If Lombardi tweeted: Social media lessons from the NFL

How football advice holds up in the social media world.


Most professional sporting leagues have a strong presence in online social communities, including the New York Yankees with more than 4,496,500 Facebook fans and Shaquille O’Neil with more than 4,298,700 Twitter followers. But, the NFL may be the professional league with the most social media enthusiasm.

The 32 NFL franchises, athletes, and coaching staffs have taken to Twitter as their main outlet for social interaction. According to tweeting-athletes.com, the NFL boasts the most Twitter users amongst any group of professional athletes in the world.

Currently, there are 1,187 NFL football players tweeting (although some are retired or head coaches) and nearly all of them have at least 1,000 followers, while some have a larger following, such as my personal favorite, NY Jets’ Mark Sanchez with more than 487,500 followers. This massive reach allows athletes to interact with fans, coaches to scope competition, and teams to inform the press of injuries, updates and events.

Twitter is no longer solely about fans asking their favorite players to retweet them (although, let’s get real, that will never end). Sports journalists turn to Twitter because they know if they don’t catch an update immediately, in a matter of minutes, it will be old news.

In fact, perhaps the biggest Twitter impact on the league involves a player tweeting a request to Evan Mathis of the Philadelphia Eagles. The fan suggested moving the Eagles’ Todd Herremans to right tackle and replacing his position with Mathis. After this request was retweeted one more time by a reporter, the Eagles agreed and a new line up was announced.

In the spirit of the marriage of the NFL and social media, let’s take a look at some of the most influential football advice, and see how it would hold up in the world of social media.

“Set your goals… and don’t stop ’til you get there” Heisman Trophy Winner and former NFL athlete Bo Jackson

A brand should not invest in social media just to invest in social media. Rather, brands should pause and ask “why is social media important to our brand?” Will this drive significant business results for our product or service?

Social media campaigns can assist with brand recognition, brand loyalty, leads, website traffic and customer service. It is necessary to understand what the brand is looking to achieve before deciding on the direction of the social media plan.

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” Legendary Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry

Without a definitive social media plan set in place, it’s unlikely that a brand will meet the goals and metrics. The brand must examine the “hows” and the “whos.” How are we going to get our message out? This includes not only what platform (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, message boards?), but also, the way in which the brand will be portrayed. Will we be informative and professional or goofy and fun?

The portrayal of the brand through social media should be aligned with the personality of the brand. Also, who is our target market? Define the audience that the outlets will reach. Ensure that these people are truly engaged with the brand. A huge following with no one listening is as beneficial as no followers at all.

“Show class, take pride, and display character.” Legendary University of Alabama Football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

An online presence with no personality is the social media equivalent of a black and white textbook with no pictures. What will compel users to read or respond to boring or uncreative tweets? Have fun, show excitement for the brand, and engage with followers. Use pictures, links, videos and polls to interact with fans and followers. Don’t use social media outlets only as a means to hawk brands’ products or services. Rather, ReTweet others, respond to questions, and post relevant industry news that followers might be interested in.

“Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal.” Legendary Football Coach and former NFL athlete Don Shula

Just because a brand has a successful social media campaign today, does not mean that will be the case tomorrow. A brand must continuously offer their followers and fans content to compel them to stay. This doesn’t necessarily mean constantly offering promotions and giveaways, but rather commentary and information consistently. Followers will only stay if they are getting value from the brand.

In social media, practice makes perfect. If the social media plan has been executed on par and still does not seem to be working for the brand, then it may just be the wrong platform or the wrong target. But that doesn’t mean to quit forever. Social media is just going to keep getting bigger and more important. Take a breath, examine the plan to decide what went wrong, and start again.

“Sure home field is an advantage, but so is having a lot of talent.” Former Miami Dolphins quarterback and Hall of Famer Dan Marino

Sometimes, no matter how much time and money a brand has invested in social media, it is best left to the professionals. It is important to have an individual or team of individuals whose entire focus is on social media. Employing professionals who know the brand’s industry as well as the ins and outs of social media and how to best connect with audiences, may be the best choice a brand can make.

Looking back, it seems as though football and social media really do have a lot in common, so really, it’s no surprise that so many NFL athletes, coaches, and staff have been so enthusiastic in joining Twitter. The future of social media and the future of the NFL’s interaction with it will undoubtedly progress throughout the 2011- 2012 season. And, go Jets!

Emily Connor is a conversation manager at Media Logic, an agency specializing in marketing for a social world.

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