IBM and Wimbledon: a community love match

At last week’s Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle, Bill Jinks, IBM’s technical advisor to the All England Lawn Tennis Club, presented a fantastic online community case study that’s been developing for quarter of a century: IBM and the Championships at Wimbledon.  When you think of tennis at Wimbledon, its traditions, dress code, green lawns, and strawberries and cream, you don’t necessarily think of cutting edge digital community engagement. You’d probably be less surprised to discover that young Wombles now choose their names from Google Maps. However, this underlines the success of the IBM / Wimbledon partnership, embracing evolving technology while retaining every nuance of brand value.

The goal for this year’s Grand Slam event is to retain and grow the engagement of more than 20 million people – while competing for attention with Football’s European Championships. In 2015, 21.1 million unique devices accessed content on The broad scope of the community approach and the tools and strategy employed are breathtaking, and there were a few key points that stood out as great practice for any consumer-facing community manager:

Listen: the Social Media Command Centre

I want one of these! Wimbledon’s tournament is a complex affair, with 19 courts in motion and a wealth of statistics, sentiment and activity to track and to interact with. The bespoke Social Media Command Centre identifies high-profile influencers and trends across all the Championship’s channels. Tracking sentiment is a huge part of the reactive coverage, responding to the feelings of the community, interacting effectively, and keeping people engaged by listening. Although the website is the key asset, social media is widely used to pique interest and convert surfers to supporters. Every conceivable channel is included in a bid to drive audiences to the main site: the first experiment with Snapchat surprised community managers with a level of engagement rivalled only by the established Twitter feed. The community’s strategy is very clear, focusing always on the supporter’s journey from outlying titbits to the main event. The only disadvantage? The command centre controllers are confined to their bunker for the duration of the tournament, serving up top class engagement without even a whiff of a strawberry.

Know your audience: designing for the community

In a world where the default design mantra is “design for mobile first!”, it’s refreshing to hear a strong case for desktop design. With Wimbledon coverage, the benefit of a full screen to stream matchplay and display statistics is obvious. However, it’s clear that a team as professional as this would react to trends in device usage if relevant. The reality? They listened to their audience. They learned from the analytics. They acted to serve their target audience in the place where the coverage would be consumed. Think about it: the Championships always happen in the last week of June and first week of July, and play goes on throughout the day. Most schools in Europe are still in session. The majority of the workforce are at their desks. The audience in this community is almost certainly watching Wimbledon while the boss is looking the other way. Mobile visits are growing rapidly – up from 2.1m in 2014 to 5.6m last year – however it’s evident even on those figures that the desktop design focus is absolutely the right thing for this community.

Evolve: Big Data

The tennis audience is engaged not just by match coverage, which after all is also available on other media, but by a rich tapestry of background information. The community managers use every technology available to deliver an exclusive experience and retain their supporters. The IBM SlamTracker is case in point, mining 41 million data points to deliver an unrivalled wealth of information to an eager audience.

The Wimbledon community is a textbook example of a successful approach that does not rest on its laurels. Community managers everywhere can learn from its philosophy of continuous improvement and clarity of strategy. Thanks to Thinking Digital and Bill Jinks for the opportunity to learn about a mature and forward-looking model.