Un-Follow the So-Called Leader


Pro and collegiate teams should focus less on the social media trophies of "likes" and followers, and more on what their fans want.

I’ve been pondering the horse-race mentality of Facebook and Twitter  pages lately. In college and pro sports – as in the corporate world – the “like” is champ. 

So-called social media gurus measure a brand’s social capital around a number (followers, likes, etc.). They stack that figure up against the competition in the industry – or league – in the case of professional and collegiate athletics.

That’s crap.

Here’s why: NBA fans are not the same as NFL fans, who are not the same as NHL fans, who are not the same as MLB fans. Yankee fans watch, read about, shop and interact with other Yankee fans in a much different way than, say, Seattle Mariner fans. Media budgets are also not the equal, which makes comparisons futile. See the Yankees vs. Mariners example above.

You can say the same about college athletics. Do Florida fans really care what’s on the official LSU football Facebook page? Unless it’s Gator smack talk, I would argue no. And as an Iowa Hawkeye fan, I could care less what the Iowa State Cyclones say on Twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. As the social voice for a Fortune 300 company’s Facebook and Twitter communities,  I keep an eye on my competition – and so should competing teams and leagues. But I’ve decided not to obsess about generating the same number of fans, likes and followers as my competition. Instead, I concentrate on my brand’s target customer – and what they want – in a Facebook page or Twitter stream.

Sports franchises and university athletic departments should do the same.

Here’s how: Use the market research at your disposal to zero in on your target customer, or do your own social listening sessions. You’ll be surprised how quickly the focus will shift from meaningless numbers to: 

  • Finding quality fans
  • Creating and sharing interesting and relevant content, apps and giveaways
  • Aasking questions, highlighting a superfan or posting fan photos.

Teams should stop trying to keep up with other teams in the league, division or sport. Create the features your fans like. Share the content they appreciate.

Heck, one day, it might not even be Facebook or Twitter. Something else could (and probably will) replace today’s social tools. But you know who will decide that? Yep, the sports fan.

“You need to understand how your customers are using social media, which tools they favor, and finally WHY and HOW they use these tools,” writes Mack Collier, a social media consultant and founder of #Blogchat. “This knowledge gives you great insights into how to connect with your customers in a way that’s beneficial to both them, and you.”

And fans, if you aren’t already, start sharing your feedback whenever and wherever possible. If your team is good at social media, it will listen. If it’s not, you’ll know right away. And no amount of “likes” will make your team’s Facebook page worth visiting.  

Thanks for being a fan.

10 thoughts on “Un-Follow the So-Called Leader

  1. troy janisch

    Good insights. I think it’s easy for people to ‘bury themselves in the numbers’ if they’re trying to appeal to everyone — or, if they’re focusing on volume. I’d rather have 3,000 ‘super fans’ than 15,000 ‘meh fans.

    • Tom thanks for the mention! And John Moore actually did some research into which NFL Teams (I think it was just NFL) had the highest WOM. I believe the Steelers were tops. It was published on the Keller Fay blog, I believe, so try Googling it.

      And love your point about customizing the experience for YOUR fans, great point!

  2. I think fans will always respond to a human voice on any platform. They start to give you the stiff-arm when the voice becomes watered-down legalese, “We’re sorry if our decision to move from Cleveland to Baltimore may have caused any inconvenience. Your season tickets will still be valid in Baltimore. No refunds.”

  3. My favorite part? “I’ve decided not to obsess about generating the same number of fans, likes and followers as my competition. Instead, I concentrate on my brand’s target customer – and what they want – in a Facebook page or Twitter stream.”

    Excellent advice for the community manager of any brand. Great post!

  4. Rich Nolan

    Good post Tom and I am now confused.

    Perhaps a future topic could be the use of social media with the pending NFL work stoppage, how the owners, players union and individual players are representing themselves and their positions. Does one side get the social media opporutity better than the other?

  5. Rich – definitely looking into that topic. There’s been a lot of conversation by both sides, but what’s interesting is the commish (who has a Twitter account) has been fairly silent on social media. Look for a post soon on who the players are on both sides and what they’re saying.

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