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By Sean Walsh
Blogging about the rise of digital media in the football industry. This is a combination of two of my passions: football & social media.

I am the founder of digital-football.com, but can also be found writing for leading Sports Social Media blog - UKSportsNetwork and commentating on the #digisport and #SMSports hashtags.

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27 October 11

FC Barcelona see the real value in Social Media [INTERVIEW]

 

This month Digital-Football.com is very fortunate to have a chat about football social media with the UEFA Champions League winners and arguably, one of the greatest sporting institutions to grace the planet, FC Barcelona. The social media team at the Catalan club have been incredibly busy in recent months and sit at the forefront of sports social media and fan engagement. Barca currently have the most liked Facebook page in global sports, and rank in the top 50 of all Facebook pages. But it isn’t just their Facebook page that has won them our plaudits – they were the first to fulfill our prediction that clubs willoptimise their stadium for social media, and they run massively engaging Twitter and YouTube accounts to support their Facebook activity.

Digital-Football asked them about certain areas of their social media strategy, here’s what they revealed:


Social Media Policy for staff and players

For the longest time, Policy and Guidelines have been an issue we’ve been trying to push on this site and we’ve been desperate to learn how clubs are educating their employees about the potential pitfalls of social. For Barcelona, their Social Media Policy places an emphasis on responsibility, however, what is clear is that this doesn’t naturally mean restrictions.

“We don’t like to restrict the use of Social Media. We just try to give all the information, tools and support to all FC Barcelona employees, football players included, in order to be aware of.”

In a refreshing move, Barcelona revealed to us that they have an education strategy in place that ensures that ‘everybody understands the magnitude of every tweet or post we do’. This approach teaches staff to think about what they post, as well as actually understand the consequences of bad practice as supposed to merely being told ‘it’s bad’. Education is the way forward, not blanket bans.

Return on investment and FC Barcelona

Being the best is something integral to the Barcelona ethos, whether this is on the field, in the business or in the social world. Barcelona’s brand oozes quality and class – a follower of their football will know that they don’t do ‘ugly victories’. So, it’s no surprise that this concept is evident in their Social Media strategy. Facebook is a huge part of the clubs social success, for reasons already stated, but Barcelona recognise that it isn’t just about numbers – return on investment isn’t necessary sales:

“It’s not just a question of numbers. FC Barcelona uses Social Media as a service channel. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are the best way to connect to a lot of people around the world. We are proud of our values and our identity and this is a good way of spreading them. So, the return of investment is not only in economic terms.”

What is clear for Barcelona is that Social Media is a service, and it should be servicing the fans above all else. Whilst many brands and football clubs visualise Social Media as a marketing channel, to Barca, it is so much more – it’s a connection to build relationships on an international scale.

Investing in long term Social Media


The social team sit naturally within the Marketing and Communications department of the club, but the primary objective for the team is  ‘to keep the best relationship with all Barça Fans’. What makes FC Barcelona rather different to most sporting brands is that the sheer size of their organisation requires separated channels for the vast amount of teams and sports that fall under the brand,

“We’ve got one Facebook page for the first team, one for the B team and La Masia, and one for every professional section: basketball, futsal, handball and hockey. And on Twitter, we follow the same standard with a plus. We run 3 official accounts (@fcbarcelona, @fcbarcelona_es and @fcbarcelona_cat), one for every language (English, Spanish and Catalan)”

Barca are proud of what they describe as ‘a singularity’, and it is interesting to see how they manage their social media for different markets – Twitter in particular. The club has been considerate to its massive international fan base by deploying an English channel, whilst at the same time, the club has stayed true to its roots and tweets in Catalan. Whilst this is an arduous task for the brand, it goes to show that they have a strategy that is looking at the bigger picture.

Looking towards the future – Mobile

As already mentioned, Barcelona are credited to being the first team in Europe to look to optimise their stadium for matchday social media. For the club this isn’t just about raising awareness of social channels, but rather it’s ensuring that fans have the best chances of utilising social within the stadium – this means mobile technology.

“Mobile phones are the future of connectivity. The challenge is to convert Camp Nou in a “mobile friendly” zone.”

With smartphone adoption rapidly increasing, it makes sense that clubs begin to look at the role of mobile in the game, whether that is mobile marketing, geolocation, mobile sharing and even mobile tickets. We are both in agreement that if you want to have a social presence that maximizes huge attendances, then you have to ensure that your environment is conducive for data sharing. There’s little point spending thousands on a Social Media campaign if you can’t even effective market to your own fans in your own house!

