The Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks NHL hockey team in Anaheim, California.

While the Anaheim Ducks pass the puck, the team’s social media staff are busy engaging with fans and building the Ducks’ brand and outreach – and keeping the seats in this 18,000-seat arena full. “We are the first ones to break news, have distinctive content such as viral videos of players, and shared content with fans,” said Adam Brady, director of new media and publications. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Adam Brady, director of new media and publications for the Anaheim Ducks, and Social Media Producer A.J. Manderichio provide an inside look at the NHL team’s social media and how to score a winning goal in your digital marketing career.

The Anaheim Ducks are stars on social media with a growing following of more than 1.5 million across their three main accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Having informative, engaging and timely content is an integral component of the team’s outreach to the Southern California community and beyond.

At the helm of the team’s social media footprint are Director of New Media and Publications Adam Brady and Social Media Producer A.J. Manderichio, who visited the CSUF campus in April for CommWeek, an annual speaker series sponsored by the College of Communications. The series covers topics of interest to students of all majors seeking to develop a career path or skills in marketing, public relations, advertising, journalism, strategic communications or related fields.

Adam Brady, director of new media and publications for the NHL franchise Anaheim Ducks.

“Our goals are to keep our fans and potential new followers informed and entertained while providing two-way communication between our staff and followers and fans,” said Adam Brady. Photo from CSUF College of Communications

The Ducks’ Social Media Strategy

“Our goals are to keep our fans and potential new followers informed and entertained while providing two-way communication between our staff and followers and fans,” said Brady. “Everything a team does on social media is to connect with diehard fans, but also get new fans.”

Manderichio noted that, while having a huge following is heartening, engagement is most critical. “You want to be entertained, you want to be informed, and you want to be engaged,” he said of the Ducks fans turning to the team’s official accounts. “We’re not focused on the follower numbers but on whether our followers are engaged.”

From ESPN to amateur blogs, there is no shortage of platforms for sports aficionados to follow and discuss their favorite team. But Brady and Manderichio note that team-owned social media channels make for a unique platform to promote the players and the franchise and provide a forum for fans to partake of exclusive content on their favorite team.

“We are the first ones to break news, have distinctive content – such as viral videos of players – and shared content with fans,” said Brady.

At the heart of the Ducks social media strategy are sponsorships, the lifeblood of any professional sports franchise. It is up to the social media team to develop content that engages both sponsors and fans, while minimizing fan pushback, which can occur when the team is sponsored by such controversial entities as SeaWorld.

“Even the best-intentioned concept can backfire, especially in today’s social media environment in which it only takes one leading voice to sway opinion,” said Manderichio. “There are some formats that are tried and true. For example, free food is right above free T-shirts in the sports world.”

While Twitter, Instagram and Facebook comprise the Ducks’ primary social media presence, other platforms, such as Snapchat and Periscope, are used less frequently. The team is also working to expand its presence on LinkedIn.

“Twitter is like the Ducks news network,” said Manderichio. “For Facebook, we try to be video-heavy. Snapchat fizzled out for sports teams because Instagram filled the void. I’m looking to pivot Snapchat to a messaging platform more than for day-of and behind-the-scenes content.”

Looking to the future, Brady and Manderichio foresee more player and fan involvement, an emphasis on viral content, mobile-friendly augmented reality, more unique GIFs and the use of evolving platforms such as Instagram Stories.

“The space changes daily,” said Manderichio. “Six months to a year from now, we might be talking about a completely new platform.”

The Anaheim Ducks Twitter page, the leading social media platform for the NHL team in its outreach to fans.

With more than 600,000 followers, Twitter is No. 1 for the Ducks. “Twitter is like the Ducks news network,” said A.J. Manderichio, the team’s social media producer.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Working for the Ducks

There is a spontaneity in Ducks social media posts, yet they are not without structure. “A lot of it is on the fly, but there are a lot of things we can plan,” said Brady, who noted the staff holds a social media meeting each Thursday.

Having researched the times when fan engagement is the highest, non-game content is usually published between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., with mid-morning a particularly good time, when people are arriving at work or school and might discuss news and updates with their friends and acquaintances.

A balance must be maintained between the team’s strong commitment to the community and the light-hearted spirit anticipated by fans. “We have a reputation around the league and in sports as being really funny,” said Manderichio. “Sometimes, we push the boundaries.”

One such instance occurred last fall, when the team posted a video of center Ryan Kesler walking around the team office in near nudity, wearing his “birthday suit” to honor the league’s 100th birthday. The video sparked an unanticipated firestorm and was ultimately removed, despite a very strong performance metrics-wise.

In outreach to sponsors, knowing the social media return on investment is critical. And it’s no small sum. For example, Honda netted $459,000 worth of earned media for partnering with the Ducks in a co-branded social media sponsorship.

Players also look to the team’s official social media as a way of building their brand, so player relations is an integral task. “Players want a voice,” said Manderichio. “They seek a platform that will help them sell their brand. It’s a continued growth area for us and the players.”

While content creation for the Ducks is rewarding, it is a job that extends outside the 9-to-5 schedule with frequent work on weekends, evenings and holidays. Evaluation of social media posts is typically conducted 48 hours later, an important step in determining what will and won’t work in the future.

A.J. Manderichio, social media manager for the Anaheim Ducks, watches a game at the Honda Center.

For the sports fan, an opportunity in social media for a major-league team can be the chance of a lifetime. “If you love what you’re doing, you will get your gratification and hopefully you will move forward and make a decent living,” says Manderichio. Photo from Twitter

Your Career in Social Media

Think a social media career is right for you? If sports is your niche, Manderichio cautions that a huge financial payback is unlikely in the short-term, but you will have the opportunity of a lifetime if you are a sports fan.

“You’re not going to make a lot of money to start and the immediate pay-off financially won’t be that great, but my job is one of the coolest among my friends,” he said. “If you love what you’re doing, you will get your gratification, and hopefully you will move forward and make a decent living.”

For Brady, his career began working as a sports information assistant for the athletics department of Fresno State University while he was pursuing his undergraduate degree in journalism there. Manderichio’s big break came as a broadcast intern for the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club, the minor league affiliate of the Ducks.

“If you want to be in social media, look for employers or internships where they will let you do social media. Also, start learning the analytics behind everything,” said Manderichio. “And never be afraid to bring up an idea.”

To learn more about social media best practices, the speakers suggested Digiday and Social Media Today. Specifically sports-related information is on tap at Front Office Sports, while jobs and internships are posted on Team Work Online.

Local teams, including the Ducks, regularly hire interns from Cal State Fullerton. Set up an alert on Titan Connection or check your favorite team’s careers page for opportunities.