How the LA Kings build their brand through Trash-Tweeting - 18 March 2014

Professional sports franchises typically play it safe when engaging on social media. On Twitter, the formula is simple: Update games, post quotations from player interviews, and offer the occasional behind-the-scenes photo or video. Nothing controversial or edgy. Just lather, rinse, tweet, repeat (and retweet).

But for a few brave teams breaking the corporate-speak mold, Twitter has emerged as a lively playing field for generating awareness and measurable social payoffs.

In America, the Los Angeles Kings sit atop the pro sports Twitter hierarchy, weaving in snark, humor, and trash-talking (trash-tweeting?) with bread-and-butter updates. When Dewayne Hankins, now a VP of marketing and digital with the Portland Trail Blazers, arrived in Los Angeles as the Kings’ director of digital media in 2010, he quickly saw an opportunity to inject some personality into the team’s Twitter feed and shine the spotlight on a franchise that might’ve otherwise gotten lost in such a sunny market.

With Hankins at the helm, the Kings’ Twitter account began garnering serious media attention during the 2012 playoffs as the team battled its way to a Stanley Cup championship. But the publicity came with risks: After the Kings defeated the Vancouver Canucks in a postseason game, one particular tweet prompted some backlash north of the border.

To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome.

— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 12, 2012

Critics took to social media, calling the tweet classless and rude. In response, Mike Altieri, Kings VP of communications and broadcasting, issued a statement defending the tweet: “We encourage our digital team to be creative, interactive and to apply a sense of humor whenever possible.” He followed with a cursory apology: “To anyone who found this offensive, we sincerely apologize.”

Despite some digital backlash, did the tweet actually hurt the franchise?

“That tweet was written because there were fans in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa [saying], ‘Tonight, I’m a Kings fan,'” explained Hankins. “We see our role as not that different from the scoreboard at a game, where the scoreboard is very one-sided trying to get the fans into the game.”

The incident revealed teams can create buzz and make an impact on a game simply by paying attention to what fans are saying. It helps that the Kings social media team has buy-in from ownership, especially for a medium that operates minute-to-minute, if not quicker. One month later, the social team continued their aggressive strategy with a tweet aimed at New Jersey Devils fans, which received a more positive reaction.

Aside from fist pumping, what else is there do in NJ?

— LA Kings (@LAKings) May 28, 2012

The takeaway

Aaron LeValley, the Kings senior director of digital strategy and analytics, thinks the team’s Twitter voice has “swagger,” and discussed how vital that swagger can be to other franchises. “It creates a value proposition. It makes you want to follow the Kings because you know you’re going to get something different, something you can’t get anywhere else. … When [followers] read our posts, it allows us to deliver other messages that may be more revenue-generating. They accept those messages because we have that conversation with them.”

Building conversations rather than hiding behind canned public relations responses is one reason why Digital Royalty social media renegade Nate Ludens, who works with the Chicago White Sox and future NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal, continues to be impressed with how the Kings dominate Twitter by responding to what’s relevant in real time. “One of the core values is to humanize your brand,” Ludens added.

“Sports is such a passionate industry that you can’t do the same thing,” LeValley said. “We’re not just selling a consumer product, we’re selling people’s passions.”

Article published in on 18 March 2014. Author is Charles Curtis.