Managing the Social Media Voice of your Football Club

In order for a football club to establish a direct and engaging relationship with its fan base it must develop a strong and consistent voice across its various digital and social media channels.

Having an original and genuine voice can prove to be a challenge as it is not always easy to speak to fans in a conversational tone.  If managed correctly, however, it can uplift the presence of a mediocre club to become an industry leader.

Some important guidelines to remember when establishing your club’s social media voice include:

A.      Determining your football club’s own brand identity

This will be based on the organization´s culture, values, and overall brand experience it would like to promote.

For example, more traditional clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United or Real Madrid will tend to communicate throughout their social media platforms in a more formal manner as they consistently strive to transmit the image of class, excellence and tradition.

On the other hand, less classic and long established clubs such as most Major League Soccer’s franchises will favour a more personable communication approach in an effort to consistently generate buzz and engagement in less mature football markets.


B.      Knowing your football club’s audience

Knowing the desired demographic that your brand wants to reach will help your club understand its target audience and the relevant social media channels to use to reach out to followers and potential consumers.

Although it is important to remain consistent throughout your social and digital media presence, it is also imperative to adapt your approach to the relevant audience you are targeting through each platform.

For example, the style of writing in a football club’s official website should be different than the voice and tone used across other social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.  Each platform has a different set of followers and must be targeted accordingly.


C.      Engaging and interacting with your community 

Whether the objective is to inform, sell, or provide customer support, it is essential to know how to communicate your football club’s objectives with personality and sincerity.

Listening to the needs, thoughts, opinions and insights of your audience will help your brand achieve the corporate objectives and remain authentic via social and digital media platforms.

Because of their massive size and social relevance most top-flight clubs will tend not to answer directly to followers on social media mainly due to a question of volume and risk management.

Nevertheless, when communicating with your online community of fans and supporters worldwide it is essential to remember that in order to generate true engagement social media platforms should be used like a telephone and not like a megaphone.

photo-6The Sports Business Institute Barcelona offers a two-month program entitled ¨Football Communication & Social Media Online Program¨ that provides practical training to those wanting to start or advance their career in the areas of communication, PR, sports journalism, online branding and social media management for the football industry. 

For more information visit:

To read the full course prospectus click here:

10 Years in Social Media: The Personal Touch

Better players who are paid greater sums, larger stadiums and even greater revenues; during the past ten years much has changed in the world of football. However, with these changes came a danger that the relationship with the fans, the very thing that drives all those economic factors, was also changing, for the worse.

As a son of the Premier League era I am too young to have enjoyed the kind of access to my footballing heroes previous generations did. I would not bump into my idol down at the supermarket or casually jogging round the local park. However, over the past decade something has changed this. A new kind of relationship between fans and professionals has been built up, arguably even more intense and intimate, through something that didn’t even exist a decade ago: social media. It has completely changed the interaction between the multi-millionaire footballers and the man (or woman) in the street. Social media has broken down the sporting ‘fourth wall’.

Social media is a phenomenon that has transformed our daily lives and the way we connect with the sport(s) we love. Football has embraced social networking in a way in which no other sport has.

The two major players in this online world come in the form of Facebook and Twitter. The former was created in February 2004 and as of January 2014 has an astonishing 1.3 billion active users. Mark Zuckerberg’s creation overtook previous social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace to become the colossal machine it is today.

twitterfootballTwitter, a relative latecomer to the party, was founded two years later in March 2006. Around 645 million people are now tweeting to their heart’s content. The power that these two forums possess is incredible; clubs and players alike have embraced its bountiful opportunities. These two sites have made footballers more accessible than ever before. Fans from across the globe have the opportunity to connect in a new way with their sporting deities.

Football is at the forefront of the online stratosphere. The Brazilian midfielder, Kaka, who became the first athlete to achieve ten million followers on Twitter in April 2012, exemplifies this. He now has eighteen million followers: the growth is staggering. The 2013 Ballon d’Or victor, Cristiano Ronaldo, has now outstripped his former Real Madrid colleague with 24.3 million followers. The Portuguese superstar has a huge online presence and is the fourth most ‘liked’ person on Facebook with over 73 million.