Authors note: I would like to thank the Social team at Barca for being willing to answer my questions and be happy to be as open and upfront as possible. It can be a real struggle to get quotes, let alone answers to every question you like, and I appreciate their kind support for the blog and hopefully I can get a chance to write more about the excellent displays of innovation currently going on at the Camp Nou.

2 October 11

Finally a Football Manager who doesn’t blame Social Media

In recent months we’ve seen all kinds of nonsense spouted from those in the higher echelons of professional football. We’ve seen managers disgruntled by Twitter as players reveal their tactics ahead of a game, show their anger at the clubs transfer policy and some just making ridiculously stupid comments. This has instigated managers to lambast social networks and in some cases, managers have gone as far as banning their players.

I’ve spoken about this lack of understanding before, and I remain firm that managers can’t just blame social networks or players – they (and their clubs) must take responsibility for failing to educate their players or provide a social media policy.

So, today when I read a BBC article about Celtic player, Kris Commons, and how he had tweeted about being unhappy about being left out of Sundays Glasgow Derby, I expected the usual.

Thankfully, not.

Celtic’s manager, Neil Lennon, was asked whether he was fazed by the comments – no doubt a cackle of journalists sniffing for the usual “social media is bad” story. Remarkably, Lennon stated,

 ”He said he was fit, but he didn’t train on Saturday and said he had tight groins … I’d have preferred it to be kept in-house, but this is the modern way of it – social networking seems to be the way forward.”

It would’ve been easy for Lennon to blame social media, and it would be even easier for him to ban his players outright, but then this isn’t Neil Lennon’s style.

In fact, as far as I can tell, Neil Lennon is currently just one of two managers in UK top-tier leagues that have active Twitter accounts (his account being @officialneil and the other being Liverpool manager & ex-Celt @kennethdalglish). Even throughout Europe, it’s incredibly rare to finding a professional manager with a Twitter account. Lennon regularly hosts impromptu Q&A sessions and is always completely engaging with fans, very rarely does he broadcast for some kind of commercial gain.

It is refreshing to see somebody high up in the game see the value in social media and willing to embrace it, even when it perhaps causing some problems. I predicted a few months ago that we may start to see more managers utilise Twitter, particularly as a way of bypassing the traditional press. Hopefully, Lennon and Dalglish will not be the only managers to see sense and not try fight the power of social media.

14 September 11

Should brands be allowed to use copyright laws to boost their own Facebook page?

 

How many times have we seen it? A brand (or in this case a sports club) announces a new Facebook page but within just a few hours they already have accumulated a spectacular number of Likes. Point in case, when Leo Messi launched his Facebook page in April, I incorrectly reported that he had obtained 6.6 million new Facebook fans in less than 3 hours. After a bit of research, #digisport contributor Kristian Gotsche pointed out that Messi (well, his PR people) had forced ownership of a number of unofficial fan pages to their control with copyright infringement threats. The story received global coverage and it appeared that Leo Messi had somewhat activated his following in just a short amount of time.

Equally, this month, Glasgow Rangers announced that they were adopting social media through an official Facebook page and Twitter account. I commend the club for embracing social media and it’s good to see yet another football club getting involved with utilising social media to communicate directly with their fans.

However, what caught my eye was the sheer rate of growth Rangers had seen in just a few days. Having closely followed their rivals, Celtic F.C.’s Facebook page over the past few months - I was surprised to see that Rangers had managed to surpass Celtic. Celtic have about 120,000 Facebook Likes after roughly 6 or 7 months of promotion and engagement. Rangers on the other hand, managed 200,000 in less than a week.

As it turns out, it appears that Rangers forced control of these unofficial pages by claiming copyright violations against their own fans in order to boost their own official Facebook page Likes.

Facebook Like growth for Rangers FC Official

Social Media is about nurturing and building relationships, not the number of Likes. Instead, brands should be looking to utilise these ‘unofficial community managers’ who operate unofficial fan pages in other ways - perhaps allowing them to continue in some capacity? At the very least, they should be rewarded for their efforts and be made to feel that the brand appreciates everything they have done. Here’s just a few ideas Rangers could’ve done instead:

  • - Keep unofficial Facebook  page admins - a risky strategy, but it would be nice to see the club give them some training
  • - Offer unofficial community managers a chance to guest blog on the website
  • - Thank unofficial page admins with some kind of PR event - give them free tickets, invite them to blog about maintaining the Facebook following and the hand over
  • - Brand advocacy - keep unofficial page admins on as fan liaisons or social media ambassadors
  • - Don’t take over their page to start of with - instead work with these unofficial pages to build awareness for the official page. Create a network of connected fan pages.
  • - At least say thank you publicly.

