How Can Teams Use Social Media To Build Brand, Develop Fans & Tell Their Story?

About Neil Horowitz

I am a Manager of Social and Digital Marketing in the professional sports industry and have an active interest in all facets of the field. I have a bi-weekly podcast that interviews leaders in the space in the pro sports industry - the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast available on iTunes or at my website - DSMSports.net

Before the days of social media, the frequency and avenues of touch points between brands and consumers, and teams and fans, were few and far between. Beyond media broadcasts and ads, team slogans printed, and in-venue experiences, the concept of building a brand and using it to develop fans and partnerships was an afterthought. But times have changed and the ubiquity and depth of social and digital media in sports has made brand building not just a possibility, but a necessity. Teams and their brands are live entities, speaking to, and interacting with, fans on a daily basis.

Why should sports teams care about their brands?

The most successful teams in terms of marketing have fans with whom they’ve built emotional ties. These fans understand:

  • What the team stands for,
  • Why they support them, and
  • The need to evangelize on their behalf.

Do your team’s fans understand their roles in the community? Have you intentionally empowered them by clearly communicating the core values of the team and engaging them in the task of building the fan base? Without a strong brand purpose, this very real and effective value is lost.

Go ahead, make their day

“If we [interact with a fan on social media], 99% of the time we’re making their day, said University of Miami Associate Athletic Director Chris Yandle (@chrisyandle).”Small stuff like that can make fans feel part of the program and that’s ultimately how we build brand ambassadors who help (further) build our brand…They’ll help amplify our message and fight for our cause.”

While brand ambassadors can deliver direct return by convincing a friend to go to a game, talking up the experience with the team, and generally just promoting awareness and interest for the team, there is more. These super-fans proselytize and spread the team brand even more, developing more fans in the community and defining the team. The Dodgers used social media with great effect to this end, as they sought to win back a fan base that had felt alienated.

Tell a good story

“I’m trying to tell a story and it’s the Dodgers brand story,” explained Los Angeles Dodgers Coordinator of Social Media, Josh Tucker (@joshbtucker). “It’s having a voice…but staying on brand. You can still have a personality on behalf of the brand; it’s just understanding and finding that voice.”

There is a proliferation of teams trying to cultivate a “personality” on social media, often of an irascible variety, pioneered primarily by the Los Angeles Kings Twitter account. Ultimately, the most effective brand building for teams comes down to trust – developing a lasting, emotionally invested and trusting relationship between fan and team.

Trust doesn’t just happen

Trust cannot happen with a shower of marketing messages and one-way broadcasting; it takes proactive, two-way engagement. Tampa Bay Lightning Director of Digital and Social Media James Royer (@jamesroyer) spoke of the importance of forming this relationship in order to get the most out of social.

“We saw [social media] as ‘Let’s interact and engage with our fans,’ said Royer. “Let’s earn the right to market to our fans, by engaging with them first.”

What about you?

Think about your favorite pro sports teams. Think about the team you work for. Do you have an emotional attachment? Can you define the brand? Tell the brand story? Are you a fan evangelist? Are your fans brand evangelists?

Social and digital media bring the brand to life, opening opportunities for fan development like never before. Understand its value, use it correctly, and use it strategically. Then that’ll be a story worth telling.

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