Big Brand Theory: Boston Celtics

Posted on November 26th 2013

Big Brand Theory: Boston Celtics

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ImageSocial media tactics and strategies that work for one industry often don't work in others. In one, a focus on customer service can be effective, while in another, a focus on content marketing, influencers, or community might work best.

Brands that attract fanatical devotion - what you might call "love brands" - often play by yet another set of rules. This was emphasized recently when Peter Stringer, head of the Boston Celtics' social media, shared some of the team's social media tactics at SMX Social. I was able to catch up with Stringer prior to his keynote, as well as hear his conversation onstage with Matt McGee.

The first thing that was emphasized is that basketball fans aren't your average customers. While they love the brand, they can get pretty passionate when the team fails to deliver the goods. Even though the Celtics brought home 17 NBA championships, they sometimes lose. When that happens, you can see tweets taking the team to task.

Stringer said, "Anything I put out there on Twitter or social media is akin to a public statement. I'm not going to get into a dialogue with an individual fan because they're upset we lost a game."

ImageWith over seven million Facebook likes and over 1.2 million followers on Twitter, the franchise generates quite a bit of buzz on social media. The general flow of content goes like this: the Celtics social media team posts content and then the fans share it. While those fans often address their sentiments to the Celtics, Stringer said, "We almost never reply to our fans." 

At four people, the Celtics social media team is not large. While you might think that one of the most popular sports teams in basketball would call for more social media effort, Springer quipped that while the brand is a large global brand, the company is actually quite small. He added, "We spend millions of dollars on athletes, but not on marketing."

Moving Merchandise

The Celtics seem to have the best results in social media when the social media team generates great content that fans can then share with their own networks. While quite a few fans share Celtics imagery on Pinterest, the official account has been focused on promotion of merchandise. 

At nearly 9,000 Pinterest followers, Stringer doesn't feel that the team's performance on that platform is exciting. It's possible the self-promotional content is less apt to be shared. The Dallas Cowboy's have Pinterest boards that are more general interest - the type of content that you would think would be more shareable - yet that organization has fewer than half as many followers as the Celtics.

The Synergy of Sports and Social Media

When you look closely at how the fans of large sports teams share and respond to content on social media, you can sympathize with Stringer when he said of sports and social media, "the synergy there is probably different than any other industry."

It seems like it's a natural extension of the whole ethos of sports and the aura of celebrity surrounding sports. In closing, Stringer shared some true wisdom: "I see other teams being snarky with each other on Twitter, being sarcastic, taking shots with their with their opponents. That's not what we do, not what we're about. If we wouldn't do it in the arena, we aren't going to do it on Twitter."

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The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.

RicDragon

Ric Dragon

CEO, DragonSearch

Ric Dragon is the CEO and chief strategist for DragonSearch, a leading digital marketing firm in the realm of internet marketing from search to social. He is the author of the Dragonsearch Online Marketing Manual and Social Marketology (McGraw Hill 2012). In addition to being an artist and a jazz drummer, Dragon has been a speaker at events around the world including Social Media Marketing World, SMX Advanced, NMX, BlogWorld, BrandsConf, 140Conf, SobCon, and more.

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Comments

amandakittle
Posted on November 25th 2013 at 4:01PM

Great article! I remember hearing similar statements from a lecturer that worked for Turner Broadcasting. Unfortunately, the world of sports and entertainment is slightly different from a regular company: complaints typically result from losing a game, something that the social media team simply cannot fix or change. I personally think that sports marketing has room to improve, especially in mobile apps and personalization. Whether you are in the stadium or sitting in front of your TV, social media can give you quality content as a fan. For social media teams in sports, it's more important to look at the data and then target consumers with merchandise and food/drink at the game or a live stream with behind-the-scenes specifal features while at home. In sports, it's not necessary about who has the most likes and fans, but rather who has the most impressions, replies, comments, retweets. Relating to the section comparing the Dallas Cowboys and the Celtics, if the content isn't shareable, it doesn't matter how many followers you have because they won't share it and the brand isn't helping foster that relationship with fans. While social media use in sports is vastly different than a company's marketing, it is just as important for the future of the brand. 

