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.

Is Sunderland’s statement an ill-judged piece of crisis management?

It’s past midday, so I think we have to assume that the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland’s new boss is not an elaborate April fool.

The news has sparked some pretty fierce reactions among fans and interested observers which is entirely understandable considering the man’s politics. You don’t need to be an expert in PR to know that employing a self-confessed fascist is going to raise a few eyebrows, however Sunderland seem to have been caught on the hop by the response. The club, clearly aggrieved that they’re now at the centre of a media circus, released a bizarre statement this afternoon detailing why they’re being harshly treated.

This appointment was always going to be terribly difficult to justify, however there was a real opportunity for Sunderland to take the heat out of the situation. For a start acknowledge the issue. Despite the club’s protestations that Di Canio’s position has been misrepresented he is famously on record saying that he is a fascist and was pictured several times performing a ‘Roman salute’ during his time at Lazio. Sunderland have committed the cardinal sin of crisis management – they haven’t got their facts right. As a result they’re completely discredited.

Paolo Di Canio salute

The scornful manner in which the press are referred to throughout is quite simply petulant. This is a story not borne out of media mischief, but the actions of Di Canio himself.

Furthermore the club have made it clear that they’ll not entertain any questions about the situation, finishing the statement with the following line:

“Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.”

Has ignoring the elephant in the room ever proven to be a sound public relations tactic? An unwillingness to engage on a particular topic will not make it go away, quite the opposite in fact. Warning journalists off asking about Di Canio’s fascist leanings may make sure his press conferences run a bit smoother but the club are sacrificing what little control they had over the issue. A dangerous decision.

Sunderland’s PR department had an unenviable task when they woke up this morning. Lancing this particular boil was always going to be difficult to do however a desire to ignore certain unhelpful facts mixed with a lack of preparedness and refusal to engage further has exacerbated the situation.

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.

Everton FC’s use of Facebook [infographic]

Everton Facebook infographic

 

(Click on the image to see a larger version)

Six solutions to Newcastle United’s Twitter problems

Earlier this week I published a post looking at the attitude of Newcastle United fans towards the club’s use of Twitter. The results didn’t make good reading.

The main criticisms included that the near constant stream of spammy links to the club shop made the feed unusable and there was an irritating lack of engagement with supporters. Questions went unanswered, comments ignored.

While I’m very good at it I don’t particularly like being the person who sits around criticising others without offering up some solutions, so I took a closer look at Newcastle’s Twitter problems and came up with a six ways they can improve on the status quo. Some are my own take on broad rules for social media use, others are very specific ways in which they could make immediate improvements. Let me know if you agree.

Newcastle United stadium St James' Park

1. Dialogue not monologue

Twitter is a conversational medium. Dialogue is the name of the game and as Ross Wigham recently wrote communicators need to come up with ways of “dealing with the new world of two way conversations”. This is something that seems to have been missed by the social media team at Newcastle United who use the platform to simply broadcast information. This would be a no-no for any organisation, let alone a football club that has an eager audience who are dying to interact. It’s simple – engagement with followers will increase satisfaction and further entrench the support of the thousands of brand advocates on Twitter who fly the flag for the club.

2. Question and answer

Newcastle United ticket for match against Deportivo la Coruna

Questions about ticket availability and prices are often asked

There are some relatively easy ways to engage these fans. I know from experience that the club is often posed questions about issues such as ticketing via social media, but little is communicated until an announcement is made on the official website. No one likes being ignored. Answering these simple questions would go a long way to improving relations with stakeholders. Even holding regular Q&A sessions so queries are concentrated during a particular period of time, which in turn would make them easier to field, would drastically improve engagement.

3. Ask more of those outside the club…

But it’s not all give, give, give. The club should take advantage of the creativity of the audience and begin to ask questions of supporters. Football fans love to share photos and videos that they believe will cement their credentials as a ‘true’ supporter. Being recognised for this dedication, either by a kind word or a simple retweet, by the very club they follow is the best type of peer recommendation. Not only are they being recognised by the one account that matters, but they’re being recommended to hundreds of thousands of other supporters.

Using Twitter as a conduit for collecting contributions from supporters regarding relatively trivial matters, such as the songs that should be on the DJs half time playlist or the design of a new kit, is another fantastic way to engender a feeling of ownership and show that their opinion has value while being extremely simple to do.

4. …And those employed by the club

Look inwards. Football clubs employ hundreds of people who work in a myriad of roles however many supporters don’t know much about what goes on day to day within the club. Why not hand control of the club account over to a different member of staff once a day every week? One week it could be the tea lady, the next it could be Yohan Cabaye? It generates a feeling of exclusivity by giving Twitter followers something fans offline will not be able to access. If an entire country can manage to do it then a football club can.

5. The right messages on the right platforms

I’m aware that all of this leaves very little time for promotion of the club shop, however I haven’t completely forgot about it. The fact of the matter is that Twitter isn’t a medium that’s particularly conducive to producing great sales leads when the plan is to spam, spam and spam some more. That’s not to say it should be avoided at all costs, but it should certainly be cut down on, particularly as there are platforms out there which would allow the club to push products while contributing to the conversation.

Pinterest screenshot

Put the club shop on Pinterest rather than pestering Twitter followers

One such platform, and it’s one that Newcastle United have no obviously official presence on, is Pinterest. Why not, like AS Roma, put the entire contents of the club shop on there? Link images back to the club shop so supporters can quickly and easily buy any products they want. Encourage users to repin items they like with a simple competition and watch as they promote the club’s products organically.

Newcastle United will have access to a huge number of photographs locked away in the bowels of St James’ Park that supporters would love to see. Tumblr is the perfect platform to showcase and sell prints of these images as Liverpool FC found out when they launched The Reds Gallery. Newcastle are already adept users of Flickr and the sharing of these galleries on Twitter was something which was commended by respondents in my earlier survey. As many of the same principles apply with Tumblr it feels like an opportunity is being missed.

6. Cross promote

Social media should not operate within a silo. It should be part of a wider strategy and be promoted across different channels to form a cohesive digital communications plan. This same rule  can be applied to specific social media platforms, which should be put to use promoting one another and mirroring each other’s messages.

Chris Hughton celebrating Newcastle United's promotion to the Premier League

Promotion is important in more ways than one

Take, for example, the Pinterest and Tumblr accounts that’ve just been mentioned. Cross promote these profiles successfully and make the over half a million people that Newcastle United reach directly, whether that be on Twitter or Facebook, aware these channels exist and uptake will be swift. Chances are if they follow you on one platform they’re likely to do so on another. And the benefit of having multiple profiles across different accounts? Access to different audiences and the ability to deliver the same message (tailored for the platform, of course) multiple times without appearing to spam the audience.

The bottom line

Few brands can boast an audience like sport clubs can. In the words of We Play, “sports fans are the most influential advocates in the world”. It’s a privileged position. For club’s like Newcastle United success on social media is an open goal and a poor digicomms plan is not a valid excuse for failing to capitalise.

Newcastle United fans have their say on club’s Twitter use

Newcastle United supporters – a passionate bunch

Luddites may disagree, but it’s pretty apparent that digital communications is now the front line when it comes to fan engagement for football clubs. The Premier League is a world wide brand and online means messages can be disseminated around the globe in an instant. Just look at the number of followers your typical Premier League side commands – many are well in excess of their average league attendance, with more supporters lurking elsewhere in the deep, dark bowels of the internet. It’s no real surprise that social media and how clubs use it to connect with stakeholders generates strong opinions from supporters.

Newcastle United have been using Twitter for a few years now and currently have around 200,000 followers, one of the largest numbers in the league. I asked supporters about the club’s use of the platform to find out whether they thought NUFC’s use of Twitter put them top of the table or that the club were involved in a basement battle.

Supporters were asked five simple questions – whether they followed the club, what they liked, what they disliked, what they wanted to see more of and what they wanted to see less of.

First off, of those fans who responded 25% didn’t officially ‘follow’ the official Twitter account. The main reason for this, mentioned by 61% of respondents, was the glut of marketing messages sent out by NUFC. It turns out that spammy and invasive tweeting will put off even the most ardent supporter.

@NUFCOfficial

This complaint was not simply restricted to those who have opted against following @NUFCOfficial. 84% of all respondents made reference to the use of the Twitter account as a vehicle for little more than adverts as one of their main dislikes of NUFC’s use of Twitter and it was a commented on frequently by those surveyed:

  • “Too many tweets about club shop offers”
  • “They just use it to sell stuff from the shop in the main. They never reply to genuine questions”
  • “The amount of tweets about selling items instead of news about the club”
  • Getting spammed by offers of merchandise from the club shop. The club shop should get a separate account”

Oh dear. It’s pretty apparent that the club’s policy of using Twitter to drive traffic and increase sales isn’t well liked and probably isn’t working either. 85% of fans said they wanted to see much less of it. But anyway, what about plus points?

