Marketing | Environment | Culture

Tag: following

Facebook and Twitter Counts of the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS


The start of the NBA season on Christmas day, as well as loads of new advertising campaigns, somehow spurred my curiosity about the Facebook fanbase and Twitter followers of the professional sports leagues.  So, I went and tracked down some counts.

To be clear on my philosophy, more is not inherently better – it’s just more.  100 passionate fans are far more desirable than 1,000 relatively indifferent ones.


Setting the Scene

While Major League Baseball (MLB) is still considered by some to be “America’s game,” the television ratings for the National Football League (NFL) make that notion seem quaint; the NFL is a juggernaut.

The National Basketball Association (NBA), just starting a strike-ish-shortened season and repairing its slightly tarnished rep, is about as strong as it’s been in the past several years and looks very good in these charts.

The National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) are both quite niche in their followings, the former being far more historic, mainstream, and powerful than the latter.


A Note Off the Top

I don’t provide much analysis here.  Even the observations in this post are limited.  I’ve simply gathered this info, added some color, and shared it.  Please let me know your thoughts as a comment on this post, on Facebook (if we’re friends), or on Twitter (everyone’s welcome!).


Now to the Charts

To get started, an overview image of the information I collected:

NFL football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, MLB baseball, MLS soccer

Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers/Following for Professional Sports Leagues (Dec 2011)


Next up, the same Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and Twitter following information in simple bar charts:


National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, Facebook fans, Facebook likes, Facebook following

Total Facebook Likes for the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS (Dec 2011)


Though I ordered these alphabetically, the curve from NBA to MLS is obvious and steady.

The NBA has nearly triple the Facebook likes as the second-place NFL.  This is likely due to a younger, more global presence and following for the NBA.


Twitter followers, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major Leagues Soccer

Total Twitter Followers for the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS (Dec 2011)


Though the NBA still leads the way here, the NFL and MLB show up a bit better.

Again, I did not take a look at the quality, quantity, or nature of their Tweets – including such things as ratio of personal @mentions to marketing blast tweets – this is just the number of people who’ve clicked “Follow” without subsequently clicking to “Unfollow.”


Twitter, Following, Followings, People Followed, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer

Total Twitter Followings by the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS (Dec 2011)


Here is where it starts to get interesting.  The NHL just jumps right off this chart (and the MLS pops up nicely).

I expect it’s because the NHL’s social media is (or was) being handled by Vaynermedia, which obviously subscribes to and lives out the giveback, thank you philosophy of Gary Vaynerchuk.  They’re obviously following back; I expect they’re also listening, responding, and engaging more than any other league on Twitter (again, MLS is probably with them on this).

Note: see a cool interview of Matt Sitomer of Vaynermedia by David Siteman Garland of The Rise to the Top about “How to Land Badass Clients Like the NHL and the New Jersey Nets” here.

Meanwhile, the NFL barely gets a stripe to represent the number of people they’re following on Twitter (just 150!).


Twitter Following, Followings, Twitter Followers, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer

Ratio of Twitter Following to Twitter Followers for the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS (Dec 2011)

The previous chart sets up this one.  This is Twitter Following (number of people each league is following) divided by Twitter Followers.  Again, the NHL and MLS own this chart.

The MLS bar is largely a function of their relatively few Twitter followers.  The NHL is following more than 4x as many people as the MLS.  Still, both of these leagues – far smaller than the NBA, NFL, and MLB by most measures – are obviously employing a participatory strategy on Twitter.

As a function of their strong Twitter following and limited (or absent) follows back, the NFL does not even register.  The NBA and MLB are just slivers.  They’re broadcasters – just blasting out information.


Final Thoughts

It would obviously be interesting to go deeper in at least three ways:

  • putting this information into the context of revenue, attendance, and viewership of each league
  • evaluating the character, quality, quantity, and frequency of posts in the context of this information
  • looking at the social media approach of the individual franchises relative to those of the leagues


As a husband, father, full-time marketer, part-time MBA candidate, and very occasional blogger, I’ll leave that to you!  Let me know what you dig up and process.


In the meantime, let me know your thoughts about what I’ve gathered and shared here as a comment on this post, on Facebook, or on Twitter.




