Build Your Social Fanbase -- Take a Lesson From The Stanley Cup

May 15, 2014

Hockey might not have the same overall draw in America as football or baseball, but its fans are fiercely loyal to the sport. (Now Canada – that’s another story). With the Stanley Cup playoffs underway, the hockey world is holding its collective breath to see which team will hoist Lord Stanley’s cup at the end.

The goal of any sporting team -- and business -- is to build rapport and relationships over time with fans/customers -- to the point that they wouldn't dream of switching sides or rooting for another team. Sometimes fandom is passed on from generation to generation, and other times it is organically built based on shared interests and passions. Building a fanbase can be a lengthy process, but the potential payout is huge.

Here are 4 steps to build and engage with your own social media fanbase:

Use buyer persons to identify your ideal fan.
Sports fandom is often innate – and difficult to change once firmly established. Bandwagon fans can be swayed by success or failure, but dedicated fans remain loyal throughout. Fans of the NHL’s Original Six (Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and N.Y. Rangers) have passed their fandom down for generations – creating legions of loyal fans that teams can rely on through the toughest seasons.

Buyer personas can help identify the fans that are already in your corner – or chart a path to building new loyalties. When researching buyer behaviors, borrow a lesson from traditional journalism – answer the 5 W’s (and 1 H). Identify who your target customers are, what they want to accomplish, when they decide to make purchases, where they choose to do business, why they make these decisions, and how they proceed to implement.

Are your fans the kind of people who will sit in the front row behind the glass or scalp some nosebleed seats? Are they local, or will they mostly telecommute? You can collect this information by researching target audience LinkedIn profiles, and identifying commonalities which might bring them together – whether geographical, demographical, or financial. There is almost always a link that can be created among a target audience – it’s your job to build that connection.

Identify what your fans want from you.
In sports, winning championships always helps build stronger fanbases. Perennial contenders have the luxury of strong fanbases, while non-contending teams must use additional creativity to find new fans. The Calgary Flames have not won a Stanley Cup in 24 years – despite a run to the Finals in 2004. But the Flames have connected with their fans by drawing on personal stories that connect to the sport. Combined with an honest assessment of the team’s current status, this campaign helped keep fans from fleeing.

For hockey teams, this is an easy question to answer: their fans want wins. It's more advanced in marketing, but the same premise is true – your fans want to succeed in business. Deliver on that goal by promoting helpful content that educates them and helps them solve the common and not-so-common problems they face.  Your personas provide a sketch of the buyer’s intended goal, so capitalize on it – and make sure to follow up with further insight.

Scope out your rivals and their fanbases.
The NHL’s recent divisional realignment has weakened some long-standing NHL rivalries, while creating new geographic ones. Still, one of the most heated and long-lasting rivalries exist between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. These two teams have met in eight games that have decided Stanley Cup championships – more than any other rivalry in history. Fans of both teams display a visceral dislike for the other team.

You likely already have a few competitors in your industry, but how loyal are their audiences? What factors drive them to choose the competition – and can they be swayed away? Thankfully, there are several tools that you can use to spy on your opponent’s fanbase – and you don’t necessarily need to be overt when conducting research. Use tracking tools like SEMRush to get a good base of information on competitor content and engagement. On LinkedIn specifically, you can see how you stack up against your competition with our Content Marketing Score tool.

Interact with your fanbase early and often.
The Los Angeles Kings’ marketing office has established a reputation for strong engagement and risk-taking on social media. During the Kings’ championship run in 2012, the team’s social media accounts posted a combination of insightful, controversial and confident content – sometimes outright agitating their opposing fanbases. The team redefined what it meant to post content as a sports brand – and encouraged other brands to shed the overly business-like demeanor.

Pushing the envelope with aggressive social posts might work in sports, but it’s not as adaptable in business. Still, the team proved that consistent posting and engaging with its audience drew new fans into the fold – helping the wild-card Kings expand their bandwagon fanbase during the improbable playoff run.

Finding your brand voice is crucial to build and maintain fanbases – and there needs to be a personal touch behind the messaging. Posting impersonal content risks losing your fans to another company and can make them apathetic toward your business.

Businesses often covet the passion that sports teams can generate from their fans – and these steps can help you hoist your own Stanley Cup. Follow us @LinkedInMktg for more content marketing insights.

Photo source: The Windsor Star

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