Category Archives: Social Media

Head to head – Is content creation creating competition between clubs and the press?

After recent events at Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest and Port Vale you could be forgiven for thinking football clubs have lost the plot.

For a long time clubs and their local newspapers have been locked in a mutually beneficial if not always entirely comfortable relationship. The very definition of you scratch my back, I scratch yours.

However nowadays orders are being handed down from the boardroom to ban journalists for perceived indiscretions, no matter how minor, on an alarmingly regular basis. It’s easy to ascribe these decisions to touchy owners but could there be something beyond that which is straining the relationship between the two parties?

Nottingham Forest City Ground

Forest have limited the access that the media have to the club this season

While reports of the death of local media have been exaggerated it’s no secret that the landscape is changing. Budgets are being cut and newsrooms are shrinking. Compare that with football, where every new TV deal pumps yet more money into the game. The big sides have never been richer and they’re branching out. They’re creating content.

The club website is no longer just a portal for the latest injury news and match reports. Money is being invested in media teams. The ease at which video and audio can be produced has resulted in clubs launching their own online TV channels, streaming live commentary and producing their own apps to bring fans closer to the game.

Clubs are no longer reliant on traditional media channels to connect with supporters. Clubs can not only tell stakeholders what is going on but they can exert more control over their messages by cutting out the middle man.

Reacting to criticism about Nottingham Forest’s decision to limit the amount of access the local press has to the club, Media and Communications Manager Ben White said: “We have a media team of our own who are fully focused on keeping fans updated.” In other words, we don’t need the local press because we’re quite capable of telling the fans what’s happening ourselves.

I ask again, are these bans simply about punishing unruly hacks or are they about something more? Are they about competition?

If clubs turn content creators where does that leave the press?

The moment that clubs begin to produce their own content they come into conflict with the local press. They’re competing for readers and, more importantly, revenue. Traditional media outlets can draw supporters away from visiting official channels, thus depriving clubs of the opportunity to monetise these followers with cannily placed adverts for match tickets or the latest replica shirt. It’s no surprise that some owners feel charging journalists for access is the way forward.

In reality this battle is nothing new. Teams have long had designs on breaking into traditional media. The matchday programme is ever-present outside stadiums across the country, many clubs have attempted to produce their own magazines with varying degrees of success and some even have their own satellite TV channels  that cater for the most ardent fans.

None of these types of media are as pervasive, affordable or accessible as the internet and at no point in the past have regional media outlets been so vulnerable.

This is an opportunity that clubs will have to seize upon but as they turn content creators where does that leave the local football hack they’ve shown so much contempt for?


30 per cent of Premier League followers are fake

Is popularity the best measure of success? Maybe in some cases, but in the world of social media it’s fraught with problems.

Following on from my last blog, I decided to look at the follower numbers of Premier League clubs in a bit more detail. Is this particular vanity metric everything it seems?

Fake followers are an increasing problem. The black market for them is worth an estimated $360 million a year. Unsurprisingly websites have began to spring up to help users monitor their own dodgy fans.


Fake followers are big business

With the help of, and because I had nothing better to do with my Monday night, I set about finding out the percentage of fake followers each club has. It is worth pointing out that the clubs in question probably haven’t acquired these followers in an underhand way, but have been targeted by bots because of their popularity.

The results are as follows:

Followers Fake Inactive Active
Arsenal 2,672,000 43% 32% 25%
Aston Villa 203,000 31% 35% 34%
Cardiff City 65,000 17% 35% 48%
Chelsea 2,676,000 37% 30% 33%
Crystal Palace 57,000 18% 40% 42%
Everton 242,000 30% 38% 32%
Fulham 163,000 32% 42% 26%
Hull City 50,000 20% 40% 40%
Liverpool 1,941,000 31% 31% 38%
Manchester City 1,151,000 38% 33% 29%
Manchester Utd 872,000 30% 27% 43%
Newcastle United 284,000 32% 39% 29%
Norwich City 142,000 28% 42% 30%
Southampton 141,000 29% 39% 32%
Stoke City 135,000 30% 42% 28%
Sunderland 162,000 34% 44% 22%
Swansea City 154,000 26% 38% 36%
Tottenham 630,000 31% 37% 32%
West Bromwich Albion 96,000 27% 41% 32%
West Ham United 212,000 29% 40% 31%

It’s pretty apparent fake followers are a problem for all clubs to some degree. On average clubs have 602,400 followers, 30 per cent of which are duff.