His footballing nemesis, Lionel Messi, is lagging behind with 53.6 million ‘likes’. The photo-sharing website, Instagram, founded in 2010 has added yet another dimension to the way the football world can interact with its fans. The new Barcelona striker and poster boy for the 2014 World Cup, Neymar Junior, is the most popular footballer on this platform with 3.8 million followers.

Social media has helped rekindle the fans’ personal relationship with the world’s best players: a relationship that was potentially slipping away.

The way in which football has adapted to social media, especially in the past couple of years, is admirable. It has reconnected the sport with its fans. Supporters had become more and more disillusioned. As the lives of their players moved far out of reach from their own reality, they could not empathise on the same level as they had previously. Social media has helped turn the tide of remoteness.

Joey Barton is a perfect and well-known example. The way in which he has used Twitter to nurse and mend his reputation is remarkable. The perception of the QPR player has been transformed. Social media can be utilised, like Barton showed, to mend relations and build broken bridges between the game and its public.

This was the first stage in the ongoing development of social media in football. The strengthening of the player-fan bond also has extremely beneficial economic consequences. The marketing and advertising potential of their captive audience is mouth-watering. This is the next stage.

A quick flick through the profiles of some footballers and it is clear to see that companies have cottoned onto this opportunity. Chocolate bars, football boots and clothing lines are sporadically splattered across their ‘tweets’ and ‘statuses’. Ronaldo and co are reaching a wide audience in multiple countries in multiple languages. They are marketing gold dust and are reaping the rewards as a result.

In 2013, Forbes stated that nearly half of Ronaldo’s income was courtesy of endorsements ($21 million out of $44 million overall). Cross to Barcelona and Messi actually gains the majority of his vast wealth from sponsorship. Obviously, the fact they are the two best players on the planet and possibly in the history of the game, helps. However, the social media influence they hold is only accelerating and improving their economic power.

It is not just the players that enjoy a presence online. Clubs have also started to gain a popular following. Once again, football was the first sport to attain an impressive social media milestone: fifty million likes on Facebook. This was achieved by Barcelona who became the first sporting team to reach the figure.

In December 2013, Intel and the Catalan club entered into a partnership with the technology giant reportedly parting with $25 million. Deborah Conrad, Intel’s chief marketing officer, is reported to have claimed that Barcelona’s social media following was one of the reasons behind the deal. The club attracts fans from Indonesia to the United Sates and everywhere in between, the perfect vehicle for a global campaign.

It is not just the clubs and players utilising social media though. In 2012, the FA won the prize for ‘Best use of Social Media in Football’ at the Football Business Awards. The governing body had used Twitter and Facebook to engage fans and promote awareness of the newly formed Women’s Super League. Each team appointed an ambassador who had their Twitter handle printed onto their shirt. This proved extremely successful, increasing attendance at grounds and helping to improve recognition of the women’s game.

When used correctly it is an incredibly powerful tool.

It has not been a smooth road though; that power can be dangerous. As with all innovations, it took time for players to work out where to draw the line in terms of their relationship with the authorities. Twitter is the main social media culprit; there have been many high profile clashes with football’s powers that be. Ryan Babel, Rio Ferdinand, Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere are just a few of those that have been in trouble with the authorities for inappropriate tweets.

Whilst typing away on a smart phone from the comfort of your own home, it is easy to forget you are broadcasting to millions of people in the ‘real world’. Footballers are not allowed to make the mistakes us regular folk are afforded. However, we must be careful not to discourage the refreshing openness shown by many including Rio Ferdinand, Phil Neville and Carlton Cole. This should be celebrated not restrained.

Overall social media has transformed and improved the beautiful game: it has increased the marketing power of players and clubs; it has connected the industry as never before; and it has strengthened the ties between fans and clubs. The next 10 years will surely bring yet more fascinating inventions, hopefully bringing the football community even closer together.