To the surprise of no one, fans said they want to hear more about new signings.

When asked what they liked about the club’s Twitter almost 55% could muster an answer that wasn’t a variation on the word “nothing”. As you’d expect many of these responses focused on information that the club could publicise before anyone else, such as team line ups, signings and other breaking news:

  • “Team news on match day”
  • “Ticket announcements”
  • “Goal updates from matches are usually the quickest on Twitter”
  • “Picture galleries”

So it turns out there are a few redeeming features of the club’s Twitter use. However that cannot escape from the fact that the feeling among many supporters is that if engagement is the name of then game then the club’s presence is not fit for purpose. When pushed on what they’d like to see from the account an increase in interaction was at the top of the pile:

  • “More interaction with supporters. Better use of social media tools in general to connect with fans”
  • “Interaction with supporters. Greater innovation in terms of how it is used too. Twitter can be used for great things but Newcastle have not embraced it.”
  • “More interaction with fans”
  • “Fan engagement. A teeny tiny bit of opinion now and then and the odd exclusive signing pictures rather than having to pay for NUFC TV”

A nice, round 40% of respondents made some mention of increased engagement with supporters in some form or another. There was also a clear interest in more exclusive, behind the scenes content similar to Manchester City’s Inside City video series. Granted, that’s not strictly a comment on Twitter but it’s more proof that social media use must be coordinated cross platform.

I’ll leave the final word to one respondent who was pretty damning in his assessment of Newcastle’s use of the platform…

  • “They’ve totally missed the point of Twitter”

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up post in which I’ll explore the ways Newcastle United can improve their use of social media.

The Social Media Premier League – January 2013

Since clubs are using the January transfer window to revise their squads I thought I’d take this opportunity to publish the latest edition of the Social Media Premier League table.

So what can you expect in the latest set of results? Well, there’s been an near wholesale shift in the scores.  This rise means that clubs who have seen their score remain stagnant, such as Arsenal and Sunderland, have tumbled down the table. This rise can be attributed to many club’s adopting a more innovative digital comms strategy as clubs begin to understand the power and potential of Twitter.

See where how your team is doing below…

klout-flag-square-2 peerindex-logo  TOTAL
1 Chelsea 84 88 86
2 Liverpool 84 78 81
3 Manchester City 84 73 78.5
4 Tottenham Hotspur 82 72 77
5 Aston Villa 72 81 76.5
6 Everton 78 62 70
7 Swansea City 73 64 68.5
8 West Ham United 78 58 68
9 Newcastle United 73 62 67.5
10 Reading 80 55 67.5
11 Southampton 74 61 67.5
12 Stoke City 69 66 67.5
13 Norwich City 80 54 67
14 Sunderland 81 53 67
15 Wigan Athletic 79 55 67
16 Arsenal 84 49 66.5
17 Queens Park Rangers 74 57 65.5
18 Fulham 71 55 63
19 West Bromwich Albion 70 47 58.5

Liverpool’s Twitter presence goes global

We’re often told about the Premier League’s international appeal, usually when the staggering details of the next multi-billion pound TV deal are leaked to the press or the dreaded 39th game idea is floated for the umpteenth time, but social media has really brought home the allure of England’s top flight to those abroad. Check out the Facebook or Twitter accounts of any of the top clubs and you’ll see a large number of responses, many of which are from supporters based outside the UK.

Tough crowd, Rafa

They can’t boo from the stands, but they can sure leave nasty messages!

It may seem easy to ignore these supporters, after all they’re not able to boo from the stands if things aren’t going so well, but as more money flows into the game from abroad and teams decide to take their pre-season training camps to the USA, Asia and the Middle East communicating with this contingent of foreign fans takes on a new importance.

But is communicating with these supporters through your existing channels satisfactory when you take into considering the language barrier and other difficulties? Liverpool don’t seem to think so.

The past few weeks has seen several accounts created and verified simply to cater to Liverpool’s army of fans from across the globe. Supporters in Thailand, Indonesia, India, Spain, France and the Arab world will now get the latest club news in their language at a time suitable for them.

Liverpool are not the first to create foreign language social media profiles and I’m certain they will not be the last. For a fan-base that may occasionally feel unappreciated or disconnected from events that occur several thousand miles away this is a lifeline. For Liverpool it’s a fantastic way to solidify the allegiances of those Reds from far flung corners of the globe and gain access to an audience that will surely continue to grow.