Sunday, March 21, 2010

Connecting and Communicating in a Wired World: Using Social Media to Build a Fan Base

 Surveys have shown that hockey fans are the most tech savvy fans of all the major sports. They are quick to embrace and utilize new technologies in their business and personal lives, and in response, the NHL has opened new channels by which to disseminate news and games using the new technology. Streaming videos, podcasts, Twitter, and Facebook are some of the avenues that fans are using to get information and view games, and the League has started to provide content through these channels. Twitter became a source of instantaneous news on trade deadline day; Facebook pages cultivate contact with players and with teams; and streaming video provides content to fans of the game wherever there is a computer and an internet connection.        

While the League has been in the vanguard of embracing social media, teams in local markets are prone to move at a slower pace. Often times, if there is attention paid to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, it falls as an ancillary duty of someone in the Marketing/PR department of the local club. However, with more fans getting information and communicating via the various social media channels, it will become more important for teams to not only give attention to these forms of communication, but also to provide quality content to fill these channels.        

This week, the New York Islanders announced a new position in their front office, the Director of Social Media. Dani Muccio, known to many on Twitter as dani3boyz and the founder of the NHLTweetups, has been named to fill this position. Dani was gracious enough to spend a few moments out of her very busy schedule to talk about this position and what she envisions it will mean for the team.        

When asked how the Islanders decided to create this position, Dani said the team was familiar with the NHLTweetups, where fans of a team communicate through Twitter and meet to support their team and meet other fans. “The Tweetups have been great for generating support and building relationships among the fan base, and the Islanders believed that a focused effort could benefit the team.  The Islanders executives knew they needed to get into this area of communication, but were unsure of how to proceed. They asked if I could provide some advice and a proposal for getting started. I gave the President of the club a ten page proposal about how to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with our existing fans and to attract new fans. The first question I asked him when we met to discuss this was ‘Does anything in this proposal scare you?’ and he said no. He recognized that this area of communication had not been utilized and could be a very effective tool to reach out to fans."        

"After discussion of the proposal, I asked them if they had anyone in mind for the position. Their response was that they were talking to that person. I am still shocked but excited about being offered the position, and I believe that this can be very positive for the Islanders and their fans."        

"The channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, are there, but it is important for us as a team to provide relevant and quality communication to fans. That is one of the aspects of the job on which I will be very focused.”        

Ask Dani how she envisions social media working for the Islanders and you will hear the excitement in her voice as she talks about her vision for the team. “Our players are so involved in our community and do so many wonderful things here. Why not communicate this to our fans and give them a chance to see our players as they get out into the community? When we have player events, such as signings or appearances in different venues, we can communicate this through Twitter and Facebook. We already have a number of Islander fans that follow the team through those mediums, so we can broadcast this information and get it out to them on a timely basis and have more fan involvement. The channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, are there, but it is important for us as a team to provide relevant and quality communication to fans. That is one of the aspects of the job on which I will be very focused."        

"I see Twitter and Facebook not only as a means of communication, but as a vehicle to draw the Islander fan base closer together. Why not have a Tweetup at a game? Have a special place that Islander fans on Twitter can gather and interact, whether between periods or before and after the game?  I see this as a tool to draw the Islander community closer together, and in doing that, it will be good for the team. The team will benefit from the cohesiveness of the fans that support them."        

"Twitter, Facebook, and the team web site have to work in harmony. Content on all three has to be timely and of the highest quality. Fans are discerning, and you want to be accessible, relevant and top notch when it comes to communication and content. Social media channels are not in competition with the team web site or vice versa, but each are designed to complement and enhance the other.”        

 What can the fans of the Islanders expect now that someone in the front office is focused on social media? “Accessibility to information will be one of the first things a fan will notice. Communication through whatever channel they choose- Twitter, Facebook, the team website, or other channel, will be easy, timely, and of the best quality. Not just with the hockey team, but the way information is disseminated today has changed radically. Rather than chase after our fans, we want to be there when the fans need information. We want to be in the channels they use to find out about the team. We want to be accessible and entertaining to the casual fan as well. If we are not easy to find and entertaining and informative, then we will miss those fans. And when the trends change, we want to be current with those changes.  Who knows what the Twitter of tomorrow might be, but we want to be ready to move into that channel when it emerges.”        

 The Islanders have recognized the advent and the importance of new channels of communication, and are to be congratulated for embracing the new social media. They have an experienced and energetic new director spearheading this endeavor, and it will be interesting to see what the team and Dani can do together. Thanks to Dani Muccio for her time and all the best in this exciting new venture.

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