Social networking sites can be a great way for teams to extend their online presence and engage in conversation with fans. Like any other social media venture, there are certain characteristics that make them successful communication tools. Jason Peck, a blogger on social media in sports, describes what makes sports social networking sites effective in this video.
I decided to use the criteria outlined by Peck to evaluate Planet Orange, the social networking site of the Phoenix Suns.
First, the site must allow fans to connect and share content such as pictures, videos, and blogs. On the Planet Orange homepage, there is a section of “citizen blogs” and links for videos, audio, photos, and art from fans. Videos include highlight mixes, “fan of the game” clips, and thoughts on the team. The Suns even use the video section to participate in the conversation with a video called “Suns Thank Their Fans.”
Next, the site should make it easy to find friends and people who share similar interests. On Planet Orange, members can search for others or view members according to the most recent, most popular, or most viewed. There are also message boards and groups that allow members to find fans according to specific interests or topics of discussion. There are currently 46 groups with relatively few members but that are highly “niched,” such as “French Suns Fans” or “Suns Employees.” (Long tail, anyone?)
Peck also suggests that for sports social networking sites to be innovative, they should include some sort of contest or points system in which the most active users are rewarded. After all, sports fans are passionate and competitive by nature. Videos can be rated and there is a section on the homepage labeled “The Hottest Videos on the Planet.” Planet Orange also encourages fans to follow the Suns on Twitter to compete for the “Tw’ophy,” an NBA-wide contest to see which team can amass the most followers.
Finally, a successful sports social networking site can be more engaging for fans by involving the athletes. There is a link from the Planet Orange homepage inviting friends to become “friends” with Leandro Barbosa, a guard for the Suns. One click away is Barbosa’s profile, where I find pictures and video from his photo shoot and commercial for Qwest. This kind of behind-the-scenes content is extremely appealing to passionate fans.
Overall, Planet Orange follows the criteria outlined by Peck and appears to be a quality social networking site for passionate Suns fans. None of my beloved Washington sports teams have social networking sites yet; I’m interested to see if more teams launch similar sites and if teams such as the Suns have measure the success of their sites.