National Basketball Association:  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

National Football League:  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

National Hockey League:  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

Major League Baseball:  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

Major League Soccer:  |  Facebook  |  Twitter


How Bad Positioning Can Obscure Good Data

It worked.  Link bait positioning drew me in to a series of posts from Dan Zarrella, “The Social Media Scientist,” who uses data to punch holes in “unicorns and rainbows” myths about social media.

A trio of posts (two relatively new, another a few months old) all attempt to shoot down the idea that marketers should “engage in the conversation.”  Those three are summarized nicely (here) by Justin Wise.

In looking at Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations, Zarrella observes that likes, @replies and comments are insignificantly or negatively correlated with some desirable outcomes (more links, views, followers).

Here’s a grab from his post on Twitter conversations:

@mentions, @replies, Twitter, engagement, conversation, Zarrella. study, data, charts, graphic, infographic

Zarrella lays out some data about "engaging in the conversation" on Twitter, comparing percentage of @replies to followers.

I’ll leave the specifics to Zarrella’s original posts (Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations) and Wise’s overview.

I simply want to observe that there’s good, interesting and potentially useful data there, but it’s obscured by link bait positioning – that “engaging in the conversation” does not work.  All three posts attempt to destroy unmeasured, touchy feely notions that marketers must “engage in the conversation” to succeed with social media.  The positioning is great for posting headlines and links to generate clicks through, but it’s not especially fair or accurate.  Because the headlines are more specific and fair than the data positioning, link bait may be too pejorative a word for someone whose work I respect very much.  Still, the work doesn’t support directly the notion that “engaging in the conversation” is fruitless and, perhaps, even counterproductive.

A few quick supports:

1 The measures in the Facebook and blog conversation posts have nothing to do with a page admin or blogger “engaging in the conversation.”  Instead, Zarrella observes interactions as a whole.  So, it’s interesting that higher numbers of comments are negatively correlated with higher numbers of views and links, but it says absolutely nothing about the value of marketers engaging conversations.

2 His correlations of Facebook likes and comments to total views are based on just two pages – HubSpot and OnStartups (note: I “like” both pages).  Those two pages have a combined total of 50,000 fans.  Those two pages are also remarkably similar in topic area (online/inbound/content marketing, entrepreneurship, SMB), so the behavior – if not identities – of both pages’ fans is likely very similar.  To make statements about how effective conversation is for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of fan pages among the hundreds of millions of Facebook users from this narrow sample is a stretch at best.

3 The Twitter piece is the most interesting, but even the graphic (included here, above) provides contradictory takeaways.  Don’t bother replying, because those with more followers don’t reply much, if at all … or reply a lot, because those who do also tend to have more followers.  It also ignores strategy outright.  For example, @replies are the foundation for anyone using Twitter for customer service.

So what’s the use of the collective wisdom conveyed in Zarrella’s three posts?  Read ’em for yourself!  I only observe that it’s far more nuanced than their “engaging in the conversation may be a waste of your time and resources” positioning.

The Bottom Line

The single best takeaway from all three posts is more a reminder than anything else: your most successful tactic is providing great content … or links to great content.

These kinds of posts are plentiful.  Many of these posts are very interesting and potentially useful.  Most importantly, many provoke thought and, somewhat ironically in this case, stimulate conversation.  They should not, however, be the basis for calling into question your entire strategy and reacting in immediate or dramatic fashion.  It’s content marketing, hence the tendency toward link bait positioning.

Have a strategy for how you’re using social media.  Established desired outcomes.  Measure actual outcomes.  Learn, optimize and iterate.

Also, stay informed about others’ outcomes, like those observed by Zarrella.  Then, converse!

(Thanks to Michael Worley Jr for bringing this to my attention by tweeting a link to great content)

Social Whoring – What to Make of It?

I feel compelled to have at least one image in every post.  Typically it falls in the most content-appropriate spot about a third or half way through the post.  Today, we’re starting right at the top.  Check this out:

tweet, tweets, threat, coerce, threats, coercion, deadline, program

Who does this? Why?

I’m moderately active on Twitter.  I follow about a hundred people and organizations.  I’m followed by about a hundred others.  I (mis)use it primarily for social bookmarking – sharing things I think are interesting and trying to position them with a personal take – all within 140 characters.

