Everyone is aware of the impact social media has on a brand – football clubs and their players are no different. Every football club down to Sunday League level has a social media presence. In 2009 Cristiano Ronaldo’s publicists scoffed at the idea of him being able to reach 10 million fans on Facebook – “That’s more than the entire population of Portugal”. As of today, Ronaldo has 116 million Facebook fans; the most of any human.
With the new season still just weeks old, let’s have a look at how, over the past few seasons, social media has affected football and those that play it – for better and for worse.
The medium of choice
Traditional media cannot keep pace with social media – all stories break first on Twitter. But unlike breaking news, where the news outlets are still the trusted and go-to source, football clubs can bypass the traditional outlets completely. They themselves can tweet to their multi-million fan base, sit back and wait for it to be retweeted to the rest of the world.
In the past, the only option was for a press conference to be called, the world media would gather, with rumours buzzing about the player about to be unveiled. Page 302 on Ceefax was the most up-to-date source. Now:
Unfortunately, regardless of his ties, Jim White is no longer the king of deadline day. #deadlineday is the country’s number one trend from AM to PM, and whether true or false, Twitter rumours make the day far more entertaining (sorry Stoke fans):
Giving the game to everyone
In days gone by, it was only those fortunate enough to have Sky Sports that could watch all the goals go in. Even with live TV figures soaring, social media has always been rife with shaky video footage of somebody’s TV which eventually gets dragged down by Twitter. Noticing the volume of, and need for these videos, Twitter this year signed a deal with Sky Sports, and through @SkyFootball, all the goals and highlights can be seen instantly.
Going a step further, Wayne Rooney testimonial match against Everton was the first English game to be legally streamed on Facebook. The success has encouraged Sky Sports News to try the same with the immensely popular Soccer Saturday. Through social media, the game is more accessible than ever.
Personal brand and engagement
From an individual brand perspective, social media is unparalleled. Footballers tweet their opinions, activities and even some very personal information. Cristiano Ronaldo used his Facebook account to announce the birth of his child, as did Wayne Rooney and a whole host of others. As with all celebrities on Twitter, their personality really comes across.
Players like Joey Barton (now inactive) and Juan Mata give examples of well written, insightful blogs – that through social media receive substantial shares. Sometimes you don’t need a lengthy blog to change public opinion and drum up personal support; it can be done in a few tweets. This is how to deal with being dropped elegantly:
Of course, sometimes showing your true personality isn’t the best idea:
Accessibility to players isn’t always great
Whilst it’s sometimes nice that we can see what our superstars are having for breakfast, social media also has a darker side. In the past, players have become the targets of racial abuse and hate campaigns. A slightly lighter example, but hurtful nonetheless was a social media petition to ban Tom Cleverley from the England squad. Whilst I’m sure you probably agreed with it, it can’t have been nice for poor Tom to see the signatures mounting up.
When social media backfires
Working as a publicist for a footballer must be a nightmare. Sure there are perks, but screening everything they say isn’t possible – if only. Here are a few examples that must have sent the PR teams in meltdown:
Following his recent move to CRYSTAL PALACE
Directly following a 6-0 drubbing (he later claimed this was a ‘pocket tweet’)
Whether social media is positive or negative there’s no doubting its growing influence in sport. If they’re not already, clubs should be rolling out regular workshops for the players – after all, it’s much better to have a Bastian Schweinsteiger than a Joleon Lescott.