Tom Mills
A Football Enthusiast -

Manchester United Lead Social Media League Table

As we head into May, we take a quick look at where clubs stand in the Social Media League from the Premier League right through to League Two.

In the Premier League, Manchester United continue to dominate the social media league table despite there resistance to joining Twitter with over 33 million Facebook fans, over 14 million more than the cumulative reach of second place team, Chelsea.

The top four clubs’ (Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool)  global reach is reflected in their total reach, but most surprisingly Manchester City, widely regarded as pioneers in social media and digital activity, have some way to go to catch up trailing Liverpool’s total reach by over 7.5 million.

Premier League Social Media Table

Premier League Social Media Table

Norwich City posted the largest monthly growth in Facebook followers with an 8.1% increase whilst Wigan posted the largest growth in Twitter followers at 12.3% on the previous month.

All Premier League clubs enjoyed growth in both Twitter and Facebook followers with the average growth on Facebook standing at 4.15% and Twitter an impressive 8.03%.

The total reach for all 20 Premier League clubs stands at nearly 95 million, 85.7 million of which are on Facebook reflecting the popularity of the platform and the global reach of the league.

In the Championship we see far more modest figures on Twitter and Facebook with clubs averaging around 29,000 followers and likes on each platform.

Championship Social Media League Table

Championship Social Media League Table

Bolton lead the way with a cumulative reach of 107,798, closely followed by Nottingham Forest with 107,171. They are joined by Wolverhampton Wanderers on 101,340, and are the only three clubs with a reach of over 100,000 in this league.

In League One, Portsmouth lead the table with a total reach of 53,060, some way ahead of second place Coventry City on 38,631. Three clubs, Tranmere, Shrewsbury and Crewe have less than 1000 Facebook followers whilst  it was difficult to find if Yeovil had an official account at all. Despite this, the average number of Facebook likes clubs in League One can expect to have stood at 8,138 with Twitter followers averaging 11,902.

League One Social Media Table

League One Social Media Table

League Two clubs posted healthy figures with the average total reach standing at 14,183. Capital One Cup finalists, Bradford City lead the way with 23,711 Facebook likes and 15,122 Twitter followers. Only one club (Burton Albion) had less than 1000 likes on Facebook, but it also proved difficult to find Dagenham & Redbridge and Torquay United’s official pages.

League Two Social Media Table

League Two Social Media Table

(Figures gathered 30th April)

Aaron Gourley

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Why footballers need social media

Simon Lansley @ConnectSport reports on English football’s troubled relationship with the media from a man well qualified to speak on both areas.

Gary Neville had the assembled national media hanging off his every word at the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester.

Naturally most of the ensuing headlines focussed on his forthright opinions about the vacant England hotseat – “I can feel the vultures are circling” – but those present for the entirety of the session hosted by Guillem Balague were treated to a compelling 45 minutes in the company of Neville, former FA chief executive Brian Barwick, Daily Telegraph chief executive Paul Hayward and another ex-pro-turned-pundit, Gaizka Mendieta.

“I think you’ll find that certain players have pockets of Press that they trust, pockets of Press that they don’t trust,” said Neville.

“Football players are very emotional, very reactive, they take things personally – like all of us do. If you are criticised you do tend to switch off from an individual or an outlet in the media.

“It’s difficult to think of one thing which would fix this 20, 30 or 40-year-old problem. If you are a young player of 16, 17, 18 years of age, coming into a squad, you are heavily reliant on the information which is passed to you from the experience players in the squad.

“If the experienced players are cynical towards the media, then you are going to pick up on that and you are going to follow that, and that mistrust continues. It will keep going.

“I think somewhere down the line there has to be a group of players – and I suggested this when I was about 25 or 26 with England – who let the Press travel with the England team, who stay in the same hotel as the England team. I suggested this at the time because there has to be a group of players who take responsibility and break down that barrier.

“If the Press are writing stories about you, they are probably a little bit more sensible if they are actually in contact with you every day, and they knew you as a person. The problem is at the moment is that the contact between the player and the journalist is actually going further away.”