RicDragon
Posted on November 26th 2013 at 12:30AM

Hi Amanda, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment.

It's funny - I think for many of us NOT in sports - hearing about the way sports franchises use (or don't use) social - comes as a bit of a surprise.  After all, don't you want to foster real communities and engagement and all that?  And yet, over and over, I do see where "love brands" have gotten away with a very different approach - an approach of giving the community more material, stories, images, etc - that THEY can share and use with one another - and then getting out of the way.  

If we had an example of a team that WAS using social in the more, well, SOCIAL way, we might have a better idea of what truly works better. Absent that, we can only speculate.

-r

Nem Radenovic
Posted on November 27th 2013 at 4:10PM

Great post Ric, I put out a post a couple of months ago covering how the NBA encourages participation through social media and I think you have hit the "nail on the head" so to speak. I mean its easier for athletes celebrities and sports organizations to gain more likes and followers but what sets them apart is their ability to take it to the next level. Individual franchises and the NBA as a brand have done a great job CONNECTING atheletes, their own brand, traditional media outlets, sponsors with the customer (fan base).

It seems as if they create a close connectiong between each of these and its probably as close as any die-hard fan can get to their favourite team or player. I can testify to that as I have been re-tweeted by the official NBA account, and as a huge basketball fan was beyond excited by having the ability to connect directly with the world's biggest basketball brand.

Not to mention their spotlights on each player's social media performance with both NBA Pulse (for trending topics) and social spotlight (continous updates of images, videos, stories, etc.). It gives the fans updates from every team, player and rest of the league (include professional sports writers). Just a fantastic job of keeping everyone engaged and involved in NBA basketball. I think Stringer's comment form your post describes it very well: "the synergy there is probably different than any other industry."

Cheers,

Nem

RicDragon
Posted on November 28th 2013 at 3:10PM

Terrific post, Nem - thanks for pointing it out to me. 

Alan Cassinelli
Posted on November 27th 2013 at 5:11PM

The Celtics social media strategy seems to be way off-based. "We almost never reply to our fans" seems like a terrible strategy for social media. It's called 'social' for a reason and just talking AT your fans and not WITH them seems like an old-school marketing attitude out of Mad Men.

Now obviously fans will be upset after a loss and it's not smart to respond to fans in that state of mind, but not involving fans in your brand through social media is a bad idea in my opinoin. 

As for their use of Pinterest, they are not geting any followers on it because they are using the social network incorrectly. Their focus on just selling merchandise is not what the platform is made for and their numbers reflect that. They should take a look at the Seattle Seahawks and their 144,000+ followers on Pinterest as a team that 'gets it' and is using the platform correctly

 

RicDragon
Posted on November 28th 2013 at 3:08PM

Alan, I think what you're saying here has real merit. It's true that when we - we that engage in social strategy as part of our daily jobs - hear this story about the Celtics, we shake our collective social media heads. How can they NOT be engaging? 

This would bring up some questions: what would a great social strategy look like?  Perhaps coaches and athletes would comment, "yeah, we blew that game, we're really going to keep trying harder...?" Could that kind of full social engagement be sustained?  Remember, this is a four-person social team right now - and in fact, I believe, only recently growing to that number.

BTW: thanks for the pointer to the Seahawks Pinterest board.

-r

YaJagoff
Posted on November 28th 2013 at 12:46PM

Thanks Ric,

After reading this, I went back to look at the local sports brands in Pittsburgh.  First, I was amazed at the number of followers the Celtics had on twitter.  Certainly they are spoiled in being a love brand.  I think that the Steelers, while a large following accross the U.S. because so many people fled Pittsburgh in past years, it does the same... just distributes informaiton witih social media.  On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Penguins have seemed to do a much better job at being "social" with their social media efforts.  They are a little more encouraging to their community which skews a lot younger of a demo.... some of their goals are to get young kids involved with ice hockey so as to create a legacy of following the brand. In that, they have used a number of social tactics.

Thanks again for the write-up. It again shows, how dominant sports brands can be and what they can "get away with" (not in a mean way) as compared to real companies.

RicDragon
Posted on November 29th 2013 at 9:35PM

Thank you, John - makes me want to do a competitive analysis across sports teams! 

-r