Lots of pro athletes have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or Instagram accounts that they use to keep fans up to date on their exploits on the field and in the locker room.  One of the most engaging and effective athletes I’ve seen online is Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end, Brett Keisel.

Easily recognizable by his Grizzly Adams-like facial hair and his outgoing personality, Keisel (and his social media team) provide frequent updates on his play, his charitable efforts, his merchandise and events going on around the Steelers.  They also do a phenomenal job in highlighting fan engagement and fun activities as well.

The following is a sampling of recent Facebook posts from ‘The Beard’ and his crew:



There are a bunch of really cool third-party social media apps out there that allow sports teams to engage and reward fans. I got a great one from the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this year.IMG_0904

The Buccos sent out a Tweet asking fans to use a special hashtag, and anyone who sent it would get a ‘virtual autograph’ from Josh Harrison. When you did that, you received a Tweet back with your Twitter avatar inserted into a photo with the player and a message with your Twitter handle included (compliments of Digigraph).

Pretty neat, huh?

But that sort of technology can on occasion be somewhat troublesome, as the New England Patriots recently found out.

The Pats hit the 1,000,000 follower mark on Twitter a week or so back, becoming the first NFL team to eclipse the mark. To celebrate, the Patriots provided a personalized thank you message and a customized digital jersey with the fan’s Twitter handle for any follower who retweeted a special message from the team.

It was a cool concept. But when an unsavory character with a Twitter name that featured a racial epitaph decided to get involved, the Patriots digital media department took a massive hit. The offending Tweeter forwarded his/her jersey with the handle @IHate(RacialSlur), and it then got picked up not only on Twitter, but received coverage in blog posts and news stories across the internet.

That’s the funny thing about social media – it doesn’t discriminate between good and bad. It’s an equal opportunity promoter and offender. The offensive Tweet traveled just as far and as fast (if not faster) than all of the celebratory postings that preceded it.

Do I have any sympathy for the Patriots and the backlash they received? Maybe a little. After all, they were just trying to do something nice for their loyal followers. But how hard would it have been to incorporate a filter for foul language in the program that inserted the names onto the jerseys?

So what’s the takeaway? Well, automation can be a great social media tool. But that doesn’t mean you set it and forget it. You still have to monitor what’s going out from your sites. Don’t leave your engagement up to someone else…be involved!

Social Service (or lack thereof)


Come On City! MCFC vs. AC Milan at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh

I don’t go to a lot of live sporting events anymore (outside of those associated with my job).  Sure, every now and then I’ll take in a baseball game, but that’s more of an excuse to hang out with friends and enjoy a beer or two in a summer setting.  The game itself is more of background noise.

But, when my favorite soccer team (Manchester City) was included in a preseason tournament taking place across the United States, AND when it was announced that they would be playing a game in my hometown of Pittsburgh, I was among the first to grab tickets.

In fact, I went a step further than just purchasing seats.

Relevent Sports, the folks who put on the Guinness International Champions Cup, made special ‘Fan Packs’ available for die hard fans.  These packages included seats in a designated supporter’s section (prime seats near the field), laminated souvenir tickets, lanyards to hold said tickets, and a supporter’s scarf, all delivered in a fancy event box (for a premium price, of course).

Relevent went all out on the Fan Packs.  What they didn’t go all out on was their customer service.


Spreading the Ice – Gibbons Goes Viral

WBS Penguins 2004The folks over at recently put together a nice post explaining how to help your Twitter content go viral (check it out here).  It’s a very well thought out piece focusing on tactics which allow sports Tweets to gain traction online and spread quickly.

While their blog concentrates on Tweets as the end products (i.e. – the piece which goes viral), I’ve seen great results in using Twitter as a tool to help other online items from the team reach a broader audience.

This past May, the Penguins faced off with the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Calder Cup Playoffs.  A scoreless first period didn’t hint at the offensive fireworks that opened the second frame, when the Pens posted three goals in the first 5:22 to jump out to a big lead.

But the true highlight of the night came off of the faceoff following the third tally.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton speedster Brian Gibbons (now with the Columbus Blue Jackets), won the puck off the draw, dangled in and out of several Bruins skaters before skating in alone and beating the Providence goaltender through the five hole for one of the best individual displays of skill you will ever see in the AHL.  Here, look for yourself:


Get A Handle On It

DigDeepInteresting news from the National Basketball Association today.  The league announced they would be putting their Twitter handle (@NBA) on their game balls for the upcoming season, making them the first pro league to do so.

Building handles and hashtags into the game experience is a progressive idea.  It certainly helps to drive engagement and, in some cases, helps to bond fans together.

We saw that final point in action this past postseason, when we included our playoff hashtag, #DigDeep, as part of our center ice logo.  Fans took to using the phrase right away, and we experienced the largest engagement numbers we have ever seen during our run to the Eastern Conference Final (total engagement on Facebook for May and June topped 113,000; Twitter hit 26,000).

Several other teams, mostly at the college level, have taken to displaying hashtags and handles on their playing surfaces.  The University of Central Florida unveiled a new basketball court in June of 2013 featuring their Twitter handle and hashtag (#ChargeOn).  That addition, which featured the mentions on the sidelines, not directly on the court, came on the heels of the NCAA banning hashtags, urls and other social media mentions from football fields (gotta protect that sponsorship inventory, whether it’s being used or not!).

What are your thoughts on including handles and hashtags on balls (or pucks) and the playing surface?  Is it too much, too tacky, or a great way to get your fans engaged?

Off Season Engagement

It’s July 31st.  The last game of the Calder Cup Final took place a month and a half ago.  The free agent frenzy at the beginning of July has come and gone.  And training camps don’t open for another 50 days or so.

Aside from the odd player signing or ticket announcement, there isn’t much activity to report.  In other words, we’re in a hockey holding pattern.

So how do you keep your fans engaged during the mid-summer doldrums?

Here are a couple of ideas that have worked well for the Penguins during this off-season:

0715_Kennedy_FB_BdayHappy Birthday Wishes:  During the past season, I build a spreadsheet calendar containing the birthdays of every player to ever suit up for the team.  I raided our photo archives for shots of any player who was born between June 3 and September 30.  I then saved two different versions of each photo – one full body or upper torso shot good for use on Facebook and Twitter,  and one square-shaped photo suitable for use on Instagram.

A simple Bing/Google search for Happy Birthday brought up a plethora of graphics featuring cakes, balloons, party hats, etc. This graphic was added to each of the pictures for a little more festive photo.

The great thing about these predetermined posts?  Just like the Ronco Rotisserie Oven, you can set it and forget it!  Facebook’s scheduling option is a very handy tool when it comes to planning your posts, so you don’t have to spend time every day coming up with captions or blurbs and then pushing your photos in real time.  This can all be done in advance.