Now and then, I get new follows from people with whom I’m unfamiliar.  This is a great thing.  Presumably, they’ve stumbled across something I’ve put online and decided that my perspective could be of interest or value to them.

My first step: check their Twitter feeds and profiles.  Are they actually human?  Who are they?  What are they about?  How do they use Twitter?  Are they posting things in which I’d find interest or value?

I recently checked the Twitter feed and profile of an unknown follower and came across the phenomenon screen captured and embedded above: an automated system to follow new people, then threaten to un-follow them if they don’t follow back within 24 hours.  Nothing like guilt or coercion – complete with 24 hour detonation clock – to create a community of like-minded followers.  Come on, let’s connect … or I’ll terminate you!

In short: Who does this?  Why?

Related: I was terminated.

Social whoring:

This is the best example yet of a phenomenon I’ve been thinking about and calling “social whoring.”  It’s a mindset and approach based on the idea that more is inherently better.  It’s a mindset and approach that strongly prefers “how many” to “who.”

I call it whoring because it involves attempted engagement with someone you don’t know, with whom you have nothing in common and with whom you don’t intend to relate authentically.  Instead, you’re relegated to a notch on the bed post – the more, the better.  Whether or not there’s any real engagement is irrelevant.  The quality of engagement – or lack thereof – isn’t even on the radar.

The name is a bit inflammatory by design.  I hope to provoke thought and discussion on these tactics.

Social whoring is perfectly fine.  It probably works for many of its subscribers and practitioners.  These tactics must work or else social whores wouldn’t continue to employ and evolve them.

Based on my visceral response when I encounter it, though, it doesn’t seem to be for me.

Another example:

I received a friend request from the editorial page editor of our local newspaper.  I checked out this person’s wall, which is loaded with editorials published in the newspaper and online, plus some light conversation.  I thought – OK, I’ll engage in discussions about what’s happening around here.   Accept!

A week later, some friends are over for dinner.  One of them asks – hey, are you friends with (name of editorial page editor of our local newspaper) on Facebook?  Why, yes … I am.

He was, too … until he realized that (name of editorial page editor of our local newspaper) had – immediately upon becoming friends – friend-requested all of his friends – some as far west as Oakland and as far east as Baltimore – none of whom (name of editorial page editor of our local newspaper) knew.

On principle alone, I had to un-friend the editorial page editor of our local newspaper, who seems like a nice enough person – smart and interesting, too.  This person’s approach, though, is a bit heavy on the social whoring.

For better or worse, friend-requesting people this person doesn’t know, then all of the new friends’ friends seems to be working.  The editorial page editor of our local newspaper has 2,500 friends.

Last example in this post (though examples abound – look around):

Are you a fan of Evan Bailyn on Facebook?  More than 70,000 people are.  In this October 2010 article at, he describes how he gathered 57,000 fans in one year.  The value returned to you for your “like” is the regular appearance in your news feed of generically positive status updates like “Surround yourself with people who believe in you” and “Take it one day at a time.”

A crucial step in amassing this following, beyond the consciously formulaic content strategy, was “contacting popular people on Facebook and asking them if I could get them to suggest my page in exchange for services, shout-outs, or, as a last resort – cold, hard cash.”

This case is the most confounding to me.  That last statement, written by Bailyn, is obviously whoring.  Hey – you have a big following.  I’ll give you “services” or even “cold, hard cash” in exchange for suggesting me (who you don’t know) to all your fans and friends (who don’t know me).

The confounding part is that he’s an extremely intelligent and positive person.  He probably has designs on a positive use of this mass following.  He’s founded successful start-ups and websites, written books and started a foundation to help children ages 7-17 through creativity.  His welcome page for non-fans on Facebook is a smartly-designed, stylish, fun and storytelling piece.  I like what he’s doing.

What to Make of It?

The title of the post has now come around.

In the Bailyn case, do the ends justify the means?  When is “whoring” actually whoring?  Have you witnessed any grossly whorrific tactics?  When are more people better than the right people?  Is the judgment even fair?

Your thoughts are invited in the comment section.  Thanks!

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