Is this a big problem for clubs? Fake followers do nothing for credibility, however football teams are in a privileged position compared to other brands. The damage probably isn’t as severe for those as it is others, however it has repercussions on engagement particularly when tallied with the number of dead accounts. Take Arsenal, who can boast over 2,672,000 followers, but only 25 per cent of those are active. Only 668,000 people are getting the message.

And, of course, this exercise just further highlights the folly of putting so much stock in this sort of metric. Followers mean little if your content isn’t engaging, but they mean even less if a third of them don’t exist either.

How do you measure the quality of a club’s social media output?

Last night I stumbled into a Twitter conversation involving Sean Walsh, Steven Cole, Daniel Maurin and Tom Chaplin, the genesis of which was this blog post by Social Pundit. The topic was a familiar one – how can you accurately measure the quality of a football club’s social media output?

I say familiar because this is a question I’ve seen asked, been asked and asked myself more times than I care to remember. And I’m still struggling to find a satisfactory answer.

Measurement is the next hurdle those involved in digital communications will need to get over and because there is no standard to compare against it’s proving to be tough. However the privileged position of football clubs mean it could be even more difficult to get an idea of how they’re doing online.

celebrating football fans

The Social Pundit blog post was a stats gathering exercise, not an attempt to evaluate a club’s use of Twitter and Facebook, however there is still a lot of stock put in vanity metrics. Using the number of followers accrued as a guide for quality of output is foolish at the best of times, however football clubs are not your typical brands. Fans will always follow their team, even if the content they share isn’t particularly engaging. They’re brand evangelists.  Newcastle United command over half a million followers on Twitter and Facebook despite the fact their social media strategy is derided by supporters.

Could services that claim to measure influence, such as Klout and PeerIndex, help grade the quality of what clubs post online? Not really, at least not in my experience (says the man who produces a Social Media Premier League table based on the results provided by the aforementioned websites). All these services can do is give you a vague idea of how the land lies, but they’re unable to make a call on the quality of content. Only we, the users, can make the judgement on whether what is being shared is truly engaging.

I’ve previously tried to survey supporters and gather their views on their club’s use of social media. While this method allows you to get feedback directly from the stakeholders with which the club is attempting to engage it is still problematic. Issues with social media strategies can become magnified if things aren’t going right on the pitch (for example, I once had a respondent say their biggest gripe with their club’s social media output was lack of signings!) and conversely many supporters can become defensive if they feel their club is being harshly scrutinised.

Many clubs will have their own criteria by which they evaluate their social media use, such as ROI. Making a business case for social media is important, but are they going far enough in trying to understand what they’re are doing well and what they aren’t? Until there is some sound evaluation methodology in place you’d have to assume many clubs aren’t.

Louis Saha announces his retirement on Twitter

Is this another Twitter first? We’ve had signings, we’ve had new contracts and today we’ve seen a professional player announce his retirement after a series of tweets from the ex-Man United and Fulham striker Louis Saha.

The French striker, who was without a club after being released by Lazio, clearly thought his fans deserved to hear the news first. He forwent the usual method of informing the media and decided instead to broadcast directly to his 350,000 followers.

Top 5 close season Twitter campaigns

Missing the beautiful game? Sick of preseason? Don’t worry, the lads and lasses on Twitter have you covered.

The football may have stopped, but community managers are still working hard to ensure that fans are as engaged as they possibly can be during the off-season.

Here are five of the best:

Football fans are romantics. They’re suckers for history and love reading about past glories, which means Fulham’s 50 Moments series is a winner. The club have used a combination of their website and social media to bring the history of the club to life.

The staggered nature of the series keeps fans visiting the website regularly at a time when football news may be at a minimum, but details of preseason games are being finalised, kits launched and commercial deals announced.

Everton fan cup

Everton have challenged fans to show their love for the Toffees by sending the club photos of them flying their colours. The best 32 will then go head to head with supporters voting on the winner.

Fans are encouraged to engage on two levels – as competitors and as voters. Those fans who make it to the last 32 are expected to try and drum up support for their entry too, helping spread the message about the Fan Cup and creating a bit of friendly competition.

  • #LFCPubQuiz

Liverpool’s social media efforts have been one of the best in the league for quite some time, mixing innovative ways of engaging supporters with genuinely interesting content. The #LFCPubQuiz is no different.

As you might have guessed from the hashtag, fans are asked to answer a series of questions with the individual who gets the most right winning a prize. The real joy comes from the difficulty of the questions, which seek to reward supporters who really know their onions.

