Pinterest – The NHL’s Newest Opportunity To Build “Super Fans”

Last week, we looked at Michael Yormark’s use of Twitter and discussed the popular social network’s value in connecting with fans. I pointed out that I thought Yormark, the President and COO of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment (SSE) did a great job with Twitter, and many executives and players would be wise to follow his lead. This week, I want to look at another social network – Pinterest, which is one of the fastest growing social networks and hosts over 11.7 million users as of January. To put its success in perspective, consider that in January, the number of visitors on Pinterest was a third of those on Twitter according to The Wall Street Journal – pretty impressive considering Twitter’s popularity.

So, what is Pinterest? In two words, Pinterest is a digital corkboard. We know what traditional corkboards look like with notes and pictures. You grab a tack and stick a cool photo or a grocery list on the board. Maybe you have a great recipe that you want to remember, so you stick it on the board for later use. Maybe you found an advertisement for a new beer that you want to remember to try. Now, all of this can be digital thanks to Pinterest. I started playing around with the website today and have already enjoyed creating four “boards” – one of which focuses on the National Hockey League. I posted pictures of my favorite piece of Panthers gear and the landing page of the Panthers’ website. My followers then received these pictures on their homepages. On my homepage, I see the photos that my followers are “pinning,” and I can “repin” them to one of my boards, comment on them, or share them in a number of other ways. I have already created multiple boards and am following multiples people and companies, so my homepage is full of photos. Pinterest is super easy to use because it makes it easy to pull photos off of the Internet by using the “Pin It” button, which is installed into the bookmark bar of your browser. Now that I have installed it on Safari, I can click “Pin It” when I am on any page, and I can pick a photo from that page to put on any board. That’s what I did with the Panthers hat and landing page. The “Pin It” button is especially great because it links the photo to the website where it was found, so anyone can click through to the Panthers website by clicking on my photo. Here’s more on how to use Pinterest.

 

Why do I like Pinterest? I like Pinterest because it plays into two important human desires that many successful social networks attempt to serve. The first one is the desire to share things easily with friends. This is a must in social networking, and Pinterest nails it. We love Twitter because we can share a thought, photo, or article quickly and easily with a friend, and Pinterest mirrors this ease. While browsing, I can share any photo and subsequently that website by using the “Pin It” button. While on my homepage exploring other photos, I can easily “repin” or share in other ways with friends. I can also easily go to the webpage from which the photo was taken. This makes sharing anything, including products like my Panthers hat, very easy because the user can click through to the site and find the thing pictured. The other desire that Pinterest meets is the desire for visual stimulation. Pinterest is made up of a plethora of engaging photos. There are great pictures of food, home interiors, moments from sports, and fun trinkets. What’s more, users can post videos such as this Cam Newton Under Armour advertisement posted by Mike Mahoney of the Carolina Panthers. There is so much to look at, and that’s one of the great features of a successful social network. Things catch our eye, and we are intrigued to keep exploring.

Now, why should an NHL team use Pinterest? To begin understanding the “why,” check out the answer that Neil Horowitz, Social Media Producer of the Anaheim Ducks, gave to a similar question on sportsdigita’s website. The Ducks are one of a few professional teams using Pinterest. In the first sentence of the first answer, he mentions Pinterest’s “exponential growth,” and that’s the first reason to use it. Today, sports teams have an obligation to explore social networks that have a large base of users because it is now obvious that the Facebooks and Twitters of the world are powerful tools for connecting with the fan – the team’s customer. Being a user from the beginning is a benefit for teams because they are able to start finding the best ways to connect with fans before their competitors in that sport or, perhaps more importantly, in that geographic market. For example, the Panthers can get on to Pinterest and begin engaging with South Florida’s fans in a new way that other teams in the region are not. Teams must go where the fans are, and if the fans are on Pinterest, it’s incumbent on a team to figure out how to incorporate the service into their social media strategy. That is not to say that Pinterest must be the most important way to connect with fans, but it should be used because it is obvious that social networks will continue giving teams opportunities to build “super-fans,” as Horowitz states. Horowitz mentions that monetizing the experience may be hard, but even if money is not coming into the Ducks directly from a greater use of Pinterest, it may come indirectly through a greater interest in the team (see what I did there? Clever, eh?). Plus, I’ll have more on monetizing shortly because I believe that there is a lot of potential there.

