@WillieHeritage: #RBCHeritage social media machine

tbarton@islandpacket.comApril 14, 2012 

Want to know how the world's top-ranked golfer feels about shooting a 4-over-par 75 Thursday at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing?

Easy.

Check out Luke Donald's Twitter account "@LukeDonald: RT @JasonDufner: I need to find a phone booth after today's (round) http://youtu.be/wgNkjv1z6Mg Room for 2?"

Turns out Donald, much like Will Ferrell's character in the movie "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," felt like crying hysterically in a telephone booth; trapped in a glass case of emotion.

Ditto for Dufner.

Social media has quickly become a linchpin in player, PGA Tour and tournament promotions and fan interaction, said Ty Vatow, the tour's executive vice president of communications and international affairs.

"We've encouraged players to embrace social media and use it in ways unique to them," Vatow said, adding more than 9 million people follow PGA Tour players on Twitter. "We see it as a wonderful way to create one-to-one connections between them and their fans."

Profiles on the PGA Tour website link to players' Facebook and Twitter accounts if they have them, and the tour staff periodically provides insight and advice on how to effectively use social media, Vatow said.

Players like Luke Donald.

"Luke Donald was a player who had to use social media," he said of the top-ranked player who has drawn nearly 240,000 Twitter followers.

"When Luke became the No. 1 player in the world, more followers became interested in his story, and social media became somewhat of a necessity to help him interact with his followers," Vatow said. "He's done a great job of using social media to create a real connection with fans of what life on and off the golf course is like, and uses it as a marketing opportunity for his sponsors. Luke is one of those players where the more you know about him, the more you like him. He's increased his followers and has become a real success story of someone who hadn't used it and took to it quickly."

MAD, PLAID TWEETS FROM WILLIE

Players aren't the only ones on the social-media bandwagon. This year, the Heritage has taken its social media presence to a new level by an unlikely champion: Sir William "Willie" Innes.

The middle-aged, 18th Century Scottish tournament mascot seems to be everywhere online, thanks to Twitter and Facebook. His "plaid-tastic" cheeriness and Tartan-clad wardrobe is rapidly disseminated in near-constant tweets and Facebook updates from public relations gurus Nadine Krimow and John Alhart of Dixon Schwabl.

Sir Willie has a Twitter following of 680 people and more than 2,200 "friends" on Facebook -- numbers that grow as he hands out social networking business cards, which say the "Essence of the Heritage" is "Plaid to meet you." The card includes a QR code and handle to his Twitter account, as well as his Facebook page and the tournament's YouTube channel.

"We're trying to get the message across to a broader audience that might not use traditional advertising or traditional news media," tournament marketing director Angela McSwain said. "As a result, we're reaching out to a younger audience and a more diverse demographic."

The approach has worked, McSwain said.

"Having Willie as a focal point for our social media outreach has helped tremendously in getting the word out about this tournament, which is invaluable when you've got new sponsors and are trying to generate excitement," she said.

And Willie's not the only one helping champion the tournament's cause on the Internet. The Heritage Classic Foundation, the nonprofit behind the tournament, hosted two separate social media contests, asking fans to compete via Twitter and Facebook for opportunities to report on the tournament and create new slogans with it's "Tartan Rules."

"Social media has created this fun way to get more people involved in the tournament who normally wouldn't be, as well as giving the 'super fans' a greater role in helping out," McSwain said.

BUSINESSES LATCH ONTO RBC HASHTAG

Area businesses also are using social media to help cash in during tournament week, using the "#RBCHeritage" Twitter hash tag to lure visitors following the tournament.

Remy's and Reilley's Grill & Bar are among those promoting their restaurants this way.

"We do a lot of different promotions ... but the Heritage is a great venue and opportunity for us to promote our business and reach out to customers new and old," Reilley's bartender Colin Kelly said. "Social media is just a great tool for us to use to not only get the word out about the tournament, but about Hilton Head and opportunities for tournament spectators and golf fans to enjoy themselves while they're here. Using the tournament is a way for us to reach a broader audience."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related Content:

RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing

The Heritage Classic Foundation

The Heritage Classic Foundation on Facebook

The Heritage Classic Foundation on YouTube

Sir William "Willie" Innes on Facebook

Sir Willie on Twitter

PGA Tour

PGA Tour on Facebook

Luke Donald on Twitter

Jason Dufner on Twitter

Brandt Snedeker on Twitter

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