There are two schools of thought on how to properly use an official team Twitter feed in the NHL. The first, which for the purposes of this article we’ll dub the ‘conservative approach’, emphasizes reporting box scores, announcing team events and opportunities for fans to meet players, and occasionally sending out in-game tweets with capitalized buzz words to pump up fans (which I think we can all agree are better suited for the jumbotron than Twitter). The second school of thought, which we’ll call the ‘@LAKings model’, does things just a little bit differently.
It was just over a month ago now that the Official Los Angeles Kings Twitter feed sent the hockey world into frenzy with following tweet:
It was a harmless bit of fun at the expense of the Canucks and their fans, nothing that you wouldn’t expect to see from someone following the team closely. But the beauty of Twitter can also be its curse: the ability to reach people. And with less than 140 characters, the Kings sparked what has at times been a heated debate on what the purpose of an Official Team Twitter feed is, and what is and isn’t appropriate.
“I’d have to say I am still surprised by how much publicity our Twitter feed gets.” Said Dewayne Hankins, Director of Digital Media and LAKings.com, in an interview with Monarchy Hockey. “At the end of the day, we aren’t saying anything groundbreaking — we’re just saying things you wouldn’t normally hear from an ‘official’ team account. And that’s really the difference; we’re using Twitter exactly as it was intended — to interact with our fanbase. Social media is a two-way conversation and Twitter, specifically, is designed for great one-liners that can be shared and re-tweeted. All we’re doing is injecting a little personality into @LAKings. There are accounts far more interesting, funny or racier than ours — it only gets the attention because we’re not ‘supposed’ to act that way.”
For most NHL fans, the Tweet was greeted with positivity and praise for its originality and fresh approach. Personally, when I read the tweet, I laughed. I had friends, who aren’t LA Kings fans, who laughed. My Dad even called me up to talk about it, and once I finished explaining to him what Twitter is he laughed too. In a time where team accounts have become so mind-numbingly boring and predictable, the @LAKings provided fans with a fresh perspective on how Twitter should be used and the potential it has. They used it to connect with their fans, to represent the feelings of those who are personally invested in the Los Angeles Kings and their playoff run.
But unfortunately, as has become all too common in the past few years, both fans and media members around the league (predominantly those associated with the Vancouver Canucks) were outraged by what was intended to be a funny and lighthearted comment. Just a few hours later those of us involved in the game found themselves mired in a public debate centred around the dos and don’ts for an official team twitter feed.
“We apologized to anyone who was offended by the tweet and that’s the end of it.” Said Hankins, when asked for his reaction to the public outcry that followed. “We didn’t delete the tweet — because we don’t regret saying it. Luckily, our digital team has the support of a very forward thinking executive group who understand the vision we’re going for with respect to our social media. If people want to view it as inappropriate and unprofessional, I would ask for them to re-define what they think social media is about. I know for a fact that we’ve never made the LA Kings brand look bad with anything we’ve said in social media — we’ve only enhanced it. And to be honest, the success we’ve had since the tweet speaks volumes about how much we care about other people’s definitions of ‘appropriateness, class and professionalism’.”
What might be most baffling about this entire situation is the apparently widely held belief that official team Twitter feeds should only be used for bi-partisan purposes. Since when is what an NHL team does unbiased? In-game presentations on the jumbotron are decidedly slanted to the hometown fans, commercials and advertisements espouse the virtues of the featured team and the necessity for fans to attend home games, players constantly cite their fans as ‘the best fans in the NHL’. Why should Twitter be treated any differently? After all, a team’s marketing and communications department is meant to concern itself with their own fans, not everyone else’s. This has been the mindset within the Kings organization for a few years now, and there is no plan for that to change in the near future.
“We’ve grown from about 70,000 before the playoffs started to around 106,000 and counting — it’s easily the most explosive growth we’ve seen on Twitter. We didn’t expect this to happen because, quite frankly, we’ve been doing things this way since I joined the Kings in November 2010. I think the tweet kind of put the way we do things on the map — and that’s great — but we certainly didn’t expect this kind of growth.
If I want one thing to happen from of all of this, it’s that teams, organizations and companies see what their Twitter has the potential to be. Please don’t make it boring, please don’t talk down to your followers and please, for the love of God, interact with these thousands of people who have voluntarily decided they want to hear what you have to say. Twitter can be such an interesting expression of your brand if you’re not afraid to get your hand slapped once in a while.”
And so the Kings will continue to be original, funny, and edgy with their Twitter feed, and kudos to them for doing it. They have fun with Twitter, as everyone should, and they’ve resisted the urge to give in to the stuffy, conservative methods of some of the other franchises in the NHL. Just take a read through some of the tweets we’ve included below, and then try and argue that this isn’t some of the best work you’ve seen on Twitter. Do yourself a favour and follow the men behind the feed – Dewayne Hankins (@DewayneHankins) and Pat Donahue (@patatack), the digital team for the Kings – and enjoy their antics as much as you enjoy that of the official team feed.
If there is one thing that this entire escapade has highlighted for me it’s that everyone needs to take a step back and relax a little when it comes to sports and their opinions surrounding the game. Don’t get me wrong, I think its crucial to a league’s success that its fans are opinionated and have a sense of personal investment when it comes to the issues of the day, and the wonderful thing about the age we live in is that there are literally thousands of ways that one can choose to express their views. But don’t be afraid to have a little fun with things as well. Just because someone chooses your team to be the brunt of their joke doesn’t mean you have to fire back with hatred and spite. Instead, make a joke at their team’s expense and have a laugh about it as fans of the game.
Before you know it, you might find yourself coming up with some comedic gold like this:
A very special thanks to Dewayne Hankins for agreeing to be a part of this article.