Which is one of the reasons why Neville, or @GNev2, freely admits he has become fascinated by the effect of social media in recent years.

“I keep coming back to Twitter, there is now interaction between players and journalists on a daily basis. The clubs now have very managed press conferences; sponsors have very managed press conferences for players – very strictly controlled.

“And that is supposed to protect the players because of the mistrust and the ‘betrayal’ which is a word which has been used. I think that’s probably a little bit too strong but it’s a word that has been used, and some players do feel that way.

“But eventually football players do need the media, certainly as they get into their 30s they start to like the media a bit more because they potentially sense there might be a job on the horizon!

“Trust is the key word, I think,” says Neville, who believes that despite some of the scaremongering, social media is a “good thing”.

“If you had said to me two years ago would I go on Twitter, I would have said absolutely no chance. But I got to the point where I thought this thing is not going to go away. And if you can’t beat it, you have to join it because everybody will be on it.”

He added: “I think my Twitter account is 70% good, 20% funny and 10% abuse. That’s not bad, it used to be 50/50!

“It’s a brilliant source of information. If you are in the media, or you are a football fan, you cannot not be on it. I say to people forget the stories about the abuse, follow people and you will get so much information fed so quickly, and that is the reason I use it predominantly. All the journalists’ articles, all the news from the Premier League and the Championship – and it’s not going to go away.

“For me it is a good thing.”

Neville also offered an interesting opinion on how he thinks social media and football will evolve.

“The clubs will commercialise it. We mentioned that the clubs don’t know what to do with it – I think they do. I think they are just biding their time and they will commercialise it. I think players will commercialise it.

“Will football be on Twitter in five years? Do FIFA, UEFA or the Premier League bring their own ‘Twitter’ out that football players all go on, that the clubs all go on, that’s regulated, that fans can go on, that gets rid of the abuse through the regulation of words and it doesn’t allow you to put in certain words?

“Football will design something that will be removes Twitter. In five or 10 years I don’t think it will be Twitter, I think it will be something different. I think there will be another ‘game’, if you like, it might be FIFA or the FA – somebody will do something different.”

As for the immediate future, the Manchester United stalwart admits his former team-mates have been quizzing him about how to successfully cross the great divide.

“I still speak to them and they ask you more than anything ‘what is the feeling like?’ ‘How are you coping with that?’ ‘What’s it like being in the media?’

“They are almost fishing for information for when they get to the end. There have been players who had got to the end and found it very difficult to cope with the void that is left.

“They have recognised it’s not as rosy as it may seem to sit on the beach with a cigar in their mouth and glass of wine, that you need to do something at the age of 35.

“It’s important that you embrace the media during the career. Of course there are times when you don’t want to speak to them… but you also have to be open with them as well, because they can do serious damage to a football club, they can do serious damage to a manager.

“I’ve seen England managers, I’ve seen club managers, and I’ve seen football clubs go through really tough periods and lose their way, and lose their jobs, because of not dealing with the media correctly.”

What has really won the fans over, however, is Neville’s refreshing honesty and objectivity during his TV appearances.

“There have been a couple of instances this year which I can remember where you are thinking ‘here we go’. The 6-1 (defeat to Manchester City) obviously. There’s no getting away from it as a United fan, but the reality of it is, they lose, they play badly, they concede goals – you have to say that.

“I think Ryan Giggs at Anfield broke free of the wall and the ball went through the wall – it was his mistake. I remember Dave Jones the Sky presenter saying ‘what do you think of your mate Gary?’ That was his question and I felt like saying why not ask the other two on the panel!

“But the reality of it is that you can’t shy way from it. It is something that I am going to have to deal with more and more. The other night Manchester United (should have) had a penalty decision against them in the last five minutes and quite clearly, after the game, I said it was a penalty. If it’s not a penalty, it’s not a penalty. If it is a penalty, it is a penalty.”