Simple, but effective.

  • Favourite player from previous Premier League seasons 

Crystal Palace went back in time in an effort to find a way to build even more excitement after their promotion to the top flight.

They asked their Twitter followers to pick out their favourite player from previous Premier League campaigns, selecting the most frequently mentioned and posting some classic photos to those individuals to their Twitter feed.

That’s one way to get the blood pumping for the new season.

Arsenal Hadouken

When clubs try to hijack to meme it usually looks contrived and doesn’t really work (those Harlem Shake videos, anyone?), but #ArsenalHadouken bucked that trend by encouraging fans to turn the camera on themselves.

After the club did their own photoshoot fans were told they could win a signed shirt if they did their own. The results were mixed but it gave supporters the chance to get creative and meant that there was a steady stream of interesting content floating around online at a time when most discussion among fans is limited to tedious transfer chatter.

Have I missed any other interesting time killers from football clubs this summer? Let me know.

The Social Media Premier League – final standings 2012/13

 peerindex-logo  klout-flag-square-2 TOTAL
1 Arsenal 88 94 91
2 Liverpool 86 94 90
3 Manchester City 85 95 90
4 Chelsea 84 93 88.5
5 Tottenham Hotspur 85 91 88
6 Aston Villa 81 90 85.5
7 Everton 80 91 85.5
8 Sunderland 81 89 85
9 Newcastle United 79 90 84.5
10 Norwich City 81 88 84.5
11 Swansea City 81 88 84.5
12 West Ham United 80 89 84.5
13 Fulham 78 89 83.5
14 West Bromwich Albion 76 89 82.5
15 Queens Park Rangers 75 89 82
16 Stoke City 66 89 77.5
17 Southampton 61 92 76.5
18 Reading 55 88 71.5
19 Wigan Athletic 55 88 71.5

How could Newcastle United take advantage of #ColosParty?

On Wednesday night, while most UK football fans were watching and tweeting about Chelsea’s last gasp victory over Benfica in the Europa League final, a small corner of the country was tweeting relentlessly about a house party in Ponteland.

When Sammy Ameobi posted pictures on his Instagram account showing Newcastle United’s squad enjoying a night in at the Coloccini residence it was always going to generate a stir. Fans started tweeting about the photos using the hashtag #ColosParty and it soon went viral in a huge way. By 11pm it was the top trending topic in the UK, surpassing any mention of Chelsea’s win in Amsterdam.

Colos Party

Sorry Rafa, but we’re top of the league

Some of the tweets were kind, some were cruel but almost all were relentlessly funny and perfectly encapsulated the power and imagination of social media savvy football fans.

These moments aren’t uncommon in themselves but they’re transient. It’s rare a club have such a perfect opportunity to take advantage a movement for PR purposes and build bridges with its support at the same time, so when I saw the popularity of #ColosParty I started to think about ways Newcastle United could do just that.

The most obvious (and laziest) way for NUFC to get in on the #ColosParty action would be to slap the hashtag onto its regular tweets. There’s one problem with this – hijacking hashtags is not popular and the number of adverts the club sends out on social media is the main bugbear of NUFC’s fans. The club wading in and throwing out 2 for 1 offers on NUFC branded shot glasses, affixing #ColosParty to the end of their tweets, would backfire.

It became clear that to exploit this opportunity to the fullest the club would have to look offline. One particular idea stood out to me:

Rename Shearer’s Bar.

Shearer's BarDon’t worry, I don’t mean permanently, just for the final day of the season. Call it Colo’s Bar and after the Arsenal match invite supporters to attend an event called #ColosParty.

This stunt would work for a number of reasons – it’s cheap, it’d be easy to organise even at such short notice and the story would be guaranteed to generate column inches across the local and national press in addition to chatter on social media. It would also give the club a chance to pay tribute to those supporters which made #ColosParty the most talked about topic on Twitter for a short while and act as an opportunity to celebrate the NUFC career of a very popular player.

What would the benefit for the club be? Well, it would increase footfall in Shearer’s Bar on the day of the match while reinforcing the bar’s identity as the premier NUFC themed venue in the city. Furthermore it would show Newcastle’s commitment to listening to supporters on social media channels which is something that the club has so far struggled to do.

So, does Colo’s Bar sound like a good idea? Let me know below.

York City star discusses contract talks on Facebook

We’ve seen social media used by clubs to push through transfer deals before, but York City winger Matty Blair may have just taken it to the next level – he’s used his Facebook page to discuss his current contract situation.

