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US Open Tennis: Data Shows How Losers on the Court Can Be Winners in Social Media

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US Open Tennis: Data Shows How Losers on the Court Can Be Winners in Social Media image us open1

When American Andy Roddick lost to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open yesterday, his defeat ended his career as a tennis player but did not diminish the public’s fascination with him. The match sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy–and analysis of the results reveals some surprising truths about social media.

According to IBM’s Social Sentiment Index, Roddick (@AndyRoddick) racked up 91,475 Twitter mentions yesterday, bringing him a total during the tournament of 150,592. The surge of interest further distanced him from the rest of the field as the most-Tweeted-about participant in spite of the fact that he’s ranked just 20th in the world and hasn’t won a Grand Slam tournament since 2005. Roddick announced last week that this would be his last tournament as a pro.

Social sentiment analysis helps reveal the game within the game–where tennis players vie for popularity and lucrative endorsements in addition to contesting games, sets and matches. In Roddick’s case, the sheer number of Twitter mentions suggests that he will likely remain popular and therefore retain endorsement value in retirement. But that’s not the whole story. A deeper analysis sends a more nuanced message. Surprisingly, just 78% of the comments were positive. For comparison, #2-ranked Novak Djokovic achieved a positive sentiment rating of 90%–tops among the men who received a large number of mentions.

Such analysis is one of the most important new additions to the brand marketer’s toolkit.Major sporting events like the US Open are becoming living labs, demonstrating how analytics provides insights into all aspects of the game—whether on the court or in the corporate board room.

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The explosion of social media means marketers have unprecedented access to unfiltered voices communicating about their brands. Using sophisticated analytics tools, they can gather public commentary from blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets to spot patterns that help them understand how people feel about their brands and to quickly identify shifts in attitudes. They can use these insights to do everything from improving product development to fine-tuning advertising messages.

IBM’s Social Sentiment Index is just one of a number of advanced analytics capabilities being used to enhance the fan experience at the US Open–each of which can be used in business. Another of the tools, called SlamTracker, identifies the keys for each player to win a particular match. If you look at SlamTracker Keys to the Match for yesterday’s contest between Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych, it’s clear why Berdych upset Federer. He met or exceeded all three of his keys to success, which included winning more than 46% of the long rallies, while Federer achieved none of his, which included winning more than 32% of his first serve returns.

This US Open provides fascinating insights into how players—and, by extension, brand marketers—can use social media to understand and enhance popularity and value. Roddick has been playing the Twitter game for several years and has already amassed more than 1 million followers with a steady patter of more than 2,500 Tweets. What’s more remarkable this week is the social media performance of newcomer Laura Robson. The 18-year-old from the United Kingdom not only defeated two previous Grand Slam champions but has received an outpouring of Twitter mentions out of proportion with her ranking of 89 and her recent arrival on the world stage. She amassed 35,550 Twitter mentions during the tournament, 93% of them positive–the highest rating among women who received a large number of mentions. Meanwhile Victoria Azarenka, the world #1 player, received a more modest 20,042 mentions.

Robson first gained notice when she won a silver medal in August at the Olympic Games in the mixed doubles alongside Andy Murray. But she shocked the tennis world last week when she upset first Kim Clijsters and then Li Na. Robson finally lost to last year’s US Open champ, Samantha Stosur. But, no matter. She’s on the map. And she’s making the most of her first 15 minutes of fame by using social media to craft a winning public persona.

On Twitter, Robson is self-effacing. In the tag line under her Twitter handle, @laurarobson5, she describes herself as “General sports fan. Play tennis occasionally.” She’s judicious in her Tweeting, issuing just six missives during the US Open, but she’s clearly very thoughtful about what she writes—unlike a handful of Olympic athletes whose online outbursts got them kicked out of the games. In her Tweet after beating Clijsters, she wrote, “Thank you for being an incredible role model.” She also displays a jocular side. After her loss to Stosur: “Always fun peeing into a cup for a drug test after a loss. #sarcastictweet.” A fun kid.

At IBM, we have a snappy new slogan: Data is a game changer. It’s not just a good advertising tag line. It also happens to be true. Whether you’re a young professional tennis player on the rise or a marketer for a well-established global brand, there’s no limit to the value you can get from projecting yourself onto the world via social media and then watching closely to see what is reflected back.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on IBM’s A Smarter Planet Blog.

By Deepak Advani
IBM VP, Business Analytics.

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