Under the Social Media Hood with the NHL

One of the best gigs I ever had was working as a reporter for the Boston Globe. I worked with ton of talented writers and good people. One of them was Mike Dilorenzo, who is now the the NHL's point person on all things social media. He spent some time on the agency side, blogs frequently and is all over Twitter. He and his team have helped the NHL build a stronger fan base with the help of social media tools.

Here is an interview I did with Mike, asking him about their use of social media and the progress they've made from a brand awareness perspective.

In your opinion, what sort of progress have you made in terms of embracing social media?

(MD) The most important thing we have achieved is that we proved there was a model for social media marketing and developed the right internal champions around the cause. As a result, since the last time we spoke, an entire social media department has been created here at the NHL, and I have been appointed director of social media marketing and strategy. At a more tactical level, we streamlined our Twitter feeds into one single feed (@NHL), launched a number of social media campaigns, and re-designed our Facebook page. Lots more planned, too.

What have been some of the more success campaigns you've run to date?

(MD) We are really pleased with the progress of the #SaturdayNHLPicks promotion we have been running all season long. One of the challenges we face as a League is that our fans activate very strongly for their favorite team, but tend to have less interest in matchups that don't involve that team. #SaturdayNHLPicks asks fans to pick the winner of every game played Saturday nights (generally our busiest night of the week), and response has been consistently strong. My hope is that we've created a brand that we can carry forward. The NHL was also one of the first brands to successfully leverage the new Twitter lists function. Since we introduced our Twitter lists, more than 2,000 fans have joined. We were also really pleased to partner with Mashable on a recent Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic campaign. Just to have an outlet like Mashable consider working with us on a social media program was flattering.

What results have you experienced since using social media tools? Has any of your success caught you off guard or surprised you at all?

(MD) For the NHL, this was the year for building critical mass on platforms. So far, we have grown our following significantly on Twitter and Facebook. We also know that our growth on these platforms has driven millions of page views and video starts on NHL.com, sales at Shop.NHL.com, and general engagement with our brand and the storylines on the ice. We were also recently very happy to be named to Vitrue's list of the 100 Most Social Brands of 2009. Having not been on the 2008 list, it was wonderful to jump to #46. The other result, while not measurable, has been that we have tried and failed at a number of things, and can assimilate those learnings into how we move forward. I am not necessarily surprised by the achievements so far. Hockey fans are passionate and tech-savvy; and by shortening the distance between them and us, it makes sense that we would see a response.

What plans did you have around the Winter Classic as it relates to social media? How did you use these tools to promote this fantastic event?

(MD) Our plans for social media were focused on targeting social influencers to try to raise awareness for the event among non-traditional fans. As a result, we ended up inviting a handful of "digerati" to attend the event as guests of the League, and even had one person skate on the ice. Our hope that was in tapping into their excitement we would reach their legion of followers. In addition, we partnered with Mashable to give away a pair of tickets to one fan that submitted the best hockey-themed user-generated content. Again, the hope was that we would reach an audience that may not necessarily have been familiar with the Winter Classic. We also, of course, hosted a Tweetup in Boston on the day of the game; Tweetups are in our social DNA. We probably had 50-70 people shuffle through our Tweetup.

What's in store for the NHL and social media in 2010? How do you see your use of these tools evolving?

(MD) First and foremost, continue to listen to what our fans want and provide them with it. We always need to be evolving the approach. I would also like to see us make social platforms more of a second-screen experience for enjoying NHL games. Currently, we skew more toward daytime programming of social platforms; but we know that NHL fan interest online peaks during our so-called digital prime time starting at 6 p.m. I also believe we need to make all of our content more shareable, and that's something we have made great strides on. And I would like to see us explore the notion of becoming an information hub that utilizes anchor text and continually gives people a gateway to the best hockey content, whether it originates from the NHL or not. You know, "if Macy's doesn't have it, send 'em over to Gimbel's." I am a firm believer in the notion of becoming an information utility that hockey fans will want to start every day with. We already have partnerships with the major blog networks - SB Nation, Yardbarker, Bleacher Report - in which we each party redirects visitors to the best content on the partner's site. I think there's room for more of that.