Buffalo Sabres: 5 questions with Craig Kanalley

  • The media world is undergoing rapid change. Some traditional journalists are now doing jobs they never dreamed of doing a decade ago. Others are transitioning into new roles in the corporate world.

    Craig Kanalley is a prime example of that change. 

    Prior to becoming the social media manager for the Buffalo Sabres last June, Kanalley had two stints at the Huffington Post where he helped create the site's social news efforts. He managed extremely popular products such as the now ubiquitous 'big news page,' led live coverage for major events and directed the influential traffic and trends team.

    He also led social media coverage for NBC News. Over time, he became widely recognized as one of the most innovative thinkers in the social media space, with more than 70,000 followers on Google Plus and over 22,000 Twitter followers. 

    Now he manages a Sabres social media network that has over 600,000 followers. We caught up with Craig to ask him how the transition is going: 

    Why does an NHL team need a dedicated social media manager?

    Social media is so important these days, sports is huge on social media, and it's imperative all teams have a social media presence. The fans, particularly in our market, are extremely passionate and active on social media and there's no reason not to build a bridge with them and be a part of that conversation. If you're able to engage, inform and entertain the fans in real-time, that's ideal. Having a set person to lead the strategy, monitor what's being said, communicate with fans and the rest of the organization, and keeping up on the latest social media trends can really help the team.

    What led you to leave media for your current position?

    I'm not sure I really left media.  I feel social media is a form of media; it continues to evolve and have a significant impact on the traditional media world.  That said, I did leave a more traditional form of media, you could say, but it was an easy decision -- the opportunity to work with my all-time favorite sports team, back in my hometown, was one I could not pass up.  It is a thrill and I'm looking forward to continuing to grow with this team in the years ahead.

    How is your job different now than it was before?

    The biggest change from a general news operation to a sports team is that a lot of sports evolves around a set schedule. General news can happen at anytime, and although there is breaking news in sports, there is more or less a schedule to when things happen. The bulk of your work centers around the games, game days, practices, and major events that you know about in advance. Working in general news, I almost never knew what lied ahead on a given day when I got to work; now there is more of a schedule. I like the workflow a lot.

    What was the biggest challenge you've had in adjusting to your new role?

    Even though I've always been an avid sports fan, huge hockey fan and Sabres fan, there was a bit of a learning curve in terms of how a sports team operates in comparison to a general news company. It goes back to the schedule as stated earlier, but also the goals are different.  I've enjoyed the challenge though, have learned so much this year, and I'm looking forward to the next year.

    What's been your social media strategy so far? Do you have a good idea of what works and what doesn't?

    Social media is two-way, so one of the biggest parts of the strategy is engaging with the fans, listening and responding to them. Monitoring what the fans are saying at all times, and then relaying their feedback to the appropriate people in the organization, has been a huge part of the job.  Also, communicating with the fans and providing information on all things Sabres in real-time has been a key priority. We have a passionate fan base and it seems they can't get enough info on the Sabres, so I try to keep feeding that. Now that I've worked with the team for an entire regular season, I have a good idea of what fans engage with the most, what doesn't work as much, and I'll build off of that going forward. I'll also continue to try new things too going forward.

    (Photo: Sabernoise.com) 

    You can follow Craig on Twitter @ckanal.

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