I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with brands be able to make a claim on pages - if anything it makes sense in order to moderate fans online. Especially for Rangers, who have had recent problems regarding death threats and sectarian comments on web communities.

However, I feel that threatening those who took the time to set up and often community manage these pages is just plain wrong. This does nothing to recognise the efforts of the administrator (the fan who set the page up), who essentially have being doing a job that the brand should really be paying for. Using the threat of legal action and copyright is a complete cop-out and smacks of the club not caring about their fans in the slightest, and only interested in ‘having a larger Facebook follower’ (Which any sensible person in social will tell you, isn’t everything).

Glasgow Rangers were asked to comment but have so far not replied.
8 September 11

Barcelona the first sports club to hit 20 million Facebook fans

The European Champions sneaked just ahead of their fierce rivals Real Madrid to become the first football club in the world to hit 20 million fans of their Facebook page. In recent months Barcelona have been more progressive with their Social Media strategy, having also been the first club in world football to openly optimise their stadium for social media usage.

This achievement now ranks their Facebook at as the 53rd largest following worldwide and the 1st in Sports related Facebook pages. In the last 6 months they have seen an 88% growth with an average 38 thousand fans ‘liking’ their Facebook page every day (according to our research).

The Catalan club marked the occasion with the above YouTube video thanking their fans for their loyalty. The club have previously used YouTube specifically for their Facebook domination back in February, when Barca hero Leo Messi urged his fans to reach the 10 million mark.

With a growth rate of around 1 million Likes a month, Barcelona look set to continue their dominance for Sports Social Media in regards to Facebook.

9 June 11

How not to use social media for sports - Rio & Ollie Holt

Rio Ferdinand, English footballer. Plays in th...

Twitterland was embroiled in debate this week as users criticised Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand for sending abusive direct messages to journalist Ollie Holt, whilst the other half criticised the said journo for publishing the content of the messages

Put simply, both were horribly wrong and presented themselves in a completely unprofessional manner. It was like watching an older brother tease his younger sibling in order to illicit an reaction, getting it and then running to mummy to “dob him in”.

Ferdinand, usually a brilliant ambassador for athletes using social media, was way out of line for sending such abusive messages to Holt. Regardless of the provocation, he should know that at all times he represents the club. Yes, its hard to be always weary of what you say, but his wages should compensate for that. In my opinion, Holt could’ve got a far bigger story for reporting Rio to Twitter for sending the abuse (which would’ve been far more interesting to see how Twitter dealt with the situation). That being said, there has to be some give and take. Sports stars such as Rio have given fans an amazing insight into their private lives through social media, so we should cut them some slack when they mess up, they are human after all.

As for Ollie Holt, I find his role in this a lot more sinister. Undoubtedly he provoked Rio and went into the situation with an intention to illicit an emotive response. The evident glee in his tweets after his story broke was both pathetic and childish, similar to a child smiling at another being told off. If that wasn’t sinister enough, he broke a strict piece of online etiquette - you don’t post private messages (such as Twitter’s Direct Messages). Whether you are on Facebook, Twitter or a Forum, it is a complete no-no to post the contents of private messaging. By all means, report abuse, but revealing the exact content is wrong, particularly when you’re motive is to just do it for attention. It doesn’t excuse Rio from what he said, but it just shows up Mr Holt for being totally disingenuous and he comes across as the traditional “internet troll" in his quest for "a story".

Social Media is about relationship building, the best advice anyone can give is to treat people in the social space as you would face to face. Nobody wants to see leading authorities of their industry fighting and being reduced to verbal fisty-cuffs. Nor should journalists exploit social media as a “force for evil” just to get some cheap attention (Ok, maybe a little over the top!). Trolling is bad, no matter how influential or reputable the troll is.

Ultimately, this entire conflict reeks of unprofessional behaviour on both sides but at least it provides a fine example of how both journalists and athletes shouldn’t use social media.

4 June 11

Football clubs should adopt LinkedIn as social media channel

LinkedIn was the subject to a major IPO last week and has seen share prices soar by 110% in just a week. This was particularly interesting as it is one of the first major social networks to go public and really is unexplored waters. For whatever reason, the news made me consider why is LinkedIn often left forgotten by marketers. Having worked in the social media industry for awhile, it tends to be that clients (and companies) just decide to set up a LinkedIn channel along with their new Facebook and Twitter pages, but rarely know why. In keeping with football clubs slow adoption of social media, LinkedIn is barely recognised by the major commercial teams.