As it became apparent he might not be offered a new deal the chatter began amongst fans. Blair took to Facebook to let the York City support know what the situation was:

matty blair york city facebook

This isn’t the first time a player has ‘set the record straight’ via social media but it’s unusual for either a club or a player to be so candid about contract talks. Blair’s desire to let the fans know what is going on was certainly appreciated by York City supporters (as of writing their are 164 comments on his status, almost all of which are overwhelmingly positive. He’s clearly a popular lad) but it might not be so warmly welcomed by the club.

Interview: Andy Hudson – Media and Communications Manager @ Hebburn Town FC

Hebburn Town FC

I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend this month’s Soccerex conference but from what I can gather, from the media reports and tweeting those who attended, it sounds like the game’s fling with social media is about to develop into a fully fledged love affair. Discussion about digicomms was front and centre of the conference, with Lewis Wiltshere’s 30 minute presentation about Twitter supplemented by talks from AS Roma and AC Milan about their social media success.

But what about those clubs who don’t command gates in the thousands and don’t have vast sums of cash to throw at community management? How do they use social media?

A handful non-league clubs have began to recognise the potential value of digitisation and have taken to social media with gusto. Northern League side Hebburn Town are one of these few. I spoke to Andy Hudson (@HuddoHudson), who juggles his role as Media and Communications Manager with other commitments, about what makes social media such an important part of their communications strategy, the benefits it’s brought to Hebburn Town and why other clubs need to follow suit.

MB: What’s your role at Hebburn Town FC?

AH: I’m the Media and Communications Manager so I handle all PR, ensure the website is written in the correct tone and has content delivered on time, produce the match reports, ensure there is sufficient coverage in newspapers and a huge number of other things like overseeing the re-branding of the match programme.

How long have Hebburn Town been using social media and on what platforms are the club active?

All social media use started with my arrival at the beginning of the season. The main platform we use is Twitter, however I’m alone in running that account so when I’ve been unable to attend a game then there’s been no output.

We do have a Facebook presence but at the moment that platform is very much in the background due to the benefits of using a platform where immediacy and engagement are key, such as Twitter.

Hebburn Town FC twitter feed

What makes social media attractive to a club like Hebburn Town?

If you don’t look to the future you’ll go backwards. If clubs want to survive they have to bring supporters and sponsors into the club. Before I joined Hebburn it was so difficult to get any information out of the club and almost every club was the same, with no social media output. Many clubs have websites that are underused.

If I’m a supporter or a sponsor looking to dedicate my time to something then I have to know that the investment, whether than be emotional or financial, is of sufficient value that it will be recognised by the football club. If a club can’t be bothered to effectively organise themselves, to let me know what is happening on and off the pitch then why would I bother to invest my time, energy or money in the club? That was my attitude when I joined the club and it is one that I still hold today.

What benefits has using social media brought to the club?

The profile of the club has been given a significant boost. People in Hebburn now know that there is a football club on their doorstep and the perception that non-league equals Sunday League is being erased.

There’s still a long way to go though. The club needs to make sure that the burden of social media isn’t all on one person. We also need to explore other channels such as YouTube and Audioboo so we can provide visual and audio content in addition to the written word. We’re hoping that the media team will begin to grow, with students and those who have an interest in social media using Hebburn to gain experience.

Hebburn Town sponsorship

“If I’m a sponsor I have to know that the investment will be recognised by the football club”

Has there been any negatives to the club’s use of social media?

Not directly, although we’ve had a few instances where supporters and even staff from rival clubs have thought it appropriate to include us in ridiculous correspondence.

We decided to implement a social media policy for players and officials after some instances where emotions were running high and comments were made that we didn’t want associated with the club but apart from that the negatives have been far outweighed by the positives.

Has social media changed the way Hebburn Town engage with supporters in the build up to and on a matchday?

When time and my availability allows then yes, significantly. When I am at games then there are updates, not just of Hebburn goals but of the opposition team’s goals – something other sides rarely do.

Having conversations with fans has led to some making more visits than usual to the Hebburn Sports Ground and in certain cases we’ve encouraged fans to come down and attend their first ever Hebburn Town matches.

The increased profile has meant we’ve got more in the way of column inches in the press too, but it does hang on a thread. I know that once that communication stops then the interest will halt too.

So do you think social media use has helped increase revenue by having an effect on things such as attendance and programme sales?

