How many times has Dewayne Hankins been called "classless" during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
"Yes … oh, gosh, a million times," he said. "It's so funny what people throw around as classless. But it's all in good fun. You're stirring up your fan base."
Also funny: That those hockey fans on Twitter don't even know it's Dewayne Hankins who is drawing their ire. "They chirp us. We tweet back. And then they tell us how much they love us," he said. "They think it's the Kings talking to them."
Hankins (@DewayneHankins) is the director of digital media for the Los Angeles Kings. Along with digital media coordinator Pat Donahue (@patatack), they run the @LAKings Twitter feed that's become a sensation during the postseason. The Kings had around 70,000 followers when the playoffs began. Thanks to sarcastic, intentionally outrageous messages mixed with practical information about ticket sales and viewing parties, they're well over 110,000 followers after two rounds.
Along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Kings have reinvented the way an official feed can be utilized — not just for information, but to develop a unique voice that connects with the fan base, while playfully taunting others.
Like, for example, Vancouver Canucks fans, with the tweet that will live in infamy.
On April 11, the No. 8 seed Los Angeles skated into Vancouver and defeated the top-seeded Canucks in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Kings' Twitter feed celebrated thusly:
Donahue was the author of "the infamous Vancouver tweet" according to Hankins, who knew immediately that this was a game-changer.
"We were so excited about the first game being won, and I see that tweet, and I'm thinking, 'OK, no matter how this ends up, this is going to be a Hall of Fame tweet,'" he said. "We knew right away we had enraged an entire province, we were starting to get worried. And then they started asking the players about it."
Media outlets like the Globe & Mail covered the tweet, additional ones sent during the game like "looks like a gust of wind sent Kesler tumbling" during a dive, and soon the Kings were forced to put out a fire.
What might be most baffling about this entire situation is the apparently widely held belief that official team Twitter feeds should only be used for bi-partisan purposes. Since when is what an NHL team does unbiased? In-game presentations on the jumbotron are decidedly slanted to the hometown fans, commercials and advertisements espouse the virtues of the featured team and the necessity for fans to attend home games, players constantly cite their fans as 'the best fans in the NHL'. Why should Twitter be treated any differently?
The team had internal discussions about how the Vancouver tweet was covered by the Canadian media, to the point where deleting the tweet was considered. Hankins stepped in and said their apology was sufficient. "We weren't going to delete. That defeats the point of what we're trying to do."
Instead, the team apologized to "anyone who found it offensive." But as the old playoff tagline said: History was made.
"We had been doing this since last November but that tweet really made people notice that the Kings were doing things differently," said Hankins.
The director of digital media for the Kings since November 2010, Hankins arrived from the Minnesota Wild, where he built their digital media outreach. Remember when Cal Clutterbuck's mustache got its own Twitter feed? That was one of Hankins' last innovations before heading west.
Hankins signed on with the Kings because they were pumping money into digital media: Hiring former L.A. Daily News beat writer Rich Hammond as their in-house reporter and creating novel videos on their official site. But he made it clear from the start: To find success, the Kings had to develop their own voice.
"Part of the deal for me coming in was that if we're going to do this, we're going to go all-in. Be different. Be unique. In L.A., you can do that. We're the little brother of the other four or five teams here, so we gotta do something to be entertaining," he said. "If you're a different team, you can't do this. The Lakers can't. Not to the extent that we can."
Pat Donahue was hired last September, having interned for the Kings earlier in 2011. "I told him, 'We're going to give you the keys to this, but we want to make sure that it's funny, that it remains snarky,'" said Hankins.
Together they can tweet up to 90 items on a Kings gameday, offering news, links, snark and interacting with fans, friend and foe.
"You go back to the Vancouver tweet, and that doesn't happen if we didn't have Oilers fans and Flames fans and Canadiens fans all tweeting us and telling us that we're 'Canada's team' in the playoffs," said Hankins.
The duo also run the Kings' website and mobile app, and are helping other AEG teams like the L.A. Galaxy with their social outreach. When it comes to their tweets that target opponents, they will exchange emails until they find the right message and vibe.
"I think most people understand that humor or they don't," said Hankins. "We know the line a little bit."
While the Vancouver tweet pushed the envelope and others have aggravated other fans, the L.A. Kings digital team has support from management to continue running the feed with attitude — partly because you can't argue with the results.
"It's an extension of the brand. It's supposed to be partisan. It's supposed to be fun," said Hankins. "It's no knock on any team, but the other 29 NHL teams can be pretty dry. That's why celebrities have big followings on social media and brands don't: Because there's no personality to a brand."
Other NHL brands may follow in the Kings' tradition. The Blue Jackets developed their own self-deprecating brand of humor this season. The Detroit Red Wings have made noise about starting a rivalry with the Kings' feed next season. Fans across the NHL are asking why their teams can't have the same connection and personality of the Kings official Twitter — and sometimes that can be irksome for the teams they follow.
"We saw the Buffalo Sabres actually get mad about us being mentioned. Something along the lines of, 'We're tired of being compared to the Kings feed. We think we do a good job on our own,'" said Hankins. "It'd be a lot more fun if every team engaged with us the way we engage with them."
The Kings feed is busier than ever with tweets about the Western Conference final against the Phoenix Coyotes (including mockery of a lucky cactus), while trying to rally support for Anze Kopitar to win the EA Sports NHL 13 cover athlete poll (hence the "character assassination" of Claude Giroux).
In the process, they continue to sparks laughs and connect with fans in a way that's defining how official social media platforms can be utilized.
"At the end of the day, it's entertainment. Twitter's all about saying things that are funny. If you're not going to do that, then you're wasting people's time," said Hankins.