Cherish The Past, Embrace The Future: How D.C. United Tells Their Story on Social Media

A look at the new D.C. United jersey. (Photo via D.C. United)

As author Melinda Partin once put it, “The best advertising campaigns take us on an emotional journey.” This principle has not changed in the age of social media and D.C. United of Major League Soccer has come to embrace it in their approach to social media marketing.

Content producer Kayla Wilkinson joined the organization in February of 2017 after a stint with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.  She became the seventh full-time member of D.C. United’s digital media and communications department. While her role has evolved in the last twelve months, Wilkinson currently spends her time managing the organization’s social media accounts as well as managing DCUnited.com. Like the rest of the talented staff in her department, Wilkinson utilizes her versatile skill set to get the job done.

“Because we have few people in our department, we all have to pitch in in a lot of different areas and remain versatile.

To give you an idea of general day-to-day roles, I’m on the social side and the lead for our email marketing and the website, both with content and structure. On the PR side, we have two guys who split their time between communications, media relations, and website content as well. Then we have three people who focus most heavily on video and broadcast. So we’re all very agile and pitch in across the board because we have to cover so many different areas.”

From a social media standpoint, D.C. United has placed a heightened level of importance on utilizing Twitter to connect with their fan base.

“In my opinion, Twitter is the best and most organic place to foster that one-on-one engagement and interactions with fans. Plus, it’s the platform that allows for the most fun. At the end of the day, we’re a sports team and our primary objective is to entertain people. Twitter does a really good job of making that easy, whether it’s by being kind of goofy, getting involved in banter, or just entertaining people by responding to them and giving them your attention for a second of their day.”

A look at the numbers reveals that this effort to better the team’s relationship with fans has paid dividends. On Twitter alone, the team account has seen a 10.4% increase in followers in the last year, a 4.4% increase in engagements, a 9.8% increase in impressions, and an impressive 162% increase in video views. Part of this can be attributed to the team enacting a campaign that won MLS’ 2017 Social Media Activation of the Year.

When the team began play in 1996, they hosted home games in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (RFK). They continued to do so until October of 2017, when the team played their final match in RFK at the end of the MLS season. D.C. United will soon begin the 2018 season and will open their new stadium, Audi Field, in July. Given United fans’ deep emotional connections to RFK and the team’s immense success playing there over the last twenty years, Wilkinson and the rest of the digital department made it their mission to send RFK off in style by encouraging fan-submitted content and creating original content inspired by fan stories and the team’s history at RFK.

“Our final match campaign was called ‘Last Call at RFK’. It was a cool way of getting fans involved in sharing their memories and we really encouraged people to submit their stories and photos from the venue. The outpouring of stories from the fans was pretty amazing. We saw things like videos of childhood fans from 1996 when we won our first trophy coupled with pictures of the same fans, now adults, still coming to D.C. United games at RFK in 2017. We pushed the campaign pretty heavily with fans, locals, media, and former players, and loved seeing them get involved on social.”

“Then obviously on our side, we put a lot of time and effort into our final RFK send off content through articles, interviews, collateral for current and former players, media outreach, and the Last Call at RFK final video. The video allegedly made a lot of people cry on social. The campaign worked really well and we were proud of the content we put out because it empowered fans to share everything they had stored up from their time being D.C. United fans.”

While this activation was a great example of how to embrace a particularly emotional moment in an organization’s history, it demonstrates the overall importance of feeding off emotion in digital storytelling, specifically in sports.

“If we get a huge win or we make an important signing we always have an eye out for how we can tap into people’s emotions. If we beat a team 4-0, how can we tap into how pumped fans are feeling right now? If we make a big signing, how can we tap into and help further that excitement? Obviously, some opportunities are better than others, but ‘Last Call at RFK’ was just a unique opportunity where we could take advantage of different types of emotions —those sentimental, nostalgic feelings that we don’t get to work with as often.”

Now the team is set to move into a brand new facility at Audi Field, which Wilkinson recently launched social accounts for. Building hype for the opening of Audi Field has just been one aspect of their offseason content plan, however.

“We want to take a similar approach to the opening of Audi Field as we did with ‘Last Call at RFK.’ That will be our biggest initiative of the season.”

“The offseason is still busy, just a different kind of busy. While we’re not always preparing for the next game during the offseason, we made a ton of roster moves, so that creates flurries in content production.”

“Then with the World Cup this summer, even though the U.S. didn’t qualify, we still have a cool opportunity to be a part of the world cup conversation by focusing on our players whose countries are represented and who have experience with their national teams as they reflect on what it means to have their nation on that stage.”

During the regular season, D.C. United plays one to two games per week. So when Wilkinson and the rest of the digital department are not building fans’ excitement for the next match, they are typically providing live updates on games in progress with high-quality gifs, videos, and score graphics. With efficiency and maximizing resources in mind, the D.C. United staff has turned to Team Infographics (TI) for help producing gameday content.

“TI is awesome. Like I said, we have a super small department. So they help with a lot of the burden of creating really sharp, unique graphics to be used throughout the season and in-game.”

“We actually just went through media day with the players where we collect all of their headshots and a variety of video footage. We then pass that over to TI and collaborate with them on building storyboards and graphics and video templates that we’ll use throughout the year. You’ll see those used to announce goals, starting lineups, man of the match, score updates, etc. Having that graphics engine makes it really easy for us in-game—for example, as soon as a goal is scored, we have three different video or graphics options that we can choose from to customize and post.”

“Because everything is so crazy in-game, it’s very nice to have that resource at our disposal so we can very easily get a graphic or video ready immediately to use.”

In the past twelve months especially, the D.C. United digital team has done an exceptional job connecting one of American soccer’s most storied clubs to its fans in a meaningful and notable way. Wilkinson believes this has come from a willingness to try new things and a focus on using digital to bring fans closer to the team

“Just have fun with it. Say yes whenever you can. I feel like so much of what I’ve learned since graduating has come from a willingness to say yes. I think it can be easy to be scared to try new things or take on new projects. Obviously, you don’t want to be spread too thin and lose your productivity, but if you’re scared to take chances, you’re never going to evolve and grow. Try to get your hands dirty in as many relevant areas as possible.”

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