As the session closes, one of the most decorated players in the English game signs off with a warning to young players coming into professional football who might have preconceived ideas about the media.

“Players have a responsibility to develop their own character during their careers. It’s no good everything being done for them. To have a newspaper column, be part of contract negotiations, sit in them, listen and learn. They have a responsibility to develop as people during their careers.

“That’s the thing that I would say, embrace the media – embrace everything, try everything. If you don’t you are not going to learn and experience things. That to me is the responsibility of a player.”

By: Simon Lansley

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

Not one to shy away from expressing his feelings, Joey Barton’s Twitter outburst following Newcastle United’s defeat by Leeds at the weekend has ultimately cost him his job.

Following Jose Enrique’s £100,000 fine for criticising the club’s hierarchy on Twitter, the social networking site, Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s shy and retiring owner set a precedent, laid down a twitter marker, and has told Barton to he has no future at the club. Remarkably sending the player with 12 months remaining on his contract away on a free transfer.

For some reason footballers’ and Twitter seems to be a volatile concoction.

Mick McCarthy said last week he was bringing in a media law firm to educate his players on the use of social networking sites. Setting the scene, McCarthy was worried that ‘some numpty’ may give away sensitive team information because they have become ‘disgruntled’ with a decision made by the club’s management staff.

But not all footballers fall under the ‘numpy’ demographic when it comes to using Twitter. Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) is one of the UK’s most high profile footballers using Twitter. With over 1.3m followers, he has used the social network as a way of connecting with his fan base to great effect.

So where are others going wrong and why is Ferdinand getting it right?

It’s a question of understanding the difference of what is private and what is public. If I [the author] were to publically criticise the company I work for and the management skills of my superiors, I would expect to be shown the door without so much as a good-bye! So when a footballer does the same it’s only natural a club should implement some form of punishment.

But Barton was obviously disgruntled at what was happening at Newcastle and felt things were not going the standard he expected. And who is to say he is wrong? Like Enrique, he felt the club were not living up to their promises and expressed this via Twitter, something that would previously have remained private to the player and club.

On his Twitter account, Rio Ferdinand asked: ‘If players misuse twitter, should we fine them just like the NFL do???’

Well Rio, they already do, and that’s where Mike Ashley’s tough stance on Joey Barton has set the waterline as to how far you can go.

The bit that is hard to sort out is ‘defining the misuse of twitter’…..” Ferdinand asks in a later Tweet.

Player – fan/people interaction is what I love about social networks/apps so to red tape it completely is this the way to go????

Ferdinand feels strongly of the free use of social networks amongst his peers. However, Twitter has become a very powerful communications tool and has opened up a new, direct line to the celebrity world of football. Clubs’ media departments suddenly found they have no control over who their players were talking to and what they are saying.

The media ‘red tape’ has been broken.

But the problem with Twitter is that it’s about expressing your personal thoughts and feelings in 140 characters to your followers. The celebrity footballer can attract hundreds of thousands of followers and a huge array of journalists who had previously restricted access waiting for a story.

Following his outburst, Joey Barton stated on Monday 1st August he would be making ‘announcement’ at 4pm regarding his future on Twitter. Speculation was rife over what the ‘announcement’ could be, then at 3.35pm, Newcastle United made their own official ‘announcement’ via the traditional press that Barton had been released by the club, effectively gazumping Barton who later tweeted:

Somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC, they have decided, I am persona non grata.

I am on a free but the honour of wearing those B+W stripes, surpasses that.

One day the board might realise, what the shirt signifies. HONOUR and PRIDE. Thanks for your continued support……….. #toonarmy

So where do we go from here? Club chairman cannot afford to sack every player that strays from the script on Twitter, nor do we want to see players banned from using it.

Mick McCarthy has took decisive action and in trying to educate his players on the rights and wrongs of social media knowing it would be impossible to ban them from using it.

Newcastle will probably lead the way, along with McCarthy at Wolves, in setting out social media guidelines to help prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.

But as always it’s a tale with two sides so we will be watching and waiting to see where it will lead.