The second reason to use Pinterest is its inherent connection with what makes sports great – visual stimulation. We love photos of everything sports related whether it’s a big hit in hockey, a player celebrating a goal, a young fan with a painted face, a serviceman or woman with a team flag in a faraway place, or a cheerleader shaking pompoms. Pinterest gives teams the ability to share all of these photos, and more importantly, it gives fans an ability to easily see and then reshare those photos – just look at what Horowitz says in his response to the same question as he mentions the ease of sharing the photos. Fans will be able to go to Pinterest and see all sorts of photos – and don’t forget videos – that the team will share with them. These can include photos and videos that fans typically do not have access to such images from the locker rooms or charity events. Pinterest also allows teams to get creative in their sharing. For example, the Ducks are posting tweets about the team in one of their boards. The team is taking photos of tweets and posting them to their board. This is just like retweeting fans, but it allows a fan to see all of the tweets in one location rather than having to sift through a full Twitter feed. A final thought about fans’ love for photos and videos has to do with seeing ourselves in these images. Pinterest allows teams to ask their fans to share their photos or videos for others to see on one of the team’s boards. For example, the Ducks are already doing this through several boards including one called “My Seat/View at Honda Center.” In this board, fans show their view of the game from their seat. Other creative possibilities are endless. What’s most exciting about these is that users can upload their own images as well, which makes the experience easy for the team. We love to look photos and videos, and Pinterest allows teams to play into our desire to be visually amazed.

 

Finally, Pinterest can absolutely be monetized although as Horowitz says in his responses, monetization still must be fleshed out. There can be links to the team stores or links for ticket promotions. These are obvious uses of Pinterest to lead fans to spend money on the team. What’s more exciting are the revenues that are possible from creative sponsorship opportunities. Last week, I mentioned that Eric Tomasini, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at SSE, spoke at Miami Law. When speaking about social media and its use with sponsors, Tomasini mentioned that the Panthers had success with a campaign asking fans to submit videos to become the Jet Blue “On The Fly” Reporter for the 2011-2012 season. Tomasini recounted that the team had great success asking the fans to engage through social media rather than just listen to what the team had to say. Fans posted videos on YouTube, and eventually, Caitlin Mangum was picked as the Jet Blue “On The Fly” Reporter. Jet Blue benefitted from increased exposure and a campaign that pulled fans in rather than just pushed information to them. Pinterest provides great opportunities for more of these campaigns where teams and sponsors can work together to have fans engage with the sponsor and the team. Just think, the Jet Blue campaign could have been done on a Panthers’ board. There are endless possibilities. For example, a popular giveaway for professional teams is the free shirt with a sponsor’s logo. Why not ask fans to do something fun in those shirts and post pictures to Pinterest? Send photos from faraway countries or in funny poses. Maybe even give 10% coupons to the team store for fans that send these pictures. There are endless possibilities to have fans engage with the team, and by incorporating a sponsor into the engagement, teams can monetize Pinterest by selling the increased exposure that the sponsor will receive.

Pinterest is a fun, new social network, and NHL teams like the Panthers should definitely take notice. People are spending time there and are looking for ways to continue to engage with their friends and favorite products and companies. NHL teams have an opportunity to continue growing their brand and building the “super-fan” while increasing their revenues.

 

Jason Sosnovsky
Jason grew up rooting for the Red Wings until his hometown of Atlanta got the Thrashers in 1999, so much for that. He is a Northwestern University alum and current 3L at the University of Miami School of Law. He is also the President of the Entertainment & Sports Law Society at the law school.

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