Case Study: The NHL Uses Tweet-Ups To Energize Its Fan Base And Reach New Audiences

Nate Elliott[Posted by Nate Elliott. Follow me on twitter.]

Yesterday we published a case study that I'm really excited about, covering how the NHL used tweet-ups to create excitement for the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. The league worked with fans to organize a series of events that took place simultaneously around the world on the opening night of the playoffs. I had a chance to attend the tweet-up in Vancouver, and thought they were a great example of the power of both online and offline influence.

In the weeks leading up to the playoffs, fans started talking online about organizing a series of playoff tweet-ups -- and the league's Director of Social Media Mike DiLorenzo jumped at the chance to make it happen. Mike planned a big tweet-up in New York on the opening night of the playoffs, complete with food and beer sponsors and hockey merchandise giveaways -- and started promoting the event on Twitter.

To make sure there were lots of tweet-ups happening around the league, Mike reached out to a handful of influential hockey fans in key NHL markets to recruit their participation. Lots of fans also stepped up and volunteered to host events in their cities too. Before long, there were tweet-ups organized in almost two dozen cities around the world. The league supported every one of those tweet-ups by sending gift bags, coupons for discounts at shop.NHL.com, and signed hockey merchandise for event organizers to raffle.

The NHL spent only a few weeks and a few thousand dollars planning and supporting the tweet-ups, but the results were fantastic:

  • Big in-person attendance. More than 1200 people attended tweet-ups in 23 cities (including events in New Zealand and Northern Ireland) for the opening night of the playoffs. Many fans organized further tweet-ups as their teams progressed through the playoffs as well
  • Bigger online chatter. Those attendees talked a lot about the events on Twitter: On the opening night of the playoffs, the term "NHL" was mentioned on Twitter more than twice as often as on a normal day. And #NHLtweetup became a trending topic for the day.
  • Enormous total reach. According to the league's research, as many as 240,000 people could have heard about the event on Twitter. And the tweet-ups also generated press coverage that reached millions, including a story in USA Today

So, what can other marketers learn from the NHL's success? We think there are a number of important lessons here:

  1. Get your brand advocates involved. The NHL wouldn't have been as successful without fan participation. The fans helped develop the idea, and they did all the legwork for the local events -- including finding venues and promoting the events. If the NHL had tried to organize these events itself, it would've cost a lot more money, and probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well.
  2. Give yourself enough lead time. The NHL and its tweet-up hosts had only three weeks to organize these events -- and it was a pretty hectic three weeks. The league plans to organize more tweet-ups this season, and will start planning each six to eight weeks in advance. 
  3. Make sure PR is part of your strategy. The fans who attended the tweet-ups generated a lot of excitement about the playoffs -- both at the events, and on Twitter. But the mainstream press coverage provided a ton of reach. The media is still in love with Twitter, so inviting them to the events can really pay off.

There's some other great coverage of the event online -- including that at Goaliegirl.com -- and clients should read the entire case study for even more details and best practices. Congratulations to the NHL, and to all its tweet-up organizers, on a great event.

Comments

re: Case Study: The NHL Uses Tweet-Ups To Energize Its Fan Base

Social Media Club Nashville held an event last month dedicated to how the Nashville Predators are developing their fan community via FB, Podcasters and Bloggers. It was really exciting and best part, ended with everyone getting FREE tickets. That's why I love our Preds!

re: Case Study: The NHL Uses Tweet-Ups To Energize Its Fan Base

Thanks for posting this case study. The NHL compared to the NBA and Major League Baseball has been much better at using social media to enable fans to share the sports experience--to make it easier for fans to be fans. For example, the NHL enables fans to embed clips of games and watch teams on Hulu, whereas the other two do not make content as accessible.