How football clubs can do social media right – and how to avoid disaster

At a time of year when new kits are launched, new signings are announced, and football clubs gear up for the new season, this is the time when fans start to get excited for their team’s prospects for the season ahead.

But the opposite of excitement is anxiety, and if many fans are energised by their team’s preparations, others will be made anxious by their club’s summer business. And that only serves to heighten the depth of fan feeling that clubs have to deal with.

Clubs have always had to deal with fan unrest, but since the advent of social media, that has become more visible. And yet, even in the bubble of the summer transfer window – the silly season wedged between two seasons – clubs still need to engage their fans, provide them with content and just generally keep themselves visible.

That can be hard even when your club is exciting the fans with top signings and solid pre-season preparations. Clubs who try to innovate often face the same accusation of being cringeworthy or embarrassing to their fans on social media. The idea is that those fans will then suffer the ignominy of being goaded by their mates at work who have seen an embarrassing tweet sent from their club’s official account. It might seem puerile, like a group of children teasing one of their schoolfriends because their mum cut the crusts off their ham sandwiches before lovingly putting them into a Power Rangers lunchbox, but in lots of cases, that’s exactly how it works.

Ehsen Shah, director of B Engaged, specialists in athlete marketing & commercial partnerships told us of the difficulties that clubs have in this area.

“Clubs have the toughest job to engage with fans in my opinion,” he said. “There are pressures from commercial side to be ‘on brand’ and pressures from fans to produce unique content which they can enjoy. The balancing act then becomes difficult in order to be creative and be on brand. To date I believe Juventus, AS Roma, Manchester City and Arsenal have achieved this balance in majority of their content – especially video.”

But it’s one thing trying to engage fans throughout the season whenever there’s plenty of football to look forward to and the content produced will have quite a bit of relevance to what fans are looking for when they scroll through their newsfeeds or search for their club online. It’s whenever the summer takes away the competitive games and creates a vacuum for news and meaningful content that things change. That vacuum is taken up by transfer news elsewhere on the internet, but clubs can’t really indulge in that. Instead, they’ve been pouring their creative resources into making videos for transfer announcements, it seems.

“With the announcements I personally think they should be tailored around the personality of the player, are they able to pull off what the club is trying to achieve?” says Shah. “The example of Salah and Liverpool came across as awkward to me, where the player seemed uncomfortable on camera. Manchester United did this well with Pogba last season, and I believe they were behind the videos for Lukaku this season in USA.”

“In my opinion clubs should stay away from jumping on trends. Fans tend to see it as forced content, and tends to get lost in the trend and produce low views and shares.”

That’s good advice for the whole season, not just for the transfer window. Jumping on bandwagons is something football does particularly well on the whole. Not just on the pitch, in terms of tactics and even crowd chants, but also with received opinions and social media engagement. Clubs should always be wary of that.

“Unique content away from trends allow the fans to experience something they have not elsewhere, which usually goes down well. A good example of this was the Tottenham Hotspurs’ Halloween prank, very well executed and around a seasonal holiday so to say.”

Staying away from gaffes and creating genuinely useful and innovative content is only part of the story, though. It might be easier if only clubs had Instagram accounts – but players have them too. And that can pose even greater problems, especially when misunderstandings occur.

We’ve seen plenty of footballer gaffes over the years, but they keep coming. They seem to be something of a professional hazard. Especially when sponsors get involved: footballers might be interested in the sponsorship, but when it comes to sending out a tweet or an Instagram post, it’s harder to keep people interested. Recently, Manchester United’s Daley Blind became yet another high-profile victim of the old copy/paste chestnut.

“This comes down to the management team around the player,” Shah tells me. “There needs to be a good relationship between the marketing team and the player to allow him/her to express his personality through social media whilst having the security of someone else managing it all for them. Encouraging a player to use Instagram stories is a must in today’s evolving social media space, but the player and marketing team should have an understanding that the player should send content to them prior to posting. Almost acting as an insurance policy.”

You can do everything right when it comes to creating great content for your fans, but you also need to make sure your players aren’t just as embarrassing on social.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 232 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and a regular contributor to Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan91

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