Using LinkedIn for Sports social media

LinkedIn recently hit the 100 million members mark and with it’s recent success in the market, it needs to be taken seriously. 

Sure, LinkedIn is typically less social than Twitter and Facebook. And yes, most of your colleagues and business contacts probably don’t care about your football team, so why would you ever bring that aspect of your personal life into a predominantly business-focused/recruitment platform? But that doesn’t excuse ‘social media chiefs’ ignoring it altogether.

A very quick search shows that there is a demand and there already communities set up. A ‘Manchester United Supporters' group has near 2.5k members, the Arsenal equivalent has 2.1k. These are unofficial groups moderated by fans, but set up for the purpose of like-minded supporters to connect with each another, and potentially do business whilst expanding their own personal network. By using a shared interest in football, it creates a casual and comfortable first point of contact in which relationships are already created. We all know that businesses exploit this bond between fans, if in doubt, just look at the number of corporate hospitality tickets on sale every season. The fans do use the channels, and they clearly want to connect with other supporters, despite the more formal nature of LinkedIn.

But how can football clubs manage these channels I hear you ask, and more importantly why?

An excellent example of LinkedIn working for sports can be found in the Celtic FC Business Network (Sorry, can’t help but be heavily biased!). The group is set up and run officially by the Scottish club’s new business/corporate hospitality department. Although it currently only has just under 200 members, this officially sanctioned LinkedIn group states that:

The group will provide a platform for you to make valuable connections, take part in discussions,receive exclusive content and find out about the latest initiatives going on at the club. In addition to this you’ll get up to date information about hospitality, sponsorship, events and networking”

More importantly, the club has supported the group by launching an offline lunch event at Celtic Park for members to network with each another, listen to keynote speakers, meet the Celtic CEO and do business with like minded Celtic fans. It’s first event sold out with 200 (more than their actual LinkedIn presence) turning up in Glasgow to support the innovative initiative. More impressively, the club has reached out to those who attended and asked for feedback about what they want to get from future events.

I think it’s a fantastic use of LinkedIn to just connect fans closer to the club both socially and commercially, but it adds real purpose to their social media and taps into a market that perhaps never use the likes of Facebook or Twitter. If football is a business, then clubs need to get their act together and starting interacting on LinkedIn - a specifically business oriented channel.

6 April 11

Messi grabs 6.6 million Facebook fans in 3 hours.

In just over 3 hours, arguably the worlds best football player, Leo Messi, opened an official Facebook page and has reached 6 million Facebook fans. Messi did get a little help from Barcelona’s 12 million strong page.

This places him currently as the 7th largest following for Athletes on Facebook, though he has a long way to go to beat Cristiano Ronaldo's staggering 23 million fans. 

Source: SocialBakers 

UPDATE: Well worth checking out this article from Kristian Gotsche about how these stats very well may be twisted. Although Messi technically did get 6.6 million followers in 3 hours, it looks more likely that his account absorbed (via brand copywright enforcement) an unofficial fanpage and it’s followers to reach this number.

(Source: thenextweb.com)

5 April 11

How will social media and sports TV work? Here’s a few ideas…

I recently came across a video by Sports Business blogger, Russell Scibetti at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona. Russell gave an example of how very soon we can expect to see social media (more specifically online audience participation) working alongside sports broadcasting. It’s something that I predict will become immensely huge within the next 2 years. Sports fans love statistics, and they love opinions, that’s why so many read blogs or the papers. However, there’s an increasing trend to micro-blog during live sports events via Facebook and Twitter. This goldmine of fan created content is waiting to be tapped into and there is massive potential for how broadcasters can be creative in delivering the very latest “buzz” across social media. Here are a few ideas:

Hashtag co-ordination

A simple enough concept but this will be the first step for sports broadcasters to motivate their audience to create conversations in-play. It only takes a prompt somewhere on the screen, or a presenter to explain that fans can follow what’s being said by contributing to a game specific hashtag. Whilst this is easy to do on Twitter, on Facebook it is a little more complex. Sports broadcasters could integrate their own Facebook page into their official website and use the social plugins available so the audience could leave their opinions in the commentary box. With all this data in one easy to find hashtag, broadcasters could then select appropriate comments and show them on screen.

Sky Sports Fanzone used to show fans SMS messages, so why not bring this back but enhance it with social media?

Retweet/Like competition for match decisions

This idea involves simplifying how broadcasters can compile opinion, and also exploit the competitive nature of sport rivalry. Rather than ask for comments, broadcasters could simply offer A or B answers to a questions via individual tweets, and then urge their followers to retweet/Like whichever answer they think is best. This could be used for matters such as:

  • Which team will win tonight? [Followed by two separate tweets such as ‘Man Utd will win, RT me if you agree’]
  • What the 87th minute goal offside or onside?
  • Who would you start upfront today against the opposition?

