both favoriteCount and retweetCount. It would certainly seem that at least some of H-E-B's social media followers are “fellow” Spurs fans.

This, of course, is not the whole story, and in Part II we'll take a closer look at some of the other interests of the @HEB follower-base. As the Spurs continue to duke it out with the Thunder, the conversation will only get louder. H-E-B's successful follower engagement with Spurs-related content is an example of how franchise sponsors can engage sports fans, even when their team isn't on the court.

  1. Jensen, J. A., Walsh, P., Cobbs, J., & Turner, B. A. (2015). The Effects of Second Screen Use on Sponsor Brand Awareness: A Dual Coding Theory Perspective. To appear in Journal of Consumer Marketing, 32.

  2. Incidentally, the entire season is “presented by H-E-B”, according to the Spurs official site.

  3. This was an admittedly arbitrary criteria that seemed reasonable, given @HEB had ~165,700 followers at the time.