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Roger Katz is chief executive officer of Friend2Friend, which powers social engagement for brands.

With the cost of an ad spot during the final NCAA March Madness game running at $1.5M, getting maximum value and reach from marketing spend is vital. With millions of eyeballs watching the games, social media should be a critical component of every marketing March Madness playbook. After all, where else is play-by-play best served up than on social?

These days, you can follow sports instantly. Every game is watched live, or streamed, along with floods of tweets and fan commentary — making every fan(atic) a live sports commentator.

And what better place to harness alum fever than Facebook, which started life as a college social site? It’s the one global social community where those that are moved by the college spirit always declare it. Loud and proud!

We’ve analyzed the leading brand sponsors of NCAA’s March Madness 2013 to see how they’re tying millions of hours of hoop-gazing with their social Facebook audiences. Are the main sponsoring brands taking full advantage of social potential of the Facebook News Feed? Or, are we seeing the same-old “one to many,” unsocial microsite marketing of the early 2000s? Are any of the official sponsors doing something new and socially innovative? Here’s what we found.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups 
is running a promotion to win a trip for four to the men’s Final Four, with cool gear and spending money. A prize almost as delicious as their candy. But the promotion wasn’t featured as a sweepstakes on either the Hershey’s page or the Reese’s page on Facebook. The only place we could locate the promotion — after some struggle — was on the main Hershey’s site, which was pretty much a nostalgic microsite sweepstakes timewarp, and not socialized whatsoever for sharing among Facebook friends. I guess they’ll be relying on banner floods to drive traffic, because I can’t see anyone stumbling upon this sweepstakes on their own.

 has built a “Final Four” Facebook social engagement app that they have installed on their UVerse Facebook page (999K fans). But, curiously, not on their main AT&T page (3.9M fans). The prize for participating is pretty compelling, four tickets to the Final Four game, but AT&T has missed out on the “best practices” of social sharing – getting the fan’s participation sharable to the fan’s News Feed and inviting friends-of-fans to participate. Neither of those things happen with this sweepstakes, which means AT&T is missing out on the opportunity to spark social viral sharing with every participant, and effectively increase their audience to the friends-of-fans with every participant.

It’s time for a social call-to-action for brands

Brands who put millions behind today’s major sports events yet sideline the power of social word of mouth are missing out on tapping into “Chief Madness Officers” across the country that love the event and are inspired to spread the word. They are the perfect targets for sharing a brand message from the initial 64 teams to the “Sweet 16” to the “Elite 8” and to the coveted “Final 4.” Finding ways to tap into that passion authentically, where millions of fans are already congregating —on Facebook — is now, with a little creativity, possible. It’s time to move on from the lonely, unsocial microsite of the 2000s and catch up with the fans — they’re socialized. Brands should be too.

Roger Katz is CEO of Friend2Friend, which has hundreds of leading International consumer brands in its roster, including some iconic European soccer teams.

NCAA basketball photo: Richard Paul Kane/Shutterstock

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