Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 3/17/12
Kudos given to the Columbus Blue Jackets organization for its efforts in the digital space this painful season rarely comes without a name attached to it. Theres team writer, Rob Mixer (@RobMixer). Spokesman Ryan Holtmann (@RyanCBJPR). Publicist Alison Pegg (@alison_pegg). Oh, and the clubs DJ has become a bit of a celebrity himself after pleasing fans by tweeting song titles during home games. Hes known as @CBJ_DJ on Twitter; in real life, hes simply Nick Johnson. Theyre all employees of a Blue Jackets organization that, until this season, was often tight-lipped and quiet on the social front. I would say the first inception of the CBJs Twitter account was fairly unidirectional, said Ken Falk, CBJ season ticket holder for the first time this season. Hes been tweeting for the last three years under the handle @derdrache. You can also follow his beard @cbjbeard on Twitter. They would announce scores and game stats. It was very much just broadcasting to the CBJ fan base. Its much more involved now and has become a much more involved area of the organization. One area in particular is the player involvement on Twitter, said Falk. Mark Dekanich is a good one. So many Blue Jackets fans love him already just because of his interaction on Twitter, said Falk, adding that Defenseman James Wisniewski and Forward R.J. Umberger are other Twitter favorites. We talked about Call of Duty (on Twitter). Even if you have that very simple, superficial, discussion you start wanting to pull for them on the ice. It becomes more than just a number on the back of a jersey. From its website, to Facebook, to Twitter and email, the Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) are making a concerted investment into the digital space. It started this season with the hiring of Marc Gregory as the clubs first Vice President of Digital Marketing & Media to manage its digital space and messages. Weve brought together a number of areas in our digital department that includes website, social media, database marketing and email initiatives, mobile, research and analytics, broadcasting, and any other emerging technologies, he said this week. NHL fans have always been among the most technologically savvy among professional sports fans. The digital and social arenas provide us the ability to get information in a timely fashion to, and interact with, our current fans. Additionally, we want to be in those spaces to provide new fans an opportunity to connect as well. And fans are connecting. Though, as this years trade deadline showed, sometimes it can be a space where connecting causes the message to spiral out of control. Rumors of Captain Rick Nashs possible trade gained a life of its own on Twitter. The club, through its official account, did its best to control the fires. When you look at sports, which is inherently fueled by rumors, having a human face(behind the tweets) is helpful, said CBJ fan and Twitter fanatic Alison Lukan (@AlisonL), who also writes about the team on her blog 300sixtyfive. (The club) can speak with us freely and engage with us; which lets them control the message without having to do a press release. The week leading up to the trade deadline became an interesting assortment of opinions and questions that spokesman Holtmann handled with a clever voice sly enough to make national headlines. The NHL trade deadline is a trying time for many people in the league. In Columbus, its as bad as it can get..The fans only immediate recourse it to complain. And social media makes it so easy to complain, wrote Guy Spurrier in The National Post in February. But Columbus has a voice of reason with a sly humour that makes it just a little bit more bearable. The disembodied voice on Twitter Im not Siri, he retorts in one instance has brought a smile at a trying time. If we had to guess, we would say the Blue Jackets Twitter feed is being handled with grace by Ryan Holtmann, the teams communications manager..in the end, the Blue Jackets provided a textbook case study on the power of social media and how to use it with aplomb. The club hasnt always handled the social space so eloquently. The fans picked up the slack in previous years, using Twitter as a way to engage about the team. There was the Cannonfesta preseason meet-up with wings, Twitter friends and CBJ talkand the tweet-ups, as well as the grassroots Forward Together Facebook effort to mobilize a position to encourage city brass to keep the Blue Jackets in town. And lets not forget the multiple bloggers that have a strong digital voice about the team. Merging the world the social media savvy CBJ fans built with the social media world the club is trying to capitalize on is a fine line for walking. When you look at social media, its the voice of the people. And theres an inherent risk when you institutionalize that, said Lukan. With everything the Blue Jackets have done there are people who say Stop it, youre copying us. I think its great theyre trying to build on things the fans are doing, but they have to walk a fine line. So far, most fans seem to think the club is doing an OK job of it. Its something for me, traveling as far as I do, I really appreciate the team doing it (tweeting and social events) and I hope they do more, said Cincinnati-based CBJ fan Dan Edwards, a hockey fan and writer for the Carry the Flag blog, who originally hails from Ontario, Canada, and whos followed the team since it arrived in 2000. For a team that doesnt have an identity on the ice, were trying to build an identity off the ice. We want to be something where people come in and other teams come in and they recognize us. Edwards said the teams mirroring the grassroots Cannonfest effort in a way that allowed fans all-access opportunities to mingle with players, get photos with players, and get tours inside the Arena at the start of the season, was a compliment to the fan base. The club followed that up throughout the season by getting some CBJ personnel and personalities to fan-organized tweet-ups as well as hosting an official club tweet-up in February that included an opportunity to meet D-man Wisniewski. The CBJ tweet-up and the All Access Sweepstake presented by Fox Sports Ohio were two examples of what we want to provide our social media online community, said Gregory. We recognize they are amongst our strongest fans and we appreciate the time they take and the time they invest to interact with us. We want to work with them to provide exclusive opportunities and to show appreciation and work with them to grow the community as well. And the clubs social community is growing, said Gregory, saying theyve seen year-over-year growth between last season and this season, including higher engagement rates and increased followers and fans. A lot of that can be attributed to better content as well, he said. We have focused on providing additional pre- and post-game coverage both from an editorial and video perspective, Gregory said of the teams website. Weve recently expanded the use of mobile marketing in our texting-to-win promotions within the arena. The club also has its own mobile app through NHL GameCenter Live and according to Gregory, it provides us a tremendous foundation to work off of. We also recently launched a new email platform that has some enhanced functionality from what we used previously. Its allowing us to know our customer better and know what types of communications they want to receive from us, he said. Thats truly an opportunity to communicate one-on-one. Lukan, a partial season ticket holder for three years, said the personalized emails have been one of her favorite digital efforts by the club. I give them major props for the ticket renewal email. The email is pretty static, but then you click on it and its this whole multimedia experience, said Lukan. Honestly, I spend the majority of my day on the computer and if you can give me everything I need via my computer it just makes my life easier. Also making life easier for fansparticularly long-distance ones, is providing game coverage through Fox Sports Ohio, Jackets TV, 97.1 The Fan, Facebook, and, most importantly, Twitter updates, whether that comes from the club or from the social fan base itself. Im on (Twitter) constantly, said Edwards (@Canadan82). All the guys who do the Blue Jackets Twitter do a great job. I dont jump on the Blue Jackets website a lot; Im more of a link kind of guy. I look for links on Twitter. All these post-game interviews, the highlightsI was reminiscing about a month ago and so I was messing with the videos and went through the opening ceremony video (on Jackets TV). Theyve come a long way from the last couple years, said Edwards. And theyre doing it with a bit of a sense of humor. Threading that sense of humor, game messages, fan messages, player messages and club messages through the entire digital space isnt an easy task, said Gregory, but theyre making the effort. And as the club moves forward, Gregory said he knows exactly who hes working for. It all goes back to the fans; at the end of the day, the fans are whats going to drive the popularity of our social and digital platforms, he said. And we greatly appreciate their participation. You can follow the club's live tweeting tonight as the Blue Jackets take on the Vancouver Canucks at 10 p.m. You can catch the game on Fox Sports Ohio with the pre-game show starting at 9:30 p.m.
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