Guest Post – Instagrams Impact: One Hockey Teams Case Study


In this guest post, Samantha Phelan, Director of Corporate Partnerships, Sales, and Digital Media with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, shares a case study for a recent campaign the team executed on Instagram. See the original post here

Samantha Phelan is the Director of Corporate Partnerships, Sales, and Digital Media with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. Follow her on Twitter @SamPhe.

Instagram has been my platform of choice for a few years now because of my infatuation with a clean aesthetic and storytelling. For those of you who don’t know me well enough, check out my personal Instagram here and you’ll quickly get the picture.

But it’s not until you use Instagram for business that you truly start to understand why it stands out as a platform of choice for driving business forward. I’m going to use a recent 12 day Countdown campaign that we (St. John’s IceCaps) ran over Christmas as an example as to why I feel it’s one of the best performing platforms that businesses can be using right now.

12 Days Christmas Countdown Overview

Leading up to Christmas, we tried to come up with a way to build excitement and keep our team (and our tickets) top of mind as people were making last minute purchasing decisions. So starting on December 13th, we posted 3 photos every day to Instagram. Each photo encompassed aspects of a word that we felt related to both Hockey and Christmas. See below for examples.

The first post of the day was a warning…a warning that the second post would be coming soon and that our fans were going to want to turn on notifications so that once the second post went up, they could be one of the first people to comment and win free tickets to a game of their choice in 2017.
Fans had only 5 minutes to comment on the second post before we chose the winner.
The third post of the day was then used as a call to action.
Not all of our CTA’s were ticket sales focused, but with sales being one of our main objectives, there was an incentive to have a majority of them pushing fans to the box office.

The Results

In just twelve days we received over 300,000 impressions on Instagram alone and that didn’t include additional exposure through cross-promotion on other platforms.

Historically our biggest month for gaining followers has always been October because that’s when a new season starts. New prospects. New team. New standings. This campaign specifically brought us a growth rate equivalent to that of October. We increased our follower acquisition rate by 300% in just 2 weeks compared to the month previous.

We also had over 15,000 active engagements in our posts. Not impressions… Not reach…Engagements – Likes and Comments. To put that in context, if this were banner advertising, the 15,000 engagements would essentially be click-through rates. That’s the end behaviour you want to encourage from your fans because that’s ultimately what will drive attention, discoverability, and then sales.

When we dug deeper into the analytics we discovered that most of our Instagram posts within this 12 day period reached a larger audience organically than a Facebook post would have. This hasn’t traditionally been true of our Instagram posts, but since Facebook made additional algorithm changes to favor their revenue models, we’ve been able to accomplish better results with highly engaged campaigns like this one through Instagram. From my perspective, this is insane given we have over 2x the number of followers on Facebook as we do on Instagram. (Side note: This surely won’t last long as Facebook owns Instagram and we’ve already begun to see adoption of algorithm changes on Instagram similar to that of Facebook)

And the impressions don’t stop there. We were able to engage a community of fans by cross-promoting the contest through our Instagram stories, Snapchats, and Twitter account. Those totals are yet to be determined but it’s safe to say you can easily add another 50k to our overall number.

Furthermore, when we looked at sales during the days leading into Christmas, 40% of people who purchased tickets by referral of a social media channel, came through Instagram. This was our highest performing platform right before Christmas, while Twitter and Facebook were at 35% and 25% respectively. This was uncharacteristic of our traffic referrals during any other times of the year.

This 12 Day Countdown also helped us build a clean, themed, aesthetic that made our profile visually pleasing to land on and follow. While this may not be the number one priority for the average hockey fan, it doesn’t hurt to have a polished platform where your content looks well thought-out and tells a story. Someone show me another platform that we could have posted static photos on daily basis and gotten the same results from it? We couldn’t. Video is king everywhere else.

Why Did This Work?

While I like to think this campaign worked because fans just really understand our objectives and would do anything to help, I think a more reasonable answer would be because of Comments, Notifications, and Consistency.

Comments: As mentioned, participation in the contest required a comment on the second post of the day. These comments drove engagement through the roof as we had upwards of 100 people commenting on our posts (this even trickled over into our first and third posts of the day as we started to build conversations with fans). So now you might be asking, what can comments do to drive our business? I’m glad you asked. It’s all about discoverability. The way Instagram’s algorithms work (and most social platforms now for that matter) is that the quicker a piece of content starts to build momentum, the more likely they are to flag that piece of content as valuable and showcase it to more people (followers AND non-followers). I’ll let you piece the rest of it together.

Notifications: It should be a no brainer that encouraging our fans to turn on notifications so that they can play into the free ticket contest would come at our advantage. When we looked at what we truly wanted from our fans through Instagram, it was their attention.

How could we get their attention? We needed them to see our posts.

How could they see our posts? Well, we could chance it and hope that an amalgamation of the high proportion of comments matched with impeccable timing would help us get the attention we wanted OR we could encourage them to turn on post notifications so that they would be given a push notification to their phone every time we posted a photo. C’mon, no brainer.

What’s the incentive for fans to subscribe to frequent reminders from us unless they are a die-hard fan? Well we needed to create one, and that’s where the 5 minute rule came into play. If they only had 5 minutes to comment in order to qualify, then they HAD to subscribe to notifications, or otherwise live on Instagram all day hoping they would catch us at the perfect time. One method is far easier than another. The long term strategy for us is that as long as we keep providing them with value when we post new content, the notification push should be something they keep on their phones long after the contest ends. Everlasting attention! That’s the dream!

Consistent Posts: This last point can be debated but from my observations, it works for our business. The more frequent your posts, the more visible (and discoverable) you become on Instagram. There is a limit of course. I wouldn’t recommend posting 12 times a day as that’s just going to drive some people crazy, but if everything you post provides some value back to your audience, it won’t hurt you. The algorithm seems to favor accounts that post consistently, which only complemented our other efforts to optimize exposure.  Through the mix of commenting, notifications, and consistency, we were bound to show up in more explore feeds of our fans and their followers for days after a post was made.

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