DS Manchester: How Man United changed the game & the line between fun and banter

A packed room, expert opinions on social media & sport and watching Liverpool dismantle Roma in the Champions League semi-final. A successful third Digital Sport Manchester event, sponsored by Opta, took place at the HQ of social media agency Social Chain last night.

We brought together 50+ people interested in one of those key topics that, especially brands, seems to be holy grail: how to engage with the next gen, or Gen Z, who have taken on the mantle reserved for a long time by ‘millennials’.

In reality we covered much more than this and could easily run another two or three events just on social media alone. So widespread is it, it has developed so many narratives of its own. What we did talk about was that tweet from the FA Cup account over the weekend, the Pogba / Stormzy link-up that changed the landscape forever, Opta’s success in marketing b2b through conventionally b2c channels and tips for those listening to take home at the end of the night.

But we started the night off with a presentation from Social Chain’s Oli Yonchev with his engaging presentation on how to win the hearts and minds of the next generation, one he has delivered at this year’s Marketing Week Live and YMS London.

Expectation is a huge part of determining how happy we are

Happiness was a big part of Oli’s talk. Though much of what we hear about the next-gen can be negative and pessimistic, he was at pains to show to that we actually have a very optimistic generation of young people who are ultimately chasing ‘happiness’. And a big determining factor in this is expectation.

If you are expecting something to happen and it doesn’t then chances are you’re going to unhappy. If the reverse happens then you will probably be happy. No big shocks there. But for brands, teams, etc who are looking to engage with them then setting expectations and keeping them is going to be an ongoing battle to achieve. They have high expectations of us these days.

There’s a fine line between fun content and banter

A topic I was keen to bring up due to it being in the news these past few days, was the FA Cup tweet that caused so much furore over the weekend. We had a long discussion on how we desire personality and cut-through in our content on social media, but as soon as this happens from ‘official’ accounts such as teams and rights holders, then they are shot down for it.

The feedback to this on LinkedIn has been very interesting (please do add yours to the mix) with a dilemma being faced by all. But being on the right side of this approach is key. The feeling was that the tone has to be reflective of that of the organisation / brand. So for Sporf to be filled with light-hearted banter is fine, but The FA with its stuffy image will find it hard to move far from this. Something like The FA Cup is too close to get away from this but you could maybe do it with the Carabao Cup.

Most planned content never sees the light of day, but it still needs planning

Planning is key to being successful on social media. For the World Cup in Brazil, Adidas filmed and created a huge bank of content to cover all situations. Most of it will never have been used but it means they were prepared. For Opta they have to be able to react quickly and deliver context to almost any situation – an expectation they have set for themselves over the years. But they know that most situations and stats will not be relevant for that game, but they have to be prepared just in case.

The Paul Pogba transfer changed the landscape and showed how you can merge football and music, and be culturally relevant on social

You can’t have a talk about social media and football without mentioning the Paul Pogba transfer to Manchester United in the summer of 2016. It not only moved the bar higher than ever before but showed how you can take something like the football transfer and move it into other areas to extend its reach and appeal.

Simon Farrant summed it up brilliantly when he said that the campaign made United fans proud to be associated with the club again. It had been a tough three years since Alex Ferguson retired and the mood around the club was not great. But the way in which it was teased out, the news headlines it generated, the integration of Adidas-backed musicians such as Stormzy suddenly started conversations way outside of the football sphere. A great case study that will be used for years to come.

Understand your audience, be consistent and join the conversation as it’s happening

As we came to the end of the panel, and the imminent start to the Champions League game, we tried to sum up one tip each about engaging with fans using social media. They have all been mentioned previously but are worth pulling out for their individual importance.

About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 820 posts

Dan is the Founder & CEO of Digital Sport. Can be found at sports industry events and heard every week on the Digital Sport Insider podcast. @DanielMcLaren

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