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Social media marketing: How City Sports turned tragedy into a triumph

When the catastrophic events of Marathon Day struck the city where our company, City Sports, was born 30 years ago, the immediate reaction by our team and all City Sports employees was "How can we help?"

Nearly everyone in Boston rallied around the city and the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, but City Sports was in a unique position to help. Since we are very close to the runners and their fans because City Sports would supply them with most of their gear, it was clear we had to take charge. Thanks to the power of smart digital and social media marketing, we were able to spread the message that we wanted to help not only the city, but also supporters across the state, nation and worldwide.

Harnessing the power of customers

City Sports quickly became a catalyst for constituents to give back to those affected by the attack. We partnered with other businesses to support the One Fund, a fundraising effort initiated by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to assist victims and families of the attacks.

In the days that followed, we leveraged our position as Boston’s premier sporting goods retailer to continue to sell Boston Marathon paraphernalia and even pledged 26.2 percent of our profits from those sales to the One Fund. We internally created “BOSTRONG” t-shirts and headbands donating 100 percent of the profits to the One Fund. Through in-store promotions we were able to harness the power of mobile by encouraging customers to donate directly to the One Fund via iPads located throughout City Sports stores.

city sports - email marketing

city sports - email

Customers across the country and around the world were excited to help us in our mission to raise money for the One Fund through social media. Our greatest asset continues to be our supportive customers. They made the effort — and it paid off. City Sports customers who purchased our shirts posted photos and status updates informing their friends and families about what City Sports was doing with the One Fund. On Facebook we witnessed a 2 percent increase in "likes," a nearly 300 percent jump in people talking about our mission; and a whopping 69 percent increase in weekly total reach to all Facebook users.

Running for Boston

City Sports customers are runners and we in a large way, set out to harness that power. On April 20, just five days after the attacks, we hosted a 5K run in Boston and every other city where we operate a store; including stores in New York, Philadelphia, Burlington VT, Washington, D.C., and Providence, R.I. Three days after the bombings we sent an email to our customers: “Let’s come together to look forward as we remember those affected, to stand up as a community and show our support, and to emerge stronger and more unified than ever before,” the email read. “On Saturday, we run for Boston.”  We pledged $5 to the One Fund for every runner that participated in the Saturday 5k through City Sports.

city sports

On our website, we provided runners with virtual race bibs (numbered 617, Massachusetts area code) for people all over the world to run with on Saturday. Even those who didn't run used the virtual bib as a message of hope -- they taped it to flowers at the site of the bombings and a runner in London even wore the bib in the London Marathon which took place less than a week after the Boston bombings.

The response was overwhelming - something we had hoped would capture national attention became an international phenomenon. Hundreds of runners participated in the 5K races in our markets, raising a total of $7,500.  In all, we helped raise $120,000.00 for the One Fund. Dan Springer, Responsys CEO, announced at Interact that Responsys is giving 10k to the One Fund – and he’s personally matching that donation.

Our message was not only heartfelt, but we helped, inspired, energized people to get moving, which have always been our goal as a company. The end result of this tragic event was that we were able to unite our customers, a city and a nation around a common cause -- something that we believe would not have happened without the help of digital marketing.

Watch this video to hear more about how City Sports is working with Responsys to build long term relationships with its customers:

Ben Eld is a Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at athletic retailer City Sports.

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