Inside the Mind of a Grassroots Fan Team on Social MediaSeptember 19, 2017
Maurice Hawkins has grown up rooting for the Washington Redskins. He was 11 when he witnessed the team’s seminal moment in Super Bowl XVII, and 13 when he moved to D.C. To this day, he can recite the major moments in the team’s history, as well as lesser-known facts, like the team’s yardage on social media.
“Based off the content they create [and] based off the social media day that they’ve sponsored for five to six years now, the Redskins have made investments in fans on digital platforms,” he says. “That’s where the Redskins are head and shoulders above other [NFL teams and] other professional franchises altogether.”
Hawkins is, in several ways, the perfect super fan. He has penned over 160 articles for @TheRedskinsWire since becoming a volunteer contributor last year. (If you read his articles, you’ll notice that his signature style is to weave social media into his content.) And he has stayed loyal to the team throughout losses and bouts of controversy.
In fact, it was in the face of controversy that Hawkins started evangelizing for a new show of fandom. In the fall of 2013, when the Redskin faced opposition against its name and logo, Hawkins was at training camp as an invitee of Redskins Social Media Day. While browsing his social feeds, he noticed an alarming pattern.
“A lot of fans were being attacked on social media because they were Redskins fans, not because they harbored any ill will or anger or racial animosity against the Native American community,” he recalls. “So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we had an organized effort by fans where they didn’t feel alone when people were attacking the team they cared about and were, more broadly, attacking them as individuals?’”
And so, Hawkins tweeted #RedskinsTweetTeam for the first time. He used the hashtag frequently throughout 2013, putting into motion his vision for building a larger fan community, until he once again found himself at Social Media Day ‘14. That year, Hawkins was a digital strategist at work. Following a stint as social media manager for the 2012 Obama campaign, he knew that “if you don’t deviate from your message on a social media platform, you’re gonna be highly effective.”
He tweeted #RedskinsTweetTeam—but this time, he paired it with #RedskinsSocialDay and shifted his messaging so that #RedskinsTweetTeam separated real fans (many of whom were at Social Media Day with him) from those who spammed #RedskinsSocialDay to win a contest. That’s when his hashtag gained momentum.
The Rise of a Grassroots Fan Community
#RedskinsTweetTeam took root between 2015 and 2016. While the hashtag didn’t explode in numbers, it reached Redskins fans across Washington, Texas, California, New Mexico, England, Spain, and other corners of the world. By 2015, enough people were consistently engaging with the hashtag that the group had a season opening meetup (“before the Redskins played the Dolphins,” noted Hawkins) and started looking more and more like a team.
By 2015, the hashtag also took the shape of a brand. Hawkins and his early team members created a logo, and purchased branded t-shirts and a single banner.
The banner, of course, made an appearance at Redskins Social Day 2015. The team fanned the banner across the side of the practice field, catching the attention of several players and even landing an on-site interview with Larry Michael, “Voice of the Washington Redskins.”
Hawkins and the team speak on camera with Larry Michael. View the full interview here.
The video was published across the Redskins’ homepage and Twitter handle. Since that video was published, over 20 people from the U.S., Spain, and England have bought banners from Hawkins, who became an accidental salesman overnight. “It felt like we were onto something,” Hawkins says about that time. “Our whole mantra was that we want to provide a quality Redskins experience to people in the digital space who may not be able to make it to the game.”
While the tweet team may speak like seasoned businessmen when asked about their goals, there’s one major thing that sets them apart from other brands. They’re not driven by profit, fame, or numbers. They simply want representatives across the world to enhance the gameday viewing experience for other fans—and to, as a result, deepen the fan connection to the Redskins.
Hawkins gives this example: a tweet team member once had a good working relationship with linebacker Trent Murphy. She had dinner with Murphy and his family, and tweeted a picture of the dinner and some autographed items afterwards. Other tweet team members, even those outside of the States, were able to live vicariously through those tweets and catch a glimpse of Murphy’s life off the football field.
“Tweet team members who happen to be at the event are the battleground commanders,” Hawkins explains, “and we take our cues from them as far as the content [that we] retweet and [use to] start conversations.”
— Chris Bryant (@chrisdbryant1) September 10, 2017
Many members also benefit from the networking opportunities that the tweet team provides. It’s not uncommon for tweet team members to share tickets, VIP experiences, or insider tips (such as which tailgate to join) with each other–and the opportunities only continue to grow as more people join the tweet team.
