A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Atlanta Braves hosting the Braves Bash and how impressed I was by their efforts to allow fans to engage with the players and backroom staff. Once again my attention has been grabbed by another North American sporting franchise and their social media activities so step forward, New Jersey Devils and take a bow.
The NHL side has built a dedicated social media hub run by fans for fans. In true American fashion, they've given it the impressive sounding title of â€˜Mission Control Centre.' This digital media command centre will allow the team to engage with fans more extensively on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
To create this team, the Devils selected 25 of their most dedicated online fans and have entrusted them to monitor the online conversation, inform their fellow fans and create and facilitate discussion around the team. The centre, which consists of the nine computer terminals, ten iPads and two flat screen TVs, is heavily inspired by Gatorade Mission Control.
One Centre, One Message
Given that fans have their own opinions about the team they follow, the Devils needed to ensure consistent messaging and that their members, nicknamed the Generals, don't use official Devils channels to air their own personal views about the team.
Since the launch, a morning briefing session is held every day to all staff and generals with information on key team topics. This is followed by a 20 minute phone call during which staff and generals learn more about what is expected of them that day.
This helps ensure consistent messaging is coming from the Devils, that fan's queries aren't left unanswered and that any misinformation is quickly corrected. To undertake something like this requires a great deal of commitment throughout the entire organisation as well as significant time and resources.
Fans not Suits
The Devils could easily have gone down the road of hiring a bunch of social media execs or outsourcing the responsibility to a social media agency. However, opening it up for fans to run was a master stroke as it means those in the centre are knowledgeable and committed. Hiring staff to carry out this activity would not have the same effect as they may not have the same knowledge, enthusiasm or commitment; instead it would just be a job.
For the fans, it is all the about passion and as some of these generals have stated, it has made them even bigger fans and has strengthened their ties with their team. Also it gives other fans reassurance that like-minded and passionate fans are responding to them and facilitating the conversation, not those from a cynical marketing department.
The Digital Zone
As part of this dedication to social media, the Devils allow fans to rent branded iPads for use during the game for The Digital Zone, a hub housing computer monitors and player memorabilia. The zone is located on the main floor of the Prudential Center – the home stadium of the Devils.
Generals are sent out to introduce this concept to their fellow fans and teach them how to use the iPads; ensuring that the fans follow the team on Facebook and Twitter. With so many games in the regular hockey season, there will always be a great deal of conversation and online chatter around the Devils so it is not as if this centre is going to be underutilised.
Despite there being 25 generals, I think it would be a good idea if the Devils were to open the Centre a little bit more by offering other dedicated fans the chance to work there on a once off basis. This helps to demonstrate exactly what the centre does to other fans and would help further strengthen ties with them.
One a side note, I also liked how fans are asked to submit their suggestions for the â€˜Song of the Day' via Twitter, tagging Tweets with the hashtag #NJDSONG. This was the first home game during which the team introduced a fan-suggested song into the in-game mix.
The winning song is then played and the Jumbotron (the large screens displayed in sports stadiums and concert halls) displays the Twitter handles of fans who voted for the winning song. Photos of the scoreboard display were then posted to Twitter for all to see. A nice online to real world combination.
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