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NHL teams rewarding fans for social media content, interaction

Thanks to Twitter, Instagram and other platforms, hockey fans are more engaged with NHL teams than ever and are being rewarded for it.

So there you are watching your favorite NHL team on TV with your phone or laptop in your hands as you follow the action simultaneously on Twitter. Your favorite player scores and you’re hit with gifs and videos moments later. You interact with your team, with other fans, with dedicated blog accounts. The curated list you keep track of on social media continues to pump out interesting and fun content that’s shared by everyone in the online community.

In the era of social media second-screen consumption, the concept of merely watching a game from the couch is passé for many NHL fans. They now take in a nonstop feed of digital media in addition to a broadcast: blogs, memes, gifs, tweets and more. Access is universal and instantaneous, as is the ability to immediately share opinions on social media. And this means that fans have become “proactive consumers,” a term coined by communication writer Alvin Toffler in the 1980s. Toffler’s media theory states that “prosumers” are actively discovering, shaping and creating content.

Chris Lund, the community manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, believes that the concept of a social media prosumer in the world of sports is noteworthy.

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“Fans, by virtue of their blogs, Twitter accounts, etc., are now equally impactful influences in certain circles such as media when it comes to shaping public opinion,” he says.

In one of those circles are NHL fans, who are engaging in digital dialogues and interaction with other fans, teams and players on social media. This is essentially unique interactive content.

Ryan Frankson, director of social media for the Edmonton Oilers, places a high value on this type of interaction from his team’s passionate fans.

“I find it’s even more rewarding to have even a brief conversation with them and show them we’re about more than robotic, auto-engagement,” he explains. “Did they make us laugh? We’re going to tell them. Did we think the photo they posted on our Facebook page of their golden retriever in an Eberle jersey was awesome? We’re going to comment and probably share the photo.”

When fan-created content gets shared, it’s then also passed along by other fans, leading to a chain reaction of interactions and engagement. This has led to hockey prosumers creating successful communities, sites and accounts about their favorite NHL clubs. While they may not be officially associated with the teams or the league as a whole, they have become powerful on social media. One standout example is the Anaheim Ducks fanblog and podcast @DucksNPucks, an interactive community with over 10,000 Twitter followers.

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“They're choosing to dedicate a huge number of their waking hours to talk about, write about and think about our hockey team,” Lund says of fan accounts. “That's fandom and it goes well beyond the realm of digital content creation or consumption. It's incumbent on us to give that as much positive reinforcement as possible.”

Like Lund, many of the people who run team social media accounts praise hockey prosumers as important content shapers and influencers. Marissa O'Connor, the social media manager for the Arizona Coyotes, believes that in this day and age, the hockey fan is more powerful than ever, thanks to social media.

“Social media after all is meant to be social,” she says. “It wouldn't work if we didn't have prosumers. It's been incredible to see social media evolve from the days of push posts linking to websites, to social media channels having true voices and engaging with followers.”

Pat Donahue, the Director of Digital Media for the L.A. Kings who is often referred to as a trailblazer in terms of creating engaging and unique social media content, sees these prosumers as a must-have helping hand.

“With so many eyes watching the game, fans are usually the ones who see something funny or interesting,” he says. “They help us find those good nuggets that we can promote on social.”

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Prosumers are doing a lot more than just watching the hockey game: They are using social media to help build a sense of community among themselves, and shape content. They are active on their phones, computers and tablets, doing their part to creating content and dialogue, growing their following on a daily basis. But what’s in it for them?

There is a lot to think about when it comes to possibly reciprocating to these fans who drive content. Some teams have begun initiatives to give back and recognize them. The Kings, for instance, created a program called Royal Rewards. Fans earn points through online interactions including social media engagement. The platform rewards active, engaged fans with perks like tickets to games, VIP meet-and-greets with players and team merchandise.

“Rewarding fans, whether they are full season ticket holders or an international who follows us on social, needs to be interacted with and should be rewarded or at least recognized,” Donahue says. “Everyone loves free stuff!”

The Pittsburgh Penguins have started to recognize their most influential fans in a private “Social Media Suite” for games in an effort to incentivize and reward their prosumers.

“The social media suite offered an opportunity to bring fans together and provide them with an engaging and unique experience,” says Andi Perelmen, the team’s New Media Manager. “We decided to reward the fan influencers who interact with us and provide great content for the Pittsburgh fan base.”

Other teams cater to their prosumers by giving them a significant role and credit in content creation that could then be further shared, making them feel like they are a part of the day-to-day operations of an NHL team’s social media. The Coyotes, for instance, work to make their amateur photographers get a more professional experience with their #YoTographer hashtag on Instagram.

“We ask fans to upload their best shot of the night before the end of the second period, then we go through all posts with #YoTographer and select our favorite one,” O’Connor says. “That person gets their photo re-grammed on our account and gets to watch the third period on the glass with the professional photographers. It makes them a true ‘Yotographer.’”

Probably the most appealing aspect of the hockey prosumers is the potential for developing a brand or notoriety of their own. Like @DucksNPucks, these blogs and social media accounts created and maintained by diehard fans highlight the opportunity presented to people who otherwise would never be known. In other words, “the little guy” now has a forum onto which he can be recognized while creating and distributing  ideas, comments and, ultimately, content that everyone gets to enjoy.