Interview with Keith Van Gels, Total Hockey on Social Engagement and Advocacy

Influencer Marketing
Social Media Marketing
User Generated Content (UGC)


ReadyPulse Presents: Thought Leadership Series on Social Engagement and Advocacy

Keith Van Gels, Brand/Social Media Coordinator, Total Hockey, spoke to Rachel Carson, Customer Success Manager, ReadyPulse, on November 14, 2012.

Third party studies have found that brands have about an average engagement rate on Facebook of around 1%. We don’t necessarily think that this tells you a lot – so to have some context for this, we have been tracking and indexing social data for over 400 online retailers, measuring both their number of engaged fans as well as positive expressions and testimonials from those fans. We’ve found that ReadyPulse customers average 5x the level of engagement than average, and have found that there are plenty of other brands who are really killin’ it on social. We’ve spent a lot of time with clients who are super successful in social, but we wanted to reach out to successful non-clients to share their story – Total Hockey is one of these brands in the top 1%. I interviewed Keith Van Gels, the Brand and Social Media Coordinator for Total Hockey to hear more about their social success.

Rachel: Tell us a little about what “Total Hockey” is and what your role is?

Keith: Well I’m in-between titles right now – my official title is ‘Brand Coordinator’ but that doesn’t necessarily encompass everything I do. Essentially, I’m our creative director – I conceptualize our ads and come up with our taglines and campaigns. It’s a team effort but I mostly head the creative work company-wide for our 3 brands: Total Hockey, Total Lacrosse, and Total Goalie.

About 18 months ago I also became our Social Media Manager. 

Rachel: Have you had any experience with social media in the past? How did you get your start at Total Hockey?

Keith: I sort of did – part of my capstone project in college involved Twitter. It was before Twitter was made public. I remember standing up in front of the class of 150 kids saying that Twitter would never work, and why wouldn’t you just go on Facebook? Everyone agreed with me except about half of the girls in the class – so the girls were right and I’ve been eating my words ever since. As far as getting my start in social media here at Total Hockey, about 18 months ago I heard that we were going to hire an outside social media person – I kinda put up a fight with this one because I knew that I could really do a better job than an outside person. So I asked for them to give me a shot. I then took over our Facebook page when we had 1,100 fans, and now 18 months later, we’re almost at 100,000 fans, then I took over Twitter when we had about 400 followers, and now we’re close to 5,000. In addition to Total Hockey, I’m also doing Total Lacrosse and Total Goalie – hockey has been a huge part of my life, but lacrosse was unknown to me. It took me a couple months to understand that market and really dive into the mindset of a lacrosse player. Once I understood the player, I was able to translate the same formula that worked for Total Hockey to Total Lacrosse.

Rachel: Can you elaborate about your philosophy in social media?

Keith: I truly believe that you need to be accessible, personable, kind, patient, and creative – and you need to be cool without trying too hard.

Rachel: You guys have a 52.88% engagement rate, which is really outstanding. If you had to pick one reason as to why that is, what would it be?

Keith: I guess I would say constant engagement – and making posts that relate to not only our customer, but us as a brand. There has to be a tie in, otherwise it’s not going to work.

Rachel: Given that Total Hockey has such a high engagement rate, why do you think that the average engagement rate is about 1%?

Keith: In my opinion, I think it’s just a lack of creativity and effort. Obviously this isn’t rocket science – but at the same time, it’s not something you just put an intern in charge of either. Your brand’s personality is no joke, so why be lazy about it and not take it seriously.

Rachel: In your opinion, what has been your most successful social post or campaign that you’ve done?

Keith: Well we’re currently running a video campaign called The Snipe Off, which encourages kids to submit videos of their trick shots. It’s something we started doing a few years ago, and it’s bizarre that it’s become as popular as it is. They submit a video in order to be entered to win hockey prizes – like skates, sticks and gloves – totaling a $1,500 value. So it’s definitely an enticing prize. I’ve also had some posts that for whatever reason get 30,000+ likes and shares, which of course brings us new fans. I remember one in particular about a year ago – I found this picture of an unbelievable backyard ice rink of this family in Alberta. It was literally the nicest backyard rink I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a million.  So not only was the picture amazing, but I tried to make the caption a bit of a tear-jerker. This post just blew up – it had something like 10,000 likes in 4 hours, it was crazy!

Rachel: It seems like you really have a true connection with your fans and understand them.

Keith: Yea, I definitely do. I mean, I’ve played hockey my whole life and really live and breathe it. I think another thing that’s helped me too is that I have a second job – I teach kids hockey. So I’m around kids and their parents often. Coaching has really helped me out as far as understanding our target market, whether it be the player or the parent or just people in general.

Rachel: Do you ever get to meet your Facebook fans? What works for you outside of social networks?

Keith: Yes, we sponsor some events – they’re usually big hockey tournaments. It’s something we can definitely improve upon, however. There’s a high-level hockey tournament in Chicago that we sponsored recently and it’s the biggest tournament in the world. We put video clips together of the games and featured the big plays – we chose a “Star of the Game” and gave them a gift card and interviewed them. I’d really like our company to do more things like this.

Rachel: Marketing by nature is metrics and ROI driven – what type of metrics guide you? What are your thoughts around ROI? What are your metrics of success? How do you define success?

Keith: We certainly have ROI surrounding our print and TV marketing efforts, but with social media we’ve found it difficult to measure ROI. Aside from personal goals, like engagement and likes, I don’t really have anything to base it off of except my own experience with social media within our own company. Our goal is to be the best, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do here with social.

Rachel: What’s your content strategy? Are the pictures you post, such as the one you mentioned earlier, part of an overall strategy? Or is based off of your own intuition?

Keith: I usually just go day by day. It’s to the point now where I have parents and kids sending in pictures that I know are going to be social gems – it definitely makes the job easier when we start getting pictures sent in. I try to plan ahead, but since this is only part of my job, a lot of it is on the spot.

Rachel: Have you also been using Instagram and Pinterest regularly?

Keith: not as much as we should. Our Pinterest page is actually doing really well – It started out as a gold mine for me in terms of finding cool hockey photos to post for Facebook but then eventually we saw the value in having our own pages. Instagram is something I just started doing a few months ago – better late than never. We definitely plan to amp up and devote more time and energy into both of these outlets.

Rachel: How do you monitor competition?         

Keith: My plan personally is that I keep a cheat sheet of all of our competitors for each one of our three brands. So I keep track of how well they’re doing and how well we’re doing and it’s basically measured on likes. It was really cool to see the progression – when I first started doing it, we were in 10th place and now we’re in 1st…by a lot! Personally, that’s how I do it – I know that there are guys who do analytics-based monitoring online within our company.

Rachel: What social network do you see that will be a growing importance for your marketing strategy in 2013?

Keith: I think Twitter is going to be a growing network for us – we’re definitely going to focus on Instagram as well because it’s a great social outlet. We’re just shy of 5,000 followers on Twitter, so as far as improving, I really want to focus on that.

Rachel: What advice do you have to other social marketers?

Keith: My advice to current social marketers would be to just listen and engage with your customers and understand them as much as you can. Really try and understand them and be cool…no one likes lame.