TV broadcasters could then calculate the number of RT’s/Likes very quickly and bring this up as a in-game stat. So whenever there is a contentious decision, TV could show immediately what their Facebook or Twitter users thought within a few minutes.

Fancast video blogging

Ok, so maybe this would be a bit unrealistic and difficult to moderate, but I’d love to see fans urged to make quick video commentaries about the sporting event. With the rise of smartphone users, this could be done quickly and easily. Fans already give their opinion on phone-ins, and sometimes we get brief interviews with fans pre-match, but I want to see more. Watching fans (even if the camera quality is a bit rubbish) talking passionately is both engaging and humorous. Most of the time, I find myself agreeing with my fans rather than the pundits. We already see it on YouTube, so why not bring it TV? Perhaps fans could even upload their video with a hashtag and then fellow supporters vote on their favourite video to be shown on air?

What idea do you have for using social media on sports TV? Leave a comment about what you want to see.

1 April 11
25 March 11

Marseille and adidas let fans pick Kit design to celebrate reaching 1m Facebook fans

The French Ligue 1 club promised their fans an special surprise if they could hit 1,000,000 Facebook likes on their official page. The Marseillais faithful did their job and as a reward for their loyalty the club revealed that they would let the fans pick the 2011-2012 kit.

For the past week, fans have been logging on to the Adidas led - miteam.com website and using the Flash web app to fully customise their dream Marseille jerseys. Throughout, a select panel of Marseille and Adidas officials have acted as a jury to select the best three designs of the day and on the 21st March, fans will be able to vote on their favourite. 

This is a brilliant example of not only motivating fans to follow official club channels, but a fantastic piece of engagement that lets fans get involved with the decision-making processes of the club. For the past number of years football clubs and manufacturers have seen their designs leaked online to websites like FootballShirtCulture.com, often sparking debate among fans. This is a step forward in how clubs should deal with prospective shirt designs.

Although the miteam.com website doesn’t allow full customisation, it does allow fans to pick the colours and collar style (the results of which should be interesting since there has always been a bit of a stylistic divide between fans regarding having a collar or not). Whilst this is an excellent bit of social media, it is also a a very shrewd piece of marketing. Fans can have their say and perhaps feel more empowered to go out and buy the shirt. It breaks down that stereotypical divide of the corporate fat-cat club and the hard-working loyal fan. Hopefully the UK takes note and we see a similar display of innovation.

PS. As the photo shows, I can see why the fans would want to design their own shirts!

(Source: theuksportsnetwork.com)

22 March 11

An insight into how Facebook could be used during sports broadcasts. Expect to see in the future very soon.

(Source: thebusinessofsports.com)

17 March 11

Interview: Ryan Knapp (Manager of Digital, NSCAA)

This week I have been very lucky to get a chance to chat with the NSCAA Manager of Digital, Ryan Knapp over in the US. The NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) is the largest football coach organisation in the world, with over 30,000 members. The role of the organisation is to provide guidance, support and training for coaching at all levels within the sport, as well as provide a national recognition system for college and high school teams, players and coaches across the US.           

How has social media changed the way the NSCAA and it’s members communicate with each another internally?

RK: “The focus of the NSCAA is on coaching education. With that being said, we use social media as a tool for coaches to communicate with each other. There is a huge amount of information to be shared between coaches from all over the United States and we hope that social media can help facilitate those conversations between coaches.

Coaches want to talk x’s and o’s, practice plans, skills and drills and give match recaps and analysis. We have not yet gone into training coaches specifically on the uses of social media, but it is a topic that I definitely am interested in exploring further (personally speaking!).

The one-on-one interaction that is key in social media has been at the core of the NSCAA mission since we were founded in 1941. We embrace peer-to-peer learning and collaboration in our coaching education and development so for us, we’ve been able to extend those ideals easily into the realm of social media.”

How is the NSCAA using social media to aid football coaching US?

RK: “We use social media to find those coaches who need our help the most. By using simple twitter searches and different alerts, I come across people who are having trouble teaching their players to score, for instance. I will send a message about what they need help with and I work to get them the answers they are looking for.”

Are there plans to provide a structured academic course on social media use for coaches?

RK: We do not currently have a focused NSCAA social media course for coaches. My good friend Amanda Vandervort and I presented a talk “Social Media for Soccer Coaches" at the last NSCAA Convention in Baltimore and received great feedback. Possibly in the future we can incorporate different types of social media education into the courses.  