We’ve seen an increase in attendances and some of that has been to social media with people seeing an updated Twitter account as a sign of a professionally run football club. However I can’t claim all the credit as I’m sure attendances have also increased due to the club’s promotion to the Northern League Division 1.

We’ve also seen an increase in the number of requests for our match programmes since I started to have more involvement with it and since Nenad Mijaljević (@nenadsuperzmaj) brought a real professional look to them with his superb design work.

In your experience is social media something more non-league clubs are turning to in an effort to engage with supporters?

Every non-league club should have some social media presence but it has to be the right type. Too many clubs have an account that an individual runs but it’s effectively their personal account. There should be a clear brand tone-of-voice, a strategy and an understanding of what the club wants to achieve.

Not every club across the Northern League is at the point where they should be just yet but that isn’t their fault. Some clubs don’t have the resources and the Northern League have completely missed the point of social media. At last summer’s AGM they gave a presentation about social media and clubs were told they should just use these platforms for one-way communication.

Clubs must use these tools to connect with supporters, especially those based locally. They need to generate discussion and create a sense of pride in both the town and the team. Too many club officials live in the past and want remain in their comfort zone. Top to bottom in the Northern League this is prevalent, from the League Management Committee through the clubs.

There’s a distinct lack of real engagement. It’s little wonder that prospective supporters are being lost to the game.

Are clubs and governing bodies ready for AR?

Technology is moving at a million miles a minute and as a result so is the impact that it has on the ability of organisations to engage stakeholders via mobile marketing tools. To many it hasn’t been long since they truly got their hands on and heads around social media however that’s no reason not to look forward and ready yourself for what’s on the horizon.

One of the most arresting developments is augmented reality.  While the technology is currently available and accessible its use is still relatively rare, however high profile developments such as Google Glass strongly suggest that AR is about to explode.

Google Glass

Google Glass is one of many AR centric projects in the pipeline

If there was one lesson that football clubs should’ve learnt from the rise of social media it’s that early experimentation with new platforms will allow them to produce better results sooner. Clubs need to be operating alongside their support, if not trailblazing, rather than playing catch up so that they can deliver exciting and imaginative content. The same is true of augmented reality and teams should take advantage of the fact that the match day routine of your average football supporter suggests they are perfectly placed to consume AR content.

Some clubs have already taken the plunge. For example augmented reality has given Manchester City fans the opportunity to get their hands on the FA Cup and the Premier League trophy. While it’s a commendable use of an emerging technology it does little to capture the imagination of how AR could be used by football clubs in future to further engage supporters and encourage them to take action. Getting fans to turn the camera lens away from themselves and towards their environment is where the real power of AR lies.

The ability to unlock information by pointing a viewfinder, whether that be on a smart phone or pair of AR ready glasses, at a physical object is being explored across the pond. NFL clubs have begun rewarding season pass holders with access to exclusive content such as interviews. Aim a phone at a ticket and watch it come to life. Closer to home The Jockey Club have implemented a similar idea to liven up their annual review.

Layar augmented reality

A vision of the future? How Dutch company Layar think AR might look.

How long before pointing your smart phone at a stadium will present you with the latest ticket news or the live score of a match in progress? Or targeting your phone at a player will furnish you with more statistics than you can shake a stick at (and the obligatory advertisement for the kit he’s clad in, obviously)? It can’t be far off and the game has got to be ready to react accordingly.

However being prepared must go beyond simply being ready to take advantage of the undoubted benefits that AR will bring. Clubs and the footballing authorities must be mindful of the wider impact that this technology will have on the game.

While social media has given fans in the stadium a broader view of the match experience, allowing them to gain expert opinion and watch replays while burning their tongue on their half-time Bovril, AR has the potential to take this to another level completely.

Mark Halsey Newcastle United

AR would mean referees have no where to hide when they make a mistake

How would an application that can overlay stats onto visuals in real time, such as whether a player is offside or whether the ball has crossed the goal line after a scramble in the six yard box, and then feed it into the eyes of those in the stands impact upon how matches are officiated? FIFA are understandably reticent to the idea of showing replays of contentious decisions during a match on big screens, however this policy could be rendered completely redundant by the emergence of AR. Having the fans better placed to referee a game than the man with the cards and whistle would be unworkable.

The full potential of AR is a good few years from being realised, however as the old adage goes failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Fans are now weighed down with technology when they enter a stadium and while it presents great opportunities, particularly for clubs to enhance the experience of supporters, the game will face challenges too.