Social Media, Sports, and Personality: Representing The Brand

Personality is the best thing to happen for sports and social media. When Facebook posts and Twitter feeds became less robotic, glorified RSS feeds and formal PR channels and more engagement tools, building relationships with fans, it was a win for all.

But, somewhere along the way, many team personalities diverged from the values and brand that so long defined the teams and were inculcated throughout the locker room.

When a new coach comes in, they appreciate the history and organization they’re inheriting, while also putting up the slogans and infusing the team with a bit of his/her personality and philosophy. Here’s guessing that most organizations don’t think of themselves as standing for snark, nor coaches coming in with plans to taunt and chirp opposing teams at every chance on social media.

“Our online presence needs to reflect what our brand is…,” Boston Celtics VP of Digital Media Peter Stringer told me in a recent interview. “We should be echoing what [head coach] Brad Stevens wants to put out, what our players are talking about. To me, we should be amplifying and echoing what those guys are all about…”

Fans may relate to a little snark, may laugh at a taunt at another team, but is cultivating a community that feels closer to the team? Is it helping fans identify with the messages being put forth in emotional locker rooms after games or on the backs of t-shirts worn on training days? Fans like seeing their teams have a little fun, but they like even more feeling like they’re on the same emotional wavelength of the team, knowing what is being said in the huddle before a team takes the field or the ice or the court. A little snark may catch the attention of a casual fan for a fleeting moment, the flavor of the minute, but a connection that hits at heartstrings build fans for life.

“Could we be more fun on Twitter? Maybe occasionally,” said Stringer. “But, realistically, I just don’t look at it that way. To me, you’re representing the brand every time you tweet…It’s always been about ‘we don’t want to screw up what all these people have built with their blood, sweat, and tears, and what that brands means to so many people and generations of fans.’ Because what’s the point?…”

There is no easy answer here. When social media managers are eager to show ROI, to show off some hockey stick growth in reach and engagement, it is tempting if not seemingly responsible to engage in a tactic that has proven to produce metrics that, whether they drive revenue or not, matter to many. Maybe it leads to more followers, which leads to more reach on marketing messages, which leads to some incremental sales. But is any short-term, small gain worth the expense of a brand that has been built over generations? For the Celtics and Stringer, the answer is clear.

“I respect [the Celtics brand and history] way too much…There’s no upside,” said Stringer, whose Celtics’ Twitter handle was ranked last by a Complex Magazine article ranking NBA team Twitter accounts. “Even if you get 10,000 retweets, then what does that mean? Does it help you sell more tickets? Does it help you sell more merchandise? Does it meet any of the bottom line goals that we have as an organization?…I don’t really think so. So that’s how I’ve always looked at it and will continue to look at it.”

This post is not a prescription for what’s right and wrong. Stringer even admitted the Celtics have more of a brand and legacy to protect than a team with less history and fewer generations that have grown up with the organization and its values. But it is a reminder that the personality of the team on social media should NOT be a reflection of the personality of the social media manager. That personality should be defined and perpetuated across the organization, consistent on all channels, and readily identifiable with fans. It should reflect what the team wants to stand for, not what personality will work best on each platform. This may sound difficult to comprehend and even plain wrong, but at a certain point, the brand is what matters most. It transcends the vanity metrics; it’s not all about the likes or retweets.

If you want to build a team that a community of fans can and will rally behind, it’s not built with a few snarky tweets, it’s a long game. Make a fan laugh and you have fleeting attention, make a fan feel and you’re starting to build an emotional connection that’ll last a lifetime.

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