What has been the largest challenge for managers adopting social media? (What’s the most common problem/question?)

RK: Many coaches, especially in the collegiate level, are worried about the time and effort it takes to keep up.  You have to explain to a coach who is already working 60+ hours a week why they should spend another five to update social media channels and grow a presence. Luckily, the most successful campaigns work alongside the Sports Information Department and Sports Information Directors (SID's) to ensure the communications coming from the coaches reach the most eyeballs.

Along the same vein, many question “Why would someone want to know what I’m thinking?" or the common "Who wants to know what I had for dinner?" Those conversations usually take a little bit longer.

How has social media affected player recruitment?

RK: Social media is changing rapidly, and the NSCAA is attempting to keep up on this topic. Amanda wrote a great piece on this for the NSCAA blog a few months back. It makes player recruiting a bit tricky in that coaches and schools need to understand how they are contacting certain athletes and on what sites they engage athletes. The NCAA has released some guidelines on social media and recruiting but expect those guidelines to change yearly as social media technologies continue to evolve and change.

 

At the minute it seems to be mainly players who have got on the social media bandwagon, but it makes sense that managers (particularly those at grass roots level) start to use social media as both a co-ordination and press tool. Platforms like Facebook events or Twitter hashtags could in theory be used by managers to broadcast to their players and other coaches to organise training, matches or promote the game at a lower level. Equally, at a higher level it’s already been speculated that social media could replace traditional post match press conference (I’m sure Fergie would prefer that!). Players already are, so why not managers?

With regards to social media recruitment, watch this space as I’ll be covering this very soon.

10 March 11

Stadiums need to be optimised for matchday social media

Football stadiums already provide the traditional media with press boxes and pitch side photographer dugouts. They are offered facilities to see the best of the action and get a story written within minutes of the game finishing. If I miss a game and I’m stuck some remote location without access to TV or radio, I can always log onto many of the different news websites, see the photos, read the match report and even hear the manager’s post-match interview. All through my smartphone. But like all things in this digital age, this can often take 20 or 30 minutes to actually get online and modern digital consumers simply don’t have that kind of patience.

The best place for the most up to date and quickest content? Online fan communities.

I always get my team news, goal updates and even videos of the goals (Captured from a fan’s seat!) on the likes of Twitter, Facebook or an unofficial messageboard. I value the digital content from these places more because I feel an affinity with and trust my fellow fans opinion (let’s face it, we want to hear ‘that it was never a penalty’ regardless whether it was the right decision!). So why do clubs not use this?

I can already hear football marketing and PR experts biting their nails with worries about fans showing up the club by tweeting profanities, but it would be wreckless and naive to just select any old fan and not have some kind of policy in place. So here is my plan:

Social media volunteers

Any community manager or marketing executive can find volunteers to help develop the clubs official social media. Treat them like employees, do a background check, ensure they understand the clubs social media policy and be a good judge of character. There are plenty of fans who love their club and have enough sense to know what they can, and cannot say, when they represent the team. Ideally, source these people to be the clubs brand ambassadors. There are literally hundreds of forum moderators, bloggers and social media commentators out there who would love the chance to get involved. The size of the team is obviously dependant on the size of your fanbase.

Social media mission control

As I said, the media have press boxes, so treat your team in the same manner. Create a location in the stadium from which your social media team (and your full time community manager) can work comfortably. NHL team, New Jersey Devils, recently pioneered this scheme by setting up a ‘command centre' where team members (Fans) could monitor traffic and metrics, what's been said on social media channels, answer questions, create content and watch the game - all at once. I think it's a great piece of innovation so check it out.

Matchday content

Get creative with content and tailor match videos, images and web copy to specific matches. Use Twitter to both crowd source potential ideas as well as listening to the pre-game opinions of the fans. Let your team do viral, quick and impromptu video interviews (that can be uploaded without editing) with fans and staff. Let them relay the atmosphere to those who can’t be in the stadium. Heck, even crowd source the DJ!

Sort out your connection

It’s all very well having social media campaigns on match day, but having travelled and visited numerous stadiums around the UK, I’m always faced with the same problem. No WiFi. No 3G. Fans like to do things as they wait for kick-off, they like to upload a photo from their seat to Facebook, they like to use geo-check in to let their friends know they are at the game. Similarly, many like to report goals and incidents from the stadium to media and message boards worldwide. But they can’t do any of that if the stadium’s WiFi or 3G is severely over-burdened to the point it no longer works. I can understand that it may be costly to improve such services but you have to balance that cost with the potential of global, real-time marketing and viral presence.

