Major League Soccer (MLS) is active on many social media networks, including Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and YouTube. That is a lot of territory to cover, but the engagement level in all these networks is high.
To learn more about MLS’ strategy, I caught up with Director of Social Media for MLS, Amanda Vandervort. According to Ms. Vandervort, the key goal of these efforts is to grow the fan base, which means get more people watching games on TV, going to games, consuming content online, and wearing team gear.
Special Note: I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Vandervort on the #DMEShow.. You can watch the full interview at the end of this post.
She views this as a multi-network campaign, and MLS is “always trying to connect with current and future fans”. They will try out new networks to see if there is a critical mass on the platform to enable them to reach their target audience.
One way to determine if a network is worth engaging in is to see what communities are already sending people into the MLS web site (even before MLS actively engages), and what info from the web site are people sharing into that social environment. These provide excellent indicators as to whether or not the network is a worthwhile investment for the league.
Of course, traffic isn’t the only indicator of potential success. “We want to be wherever our fans, and prospective fans, are engaging with soccer-related content,” she said. “We launched Instagram in 2013 and are currently growing by about a thousand fans each week.”
Sometimes they discover things by accident. When hurricane Sandy hit the East coast of the U.S. in 2012, the office was closed, and everyone had to work virtually. This caused a problem because MLS offers a daily video feed, but they could no longer get to the video equipment in the office during the storm. They also could not put the video on the web site from their remote locations.
However, they setup Google+ Hangouts on Air to continue the broadcast, and “kicked” it off in style. It turned out the fans were incredibly responsive, and Google+ Hangouts are now a standard part of the MLS social media mix. MLS Google+ follower count is now north of 2.5 million.
The Commissioner’s 2013 March to Soccer preseason address and 2013 MLS State of the League were both delivered via YouTube live stream with Google+ Hangout integrations, allowing fan and media participation.
In December 2013, MLS transformed the Best XI from a traditional press release to a live online show, where the top MLS players joined the live announcement from all around the world via a Google+ Hangout.
MLS launched their first-ever Social Media HQ during the 2013 MLS All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City and set up a Hangout Hub where players, coaches, and fans joined live Google+ HOA’s.
At halftime of the MLS All-star Game game, Real Salt Lake and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Kyle Beckerman answered fan questions via a Google+ HOA from the tunnel outside the locker room.
The league’s twitter account, @MLS, is active around the clock and focuses heavily on visual content. Their voice is intended to be confident, but not authoritative; approachable, but not too familiar; and entertaining, but not silly. MLS is very focused on creating visual content, offering offers customer service, contests, promotion, news, while also taking fans behind-the-scenes with exclusive photos and videos.
For the past three years, fans have voted for players who should go to the MLS All-Star Game via Twitter. Hootsuite published a Case Study on the 2012 activation.
MLS executives make a point of being accessible on social media. Commissioner Garber hosts multiple Twitter Q&As throughout the year on his personal account, @thesoccerdon.
CMO Howard Handler hosts AMAs on Reddit. Owners like Portland Timbers’ Merritt Paulson @MerrittPaulson and Sporting KC’s Robb Heineman @RobbHeineman frequently share insights and information on their twitter accounts. MLS players are also very active on social media, and MLS keeps an active, updated player list on Twitter.
Major League Soccer was also tapped to launch one of the original content channels on YouTube. In addition to the main MLS YouTube channel the league also operates KickTV, with nearly 1 million network subscribers since March 2013.
So how has all of this done for them? To my view, they have built an outstanding presence across all these social networks. Looking at Google Plus, they have a stronger following than the NFL, Major League Baseball, or the NHL. Only the NBA has more followers by a slim margin of 2.65 million to 2.58 million. Their YouTube channel has over 150,000 subscribers. They have nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter as well.
The bottom line is that their aggressive pursuit of social media, by publishing great content and active engagement is working. Visibility for the sport is being increase, and it is much easier for those who are already passionate about the sport to be active evangelists as well.
BONUS! Watch my complete video interview with Amanda on the Stone Temple Consulting Digital Marketing Excellence Show below: