90% of football fans have decided who their favourite football club is by the age of 10.
No question then that football fans are fiercely loyal and, unlike the average consumer in most other walks of life, they want to know everything about the club’s supply chain and voice opinions about decisions, whether it’s an on or off the pitch matter.
Yet despite the fact that social media provides a global forum in which a club can engage with every single fan and as a result, improve and develop club fan relationships, it is still, in many cases, practised with caution, and rightly so.
Fans don’t want to be talked at via social media channels, or fed useless, second hand information. They want exclusives, they want debate and interaction with the club and its players and if there’s an opportunity to win money-can’t-buy, club-related prizes then all the better.
To design and host an effective social media platform requires time and effort; yet once a resource is in place and a strategy agreed, the benefits to both the fans and the club can be considerable.
Content is king, relevance is critical and the tone must be friendly and engaging and appear to be opening the door of the club to its fans. It must also provide a two-way conversation, hence a designated role should be created to ensure the content is well-managed and well-timed.
Like many industries, the use of social media in football goes way beyond being simply a communication vehicle; it can also provide revenue driving opportunities. Big sponsorship deals can only be justified if the club reaches a bigger audience and this means international markets which are not easily reached by traditional media.
And when social media is well established, there are potential opportunities via affiliate marketing by adding value to sponsorship deals, cross promotional activity with sponsors, or through direct sales of official kit or unsold tickets.
And let’s not forget how instrumental social media can be in a crisis situation by providing the club with the opportunity to set the record straight. It might be a player scandal or a controversial boardroom decision. Either way it’s an instantaneous channel to fans which can’t be obscured by journalists.
Manchester City FC is one of the most proactive clubs when it comes to social networking, utilising the obvious Facebook and Twitter networks along with Flickr, in which they encourage fans to share photography, which the club admits has helped inspire new PR and retail campaigns.
But a football club can’t just dip in and out of social media. Fans will feel cheated and will quickly retort. A key and critical point to including social media within a marcomms strategy is to build virtual relationships with fans which must then be maintained. New fans must feel welcome and existing fans must feel valued.