If stadiums can get their act together and utilise the thousands of social media users at their disposal, they could massively increase their presence, engage their fans and improve the matchday experience at a relatively low cost. 

Stadium social media optimisation.

4 March 11

NBA team sells off tweets & Facebook status updates

Ok, so this isn’t football based or even UK based, but I think this could be a dangerous precedent. I tend to believe that US sports franchises like the NBA and NFL, do a brilliant job of engaging their fans and utilising social media effectively. As such, UK sports tend to lag behind a little, so I like to look at what’s going on across the pond for the very latest innovation.

Phoenix Suns

Forbes put up an excellent article regarding the NBA’s hugely successful use of social media. If you don’t follow the NBA, check them out. I could write all day about how awesome the NBA social media strategy is, but if you are interested in it then check out this case study for a quick overview.

However, half way through the Forbes article I noticed this,

The Phoenix Suns have sold Social Media Suite packages to local companies trying to expand the visibility of their businesses. A $7000 investment gets 20 tickets to a suite, six parking passes, food and beverages, and the opportunity to become a Suns digital marketing partner. The digital marketing includes the right to make two Facebook status updates to the Suns’ 229,000+ fans and three Twitter mentions on the @PhoenixSuns feed to their more than 45,000 followers.”

This immediately worries me. As a sports fan (and NBA fan), I highly value their social media. Sure, like any commercial outfit they have ulterior motives to sell merchadise and ticket sales, but I don’t mind that as long as there’s a healthy balance.  The whole corporate hospitality side of things is business as usual and I’ve no problem with, but other businesses paying to tweet? No thanks.

Yes, it might only be restricted to local businesses, and perhaps there’s a policy in which the businesses have to follow (ideally - no selling!), but there’s just something uncomfortable and not-genuine about paying to have access to an social media audience. Phoenix Suns fans follow their accounts because they have an affinity with the club, not Bobs Carwash. If the Suns didn’t charge and did this to support local small business then I’d be really pleased, nice to see a sports team supporting local business. Anyway, I’d like to think that a local business could use £7,000 more creatively to get the best out of social media.

In a footballing sense, I get the impression that a few big clubs out there would like this as an alternative revenue stream. I hope they don’t follow suit, particularly as many already spam feeds with their own sales never mind somebody else.

PS. The same Forbes article mentions this excellent bit of fan engagement from the Detroit Pistons.

25 February 11

Interview: Tony Hamilton (Digital Director at Celtic FC)

Why one of Europe’s largest football clubs is taking social media very seriously.

I posted early this month that football clubs were failing to adopt social media, and often their idea of social media is broadcasting their RSS feed across their official channels. I’m a firm believer that clubs need to engage their fans more than ever online, but do so in the appropriate manner. So, I was extremely grateful this week to get an insight into how a major football club views social media and interview Tony Hamilton, the man behind Celtic FC’s social media.

On the digital Celtic fanbase

TH: Firstly, the Celtic cyber community is unique – have a look about, no one else has the organisation and massive scale that the Celtic support has. Anything the club attempted to do was never intended to be in competition. We could never compete for several reasons, but mainly because that community is pretty self-sufficient and anything we did would be to compliment what already was there, never replace it.

What is Celtic’s thinking behind the social media strategy?

TH: The plan to adopt social media was because we can relate to the value in it, in terms of having a conversation, engaging and, where appropriate, acting. For far too long some have accused the club of “not listening”. I think that’s unfair when you consider the amount of interactions that are undertaken every day throughout the club. 

However, there was a genuine need to engage and communicate (talking and listening) with supporters through social media and, in particular, converse with those demographically who do not regularly use the traditional Celtic Media such as the website, Channel 67 or the Celtic View. Other than a few plugs for Channel 67 (mainly because I can’t help myself), there has never been a commercial message on Facebook. We know that in the fullness of time it will become a useful marketing tool but we also know that if we use it only as a way to push sales it will fail. That’s not its purpose and it’s not our intention to abuse it, but we must take advantage of it as being an effective way to communicate.

On the timing

TH: The move into the social media sector is one, believe it or not, that I had always intended. It never really came about as quick as I would have liked, primarily because there was always a deadline for something else and the production of The Official History, for example, rolled over and that knocked on a few other projects. Also, we are not rich with the resources needed to do this like some English clubs have done and when we got to launch Facebook we were aware of the commitment and what we would need to do.

