7 social media slam dunks from the Phoenix Suns

Can’t get your fans to listen? Try asking them questions, acknowledging their answers, and starting conversations based on current events—wacky or otherwise.

Editor’s note: This story and video clip are taken from Ragan’s new distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains more than 200 hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. For membership information, please click here.

Some guy in China creates a Facebook page for a major brand. It looks official and has accumulated 30,000 likes. Time to call out the big guns in Legal?

Not if you’re the Phoenix Suns. The NBA team enlisted Facebook’s help to claim the page, but it found a way to keep the fan who lost the site happy.

The team thanked him and sent him an autographed jersey and a shoe worn by a Suns player in a game, says Jeramie McPeek, vice president of digital for the Phoenix Suns.

“Engaging is all about building a stronger relationship with our fans,” McPeek says.

In a Ragan Training video, McPeek offers insights into the sports team’s award-winning strategy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Here are some slam-dunk tactics you can try:

1. Don’t blab. Ask.

Who’s the biggest bore at the party? The guy who can’t stop talking about himself. Instead, ask your followers questions.

The Phoenix Suns pose questions like these:

  • Where does Goran Dragic rank in all-time Suns guards?
  • What’s your favorite music to hear in the arena?

And, when the Suns are struggling:

  • What do you think the team should do differently in the second half?

Before games, the social team often tweets a #fansrollcall hashtag to engage fans and ask them where they’re watching the game from. You’d be amazed: Australia, China, even Mongolia.

McPeek and team even hosted a Twitter casting call asking fans to come on down and be in a Suns commercial with their team.

2. Turn your employees into brand ambassadors.

McPeek knows that employees are valuable brand ambassadors. Employees are active on Twitter. The players, TV production department, dancers and others have accounts.

McPeek took building a social team a step further. He recruited fans to be social media ambassadors, taking and posting pictures during games. The Suns thanked them for their engagement with a special “tweet suite” at the arena—an exclusive area for the lucky winners to watch the game.

“I think of social media like a [basketball] team,” says McPeek. “Every team member has their own individual goals and value.”

3. Piggyback on pop-culture and current events.

Want to be popular? Talk about what others are into, rather than always blabbing about your sales pitch.

When knuckleheads everywhere thought the world would end because the Mayan Calendar was concluding, McPeek and team took a tongue-in-cheek approach to the pending catastrophe. They tweeted, “Is tomorrow night’s game the last game in the Suns’ history?”

Those fans who survived their heart attacks scrambled to check out the post. The Suns had interviewed players, asking: “What does it mean to you, if the earth comes to an end tomorrow, that you got to play for the Phoenix Suns?”

Wouldn’t it have been great to get your employees expressing end-of-the-world gratitude about your organization? Oh, well: maybe next time.

4. Experiment.

“If something doesn’t work, there’s always the delete button,” says McPeek. “If a channel on social doesn’t work, you can move away from it.”

What McPeek and team don’t shy away from is having fun with fans. The Suns were the first team in the NBA to hold a tweetup (an in-person meeting of people who have previously connected on Twitter), way back in the social media Flintstone age of 2009. On both Twitter and Facebook, staffers offered fans discounted tickets to games, prizes and the opportunity to meet one of the team’s players.

The Suns were also the first NBA team to scroll tweets along the bottom of TV broadcasts of the game, McPeek says. Though they dropped it after two seasons, the Suns continue to screen tweets in their arena.

Another innovative step McPeek took was to hire a social media sideliner. The sideliner spends the season joining broadcasters and using social media to share the scoop on the Suns with fans.

5. Inform.

Those fans: Nuts about stats, bios of players, and team stories. Can you find similar content streams that would interest your audience?

The Suns focus on keeping fans updated. They use social media to inform fans of breaking news, statistics, if a player has a career night, and more. McPeek and team post about game broadcasts, new merchandise, community initiatives, PR initiatives and other information that they know fans will find useful and interesting.

6. Reward.

Face it, everybody loves freebees. The Suns gave away 1,400 tickets to social media fans one season. They offer opportunities to meet players, be in team photos and much more.

7. Respond.

A fan sent out a tweet and photo complaining about a bad seat at a Suns game. His followers sympathized with him and started tweeting as well. McPeek noticed and quickly offered the disgruntled fan a seat in a suite in the arena.

“We are constantly listening to fans,” says McPeek.

Lucky thing. Turns out the fan was a big name in social media with many followers. He responded, offering kudos to the Suns. Score one for McPeek.



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