Quality Over Numbers
Now if you’re interested joining the Redskins Tweet team (let alone use the #RedskinsTweetTeam hashtag), there are just a couple criteria you must meet:
- The obvious—you must be a Redskins fan
- You must speak positively about the team
No meetup requirement. No tweeting minimum. No specific jobs. By most definitions of the phrase, the tweet team is laid back. However, they make “no bones” about negativity, a policy inspired by their roots as an organization formed to encourage fans.
They don’t get involved with criticizing players or antagonizing the team when they lose. (“If the Redskins win, we’re happy. If they lose, ‘let’s get ‘em the next game.’ Go redskins go!”) The team has, in fact, shown the door to those who couldn’t contribute to redeeming, positive interactions—if those people hadn’t already given up on riling outrage using the tweet team hashtag.
Twitter is the obvious engine behind #RedskinsTweetTeam, and that was by no means an accident. Hawkins says that he has always considered Facebook and Twitter the two dominant platforms. But the clear difference between the two is that Facebook is for the people you know, and Twitter is for the people whom you share your passions with. He estimates that 85% of his Facebook friends are people he knows or has met before, while 90% of his Twitter followers are people he doesn’t personally know but has connected with because of their common interests.
The hashtag also makes Twitter special. The hashtag is strongest on Twitter, serving as the reference point for conversations. According to Hawkins: “The hashtag on Twitter is the equivalent of the corner spot at the bar. It’s like Cheers…when you watched Cheers, you always saw Norm and Cliff Clavin at the end of the bar, same seats. It was expected. So, if you wanted to talk to those two that’s where you went. So, if you want to know what’s going on with the Redskins Tweet Team on Twitter, you click on the hashtag.”
Source: Sitcoms Online
The Current State of the Team
Despite having only created an actual handle this year, #RedskinsTweetTeam has generated tens of thousands of tweets. In just three weeks of tracking the hashtag with Zoomph, we’ve collected over 5,000 tweets across 636 authors throughout the east and west coasts, France, and England.
On Instagram, where the team partnered with the owner of @redskinsfans_only, you’ll see an impressive 3,730 posts using the hashtag. And on Facebook, where the team recently hatched a private group, the team engages over 380 members.
While thousands of people have engaged with their tweets, there is a core group of 25- 30 people (next to 45-50 casual participants) who regularly interact with each other, purchase items, and meet up in person for dinners or games.
Photo courtesy of Maurice Hawkins
The team says that they’re not in a rush to have every fan on Earth join their team because they don’t want to grow artificially. While he similarly makes it very clear that he doesn’t work for profit, Hawkins continues to manage the group with business savvy.
His message to other sports community managers? When you create robust digital community, you increase the probability of fans going to games, buying merchandise, or getting information directly from the team. This nurtures better sources for journalism and informed opinions.
“For organizations that are trying to figure out how to engage in the digital space…creating a community has incredible value because it intensifies the loyalty of the consumer or fan to their brand,” Hawkins adds. “They will do a lot of the work for you in terms of sharing your message and staying on message with you.”
Key Takeaways for Sports Marketers
- Invest in your fans. Passionate fans will naturally want to know what’s going on with their team, and more actively consume and create content around your team. Grassroots organizations begin with passionate fans.
- Embrace hashtags. Hashtags, especially on Twitter, provide a reference point for your fans who are looking to connect with other fans.
- Engage influencers. Identify super fans who will help rally and guide other fans. Empower your fans to take ownership over their digital experience with your team.
- Be consistent in your branding. Stay true to your core values, such as only speaking positively, to nurture the right community for your brand.
- Grow in a meaningful way. Don’t just chase followers and pretty numbers—monitor success metrics that ladder up to a more meaningful, long-term goal.
A Final Word from the Team
“If you’re a redskins fans and you want to positively support the Redskins, then you have a place with the Redskins Tweet Team,” says the team.
— BlondeFaceKillahhh (@Girlskinsfan) September 9, 2017
— Carmela (@MelaB1986) September 10, 2017
— The_Reed_Option (@chrisdbryant1) September 10, 2017
Hail to the RedskinsHail Victory! pic.twitter.com/d3pVY0NJYS
— BlondeFaceKillahhh (@Girlskinsfan) September 10, 2017
Go ahead, read more!
- The Evolution of Redskins’ Social Media Day (Customer Spotlight)
- Meet 4 People-Lovers Who (Naturally) Became Social Media Gurus
- How to Humanize Your Fan Data (Soccerex Recap)