#MNF. #NBAFinals. #JustDoIt. By now, we’re all well-versed in the sports-themed hashtag. But, these days, it takes a lot more than your average hashtag campaign to get fans jazzed.

Engaging fans on social media requires speaking “fan,” fluently and flawlessly. After all, fans can smell a disingenuous tweet or a sponsored snap from the nosebleeds.

So, get out your playbooks and take note. Here are four social media plays that will have you speaking fan in no time.

1. Get schooled in emoji

Emojis are a ubiquitous mode of digital communication; 92 percent of the online population (so, basically, everyone) ❤️s emojis. Which is exactly why sports marketers are saying ? to the custom emoji. Inside this one fun and surprising little image is a powerful one-two marketing ??. It creates ? and most definitely speaks “fan.”

Take the NHL, for example. This October, the league gifted loyal fans with an emoji surprise. Every day for the first seven days of the season, tweets with the #NHLFaceOff hashtag were accompanied by a custom hockey-themed emoji, like a zamboni, a puck, or a face mask. The stunt seems to have worked; it boosted fan chatter and passion more so than at the start of last year’s season when #NHLFaceOff was sans emoji.

The MLB also used custom emojis this past post-season:

If tying a custom emoji to a hashtag isn’t enough, try the custom emoji keyboard. The official mobile app of the Atlanta Hawks features the first custom emoji keyboard in pro sports. According to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, it “will change the way our fans communicate.” Big brands, like Toyota, are trying it, too. For this year’s NFL season, the auto maker released a football-themed emoji keyboard of its own: #FanMojis.

Time will tell if the custom emoji will endure, and fans will be in charge of making the call. For now, though, the custom emoji gets a ?.

2. Celebrate fans on the social “jumbotron”

Let’s face it. Nothing compares to the thrill of the instant 5 seconds of fame you enjoy when everyone at the game sees you dancing on the jumbotron. And the same can be said for social media. Putting fans in the social spotlight gets them as amped as this kid: 

A great recent example comes from StubHub. As part of its “Let Your Fan Out” campaign, the online ticket marketplace ran a social media contest for Los Angeles sports fans. The goal was to increase followers by encouraging them to submit short videos on Vine, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (along with the hashtag #LYFOLA) showing why they deserve to be crowned “LA’s biggest sports fan.”

As part of Eurosport’s rebrand (complete with a new tagline, “Fuel Your Passion”), the European sports broadcast network launched a distinctly fan-centric campaign across social media. Along with the hashtag #sharemypassion, fans share stories, photos, and videos of the wacky lengths to which they will go to support their favorite team, athlete, or sport.

3. Empower fans’ creativity

Fans are much more than the sum of their fandom. And they’ll always jump at the chance to put their inner creativity on full outward display. Sometimes, all they need is a little bit of help.

Ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs’ November 1st matchup against the Detroit Lions at London’s Wembley Stadium, the team distributed clear plastic cards with Chiefs players and flags printed on them. London-based fans were encouraged to snap photos of the cards around London, then share using the hashtag #KingdomsUnite.

4. Make ‘em laugh

For all the social media consultants, data visualizations, and platform optimizations, perhaps the best strategy is a simple one: keep it funny. Humor is always welcome on social, and it gets fans interacting with and sharing content.

Being funny on your own is hard to do. So partnering with professional funny people can help bring the LOL to fans, not to mention extend the reach of the campaign. The Detroit Pistons joined forces with Funny or Die for #TheLongestOop, a video featuring a DEEEETROIT BASKETBALLLL “alley-oop so epic it takes 20 days and over 20 people to complete.”

The video is getting tons of social love; the Pistons keep it pinned to the top of their official Facebook page, where it’s been viewed nearly 400,000 times.

No stranger to sports, Dunkin’ Donuts partnered with YouTube star BdotAdot5 to create weekly “excessive celebration” videos like the one below for ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown.

But if you can’t afford to invest in celebs and YouTube stars, you can always use the tried-and-true (and free) method of adding some funny to your feed: the animated GIF. NBA teams love adding them to game-time tweets to color their social commentary with a distinct fan voice.

As the rules of social media engagement evolve — as they continuously do — remember: success depends on authenticity. That can only happen when you speak to fans in their “native tongue.”

We will continue to keep our eyes open for emerging trends in sports and social media marketing and share what we learn here in our blog. Keep up with our new sports marketing content by subscribing below.

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