The club’s Facebook growth since it started

TH: I think the growth is pleasing but we need to be realistic. It’s not surprising to us that starting at zero and climbing to c50,000 after six weeks is going to skew the statistics. Having said that I am happy that we are on track, though, by comparison to others around us, we have a long way to go.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

TH: The biggest challenge, even with this 50,000, is ensuring that everyone who has an opinion can be heard. The challenge in that has been that the language that is ‘every day’ in some social media circles but would be inappropriate for an official Celtic page. Other football clubs have chosen to let anything go but we haven’t. My view is that we would never tolerate foul or abusive language anywhere else at the club so we shouldn’t subject our supporters, who may be offended, to it on any given social media channel. 

Having said that, people can pretty much say what they like (without swearing!). We don’t remove posts because we don’t like what has been said – we remove them because they are offensive. If, however, there’s a criticism levelled at us then that’s fine – if it’s not a personal/abusive attack on anyone (inside or outside the club) then people can have their say. If we deviate from that ‘rule’ then there’s no point in continuing. No one likes being criticised but if it is a legitimate point of view then it stays.

How has the club found using the Facebook platform?

TH: Setting up wasn’t particularly difficult and we’ve already re-designed once and there is more to come. I like the look of the Arsenal one, which your blog highlighted, and the plan further down the line would be to have individual player pages hosted by the main, official page. We’re a bit away from that, though. Facebook’s own profanity filtering software (a few years too late) has eased that pain since mid February when it works and the real challenge has been helping people who have chosen to ask for help via Facebook, as opposed to, for example, the FAQs section on CelticFC.net. The volume of that at 50,000 is reasonably intense. I lie awake wondering what it will be like when we overtake Manchester United!

What has been the most rewarding aspect of using social media?

TH: The most rewarding aspect, on a personal level, has to be not having to answer this question: ‘when are we getting an official Facebook page?’ The big reward, in all seriousness, is that our supporters and the social media demographic in particular, are very happy that we have taken this step. It is important that we adopt this policy to engage, not because ‘everyone else is doing it’, but because it is the right thing for us. It would be wrong for any organisation to claim to know its customers but it would be equally wrong not to try and know their needs.


While we will continue to develop and grow the official site we will also expand our conversations through channels such as Facebook and Twitter. For too long we’ve been pushing news and other messages and only getting feedback second hand, through other, unofficial media. I like engaging/debating/arguing/starting fights in empty houses and I love talking about Celtic so this isn’t a hardship for me.   

What can we expect from the Celtic iPhone app?

TH: The iPhone app is being tested. My plan is that it will carry news, some audio content and some Channel 67 content with certain territories varying from others depending on rights. We are quite excited about the first one but I’m a bit nervous too, having read so many poor reviews of other clubs’ offerings. That’s why it’s taking so long. It needs to be right. 

The official club Twitter account

TH: I have an unofficial Twitter page at the moment - @polishturnstile – and the plan is that when we have everything in place we will have an official Celtic page, which will also contain mine and one or two others. Before we move to that, though, we need to be sure we have the resources and the plan to ensure it prospers. We are working on that at the moment.

Any chance of a ‘fan map’?

TH: I hadn’t seen the Manchester City map before. Since I saw it I’ve ‘asked for one’. I’m hopeful I’ll get one soon.

What support have you had from within/outside the club?

TH: The club, from the top down, are very supportive and are very keen to see that this is delivered properly and effectively. I’ll continue to take advice from my social media mentor, Dr Jim Hamill, who helped me through my MBA at the University of Strathclyde and who knows more than most about social media. And he’s a big Celtic fan too, which makes my life a bit easier.

I really appreciate Tony taking the time to answer some of my questions regarding how the club is progressing, it would’ve been much easier to ignore my request. It’s clear from the interview (and the social media channels they have set up) that Celtic certainly understand how and why social media should be used, and I think that should be applauded. The fact that Tony was willing to discuss the strategy and happy for me to publish it on my blog, does go to show that Celtic are backing up their ethos of using social media to truly engage and communicate their fan base. This isn’t a case of a club talking about engagement but not actually acting. Tony made it very clear, even before my questions, that the club believed social media should be primarily about communicating with the fans, not selling to them.

As Tony suggests, the club has come under fire from its supporters with accusations that they don’t listen. I myself wondered for several months why the club had not yet got involved with social media. But, the club has magnificently delivered in recent weeks and as a fan, it’s been well worth the wait. It’s refreshing to see a football club act and talk so openly about their digital aspirations as well as have an excellent understanding how social media should be used. Hopefully more football clubs can adopt the same open-house strategy and avoid the usual content/merchandise broadcast.

What are your thoughts? Should football clubs be more open about their digital strategies? Leave a comment.

Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh