Social Media In Sports Communication Marketing Essay
This is to certify that the project titled "Social Media in Sports Communication: An Analysis of EPL Teams’ Strategy" submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Business Administration is a record of original research work carried out by myself. Any material borrowed or referred to is duly acknowledged.
Sidharth Prabhu G
Roll No. F203
MBA FT 2011-13
This is to certify that the above mentioned project titled "Social Media in Sports Communication: An Analysis of EPL Teams’ Strategy", submitted by Sidharth Prabhu G MBA(FT) Batch 2013 Roll No 203 has been carried out under my supervision.
Prof.Vivek Suneja Project Guide
Faculty of Management Studies
University of Delhi
I express my sincere thanks to my project guide Prof. Vivek Suneja, for providing me with an opportunity to work under his guidance and providing tireless support during the course of the project. His continued cooperation, never-ending encouragement, meticulous guidance and uninhibited support at various stages helped me in preparation of this research study.
I would also like to thank the staff of the Faculty of Management Studies, library and administrative section for their cooperation and support.
I would also wish to express my gratitude to my classmates for their continuous support, which enabled me to complete the dissertation and also all the assignments during MBA.
Executive Summary :
Social Media elements are directly applied to uses in sports communication such as connecting with the public, improving relationship with the fans, building a brand and managing reputations.
Many Sports Organizations and leagues are still testing the capabilities of the ever changing social media landscape (Esposito,2012). The English Premier League (EPL) and its teams have entered into the social media world but have yet to completely understand the realm and get hold of it. The EPL teams need a plan for communicationsthat incorporates social media.
The purpose of this study is to identify and analyse how social media is being used by EPL teams. It captures the efforts in communication made by the teams in EPL and their fans and stakeholders, and the various ways in which social media can be used to enhance this relationship. The study uses online observations and secondary research to evaluatethe current social media efforts in the EPL. In analysing the strengths and struggles of use of social media by the EPL teams , a guide of best practices is developed.
This study will focus solely on the teams of the English Premier League (EPL) and emphasize the methods employed the teams. It will exclusively evaluate official EPL team social media platforms. The scope of this study will remain narrow in observing a sample of ------------- EPL teams and their key social media communications effort to reach their fans in the football industry.
I will begin the study with a review of relevant literature in sports communication,
social media, and sports communication integrating social media. Then I will describe the
methodology of the study followed by the findings. Finally, I will discuss conclusions
that can be drawn from the findings and propose a guide of best practices for EPL teams
to utilize social media in their communications efforts.
Sports Communication plays a vital role in the entertainment industry and takes on different forms with varying stakeholders. Sports organizations utilize mediums such as radio, publications, television and online efforts to reach to their fans and stakeholders. With over 65% of online adults using social networking sites, social media has drastically grown in usage across numerous industries and has become an especially popular medium in the sports industry (Madden & Zickuhr,2011). Sports Organizations are using a number of social media platforms such as Facebook,Twitter,FourSquare, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+,Blogs etc. Social Media are efficient in reaching many stakeholders with speed, carrying ample amounts of information, and with the capability of interaction (Kietsmann,
Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011).
Web 2.0 is "a collection of open-source, interactive, and user-controlled online applications expanding the experiences, knowledge, and market power of the users as participants in business and social processes" (O’Reilly, 2005, p. 1). Sport industry marketing personnel are considering the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on their operations and customer relationship-building activities and are beginning to assess the power of these tools in directly accessing and communicating with their consumers (Fisher, 2008).
According to Fisher (2008), teams view their presences on Facebook as a way to strengthen relationships. As membership continues to grow, further opportunities are likely to emerge. The challenge for the industry is to use these tools of social media to manage their presence ina strategic way and thereby gain understanding of the value of Web 2.0 in meeting relationship and marketing goals (Williams & Chinn, 2010).
Social media gives sports fans the ability to connect with other fans as they read and discuss content shared by their favourite sports, teams, and athletes (Hambrick Simmons, Greenhalgh, & Greenwell, 2010). Technology aside, the fans’ accessibility to teams is an important antecedent to the development of team identification (Sutton, McDonald, Milne, & Cimperman, 1997).
Moreover, Social Media provides a medium for the fans to provide suggestions to the teams they support and their thoughts on players and their performances. For instance, fans can use Twitter to follow athletes and teams, journalists, editors and other fans who have the same interest. Fans can get current statistics, team updates, athlete’s personal life anecdotes etc.
People can connect with others from various locations. Interacting through online social networks may prove important for individuals who share common interests but not common locations (Pogue, 2009). Sports Organizations use it for a lot of purposes such as to increase the awareness of the team, to sell tickets and provide game information. A lot of teams also provide updates in Twitter and Facebook during the course of the game.
Though a lot of teams implement Social Media, it is important to know why and how social media strategies are implemented.
Statement of the Problem:
This study examines and analyses the processes by which English Premier League (EPL) clubs’ directors of social media marketing manage, evaluate and implement strategies of social media to engage with the stakeholders of the club. The main modes of communication through social media for these clubs happen through Twitter and Facebook. Twitter and Facebook are the primary focus as there are around 5.1 million Premier League clubs’ followers in Twitter and 66 million fans of EPL clubs on Facebook.(Mainstreetanalyst,2011). EPL fans are more active on Twitter, mentioning their teams in 81.5 million tweets over the past year compared to other leagues such as La Liga,Serie A, BundesLiga etc. However, there hasn’t been a thorough evaluation of EPL teams’ social media processes as in depth feedback and analyses have not been extracted.
Statement of Purpose:
Despite the growing interest in social media, both academics and practitioners have struggled to understand its value and consequences (Kwak, Kim, & Zimmerman, 2010). Given that social media in sport is already pervasive and continues to expand, it is critical for sport communication and media specialists to understand how sport consumers process such information compared with that from the mainstream media (Kwak et al., 2010). Such Extensive Use of Social Media by directors at EPL teams is important as it is imperative to better understand the power of social media in order to be the premier professional sports league that uses it. There are no researches or scholarly articles that have been written about how EPL clubs’ directors have determined, implemented, managed and evaluated social media. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to view the processes of how EPL clubs’ directors of social media determine implementation, evaluation and management of social media strategies, and to set the benchmark so that other social media directors of teams of other sports leagues can use these findings and recommendations.
The motive of this study is to analyse how social media is use by clubs of the English Premier Football League. The review of the literature introduces applications of social media in sports communication and also provides a synopsis of current coverage of social media and its implications in sports communications. However, there are gaps in understanding the use of social media in sports communication. There is a lack of systematic approach on social media strategies specific to EPL. The literature identifies the need for a complete analysis of the role of social media in professional sports specific to the efforts of individual teams (Rothschild, 2011). Therefore, this study will give us an understanding of the ways in which EPL clubs use social media, their objectives and the most effective means of using it to engage in social media to develop the best practices. The study will address the following research questions
What are the objectives that EPL clubs wish to accomplish by using social media?
What are the key tactics in accomplishing these objectives by using social media?
What are the social media platforms used by EPL teams?
How do EPL teams’ measure their social media efforts?
Importance of the Study:
This study helps in facilitating the understanding of how social media being used amongst sports organizations. This study will give a clear view on the dynamic of social media usage in the English Premier League Football. Existing researches has established the importance of Social Media in Sports and Entertainment Venues but fails to elaborate on the current climate of social media in sports communication and how individual teams implement and evaluate strategies and tactics of social media. This study gives the best practices that will explain the most effective ways to utilize social media in sports communication in the EPL and this can be carried forward and translated across other sports teams, entertainment entities and brands.
Delimitations of the Study:
This research may help in generalizing the results to other sports such as NHL,NFL and other leagues and sports, but may not be relative to other entities that use social media to connect with consumers such as retail, food and beverages and automobile manufacturers among many others.
Sports communication lies at the heart of the sports industry. Pedersen, Miloch, and Laucella (2011) define sports communication as the "process by which people in sport, in a sport setting, or through a sport endeavour share symbols as they create meaning through interaction." Sports communication underscores the relationship development between organizations, players, fans, and third parties. Ultimately, these relationships are vital to the success of each individual team. Sports organizations have multiple mediums to cultivate these relationships via Internet, television, radio, and print publications. Over time, each medium has evolved respectively. Currently, there is a more integrated approach across these mediums in sports communication.
Sports communication is a dynamic practice that encompasses many functions within the sports industry from branding, reputation management, and customer service to sales, marketing, and sponsorship. These core efforts relate back to the central task of "providing [stakeholders] with an emotional connection to understand, interpret, and identify with sports," specifically on behalf of an individual player, team or league (Rein, Kotler & Shields, 2006). Further, Rein, Kotler, and Shields (2006) offer five key objectives in effective sports communication: (1) to engage the [stakeholder’s] interest, (2) to imprint the sports brand’s identity for a longer-lasting impression, (3) to humanize the sports brand, (4) to encourage the [stakeholder] to identify with the sports brand and feel a personal connection with the participants, and (5) to place the outcomes of competition in more than just a winning context. These strategic objectives are critical in relating with stakeholders, sparking interest, continually building the fan base, and retaining the current fan base. The sports environment is filled with an overwhelming number of messages and channels. Therefore, it is essential to "differentiate the sports brand" and "connect with [stakeholders]" (Rein, Kotler & Shields, 2006). This allows for a unique, lasting impression on stakeholders to solidify their connection with the brand. This report highlights two communication theories that apply in sports communication. These theories are fundamental because of their implications when strategically communicating in the sports environment. It is important to recognize the theoretical elements of communication to effectively engage with stakeholders. The following theories will provide a basis for calculated communications efforts within sports organizations relative to various stakeholders.
Uses and Gratification Theory:
Uses and Gratification theory proposes that the public seek information and particular communications sources to fulfil a satisfaction (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974). People need to expand their knowledge base and social engagements through specific media outlets (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974). The theory addresses how the public utilizes the media to satisfy an internal need (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974).
The theory is useful because it illustrates that people gravitate to sports media to satisfy needs they have. Sports entities must embrace this theory; recognizing the public is pursuing quality content that satisfies particular needs they have through strategic messaging. Sports communication entities must understand the public’s search for information, and frame their messages strategically to stand out amongst other content.
Relationship Management Theory:
Relationship Management theory establishes that managing "organizational public relationships" around similar interests will ultimately lead to a mutually beneficial interaction between involved entities (Ledingham, 2003). The theory is dependent on the benefits of both parties (Ledingham, 2003). Within sports communication, establishing effective relationships between fans, players, teams, leagues, and other entities is essential. In cultivating these relationships, each party will be better positioned to fulfil their objectives (Ledingham, 2003). Additionally, the consistent management of these networks through two-way communication complimented with significant content is critical. Both parties must continue to provide and seek meaningful information from each other otherwise the relationship will deteriorate and become ineffective.
Uses and gratification theory and relationship management theory are two theories that speak to the mind-set that sports communication professionals should embrace when building and managing two-way communication over social media channels. Uses and gratification theory gives a central framework that identifies the public’s search for information to satisfy an internal need while relationship management theory establishes maintaining mutually beneficial connections to achieve the goals of both parties. These theories will not be addressed in the remainder of this study but are important in recognizing a theoretical approach when using social media to connect with stakeholders in sports and entertainment.
Kaplan and Haenlin (2010) provide an excellent definition of social media: "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (UGC)."
Furthermore, Kaplan and Haenlin (2010) add that all social media fall into six different categories: collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia), blogs, content communities (e.g., YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), and virtual social worlds (e.g., Second Life), and virtual game worlds (e.g., World of War craft). This classification assists in understanding the uses of a given social media platform. In an effort to understand the capabilities of social media, Kietsmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, and Silvestre (2011) state that social media are comprised of mobile and web based technologies that provide interactive platforms for the public to share, create, discuss, and modify content. In addition, the scholars propose the honeycomb of social media. The honeycomb of social media includes a framework that defines social media platforms through the level of emphasis on seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups (Keitsmann et. al., 2011). The honeycomb of social media analyses the experience of a given social media platform in relationship to each functional block and then identifies the implications for a firm in developing its social media strategy using that platform (Keitsmann et. al., 2011). Furthermore, an organization can utilize the honeycomb framework to establish its social media strategy by identifying its core objectives and aligning these objectives with the social media platforms that carry those characteristics.
Understanding the business functions social media can provide to an organization is essential. Li and Bernoff (2011) emphasize that with the integration of social media into existing business tasks, firms can now more efficiently listen, talk, energize, support, and embrace their audiences and their ideas. Traditional means of communications, marketing, and regular business functions such as research, marketing, sales, support, and development can now be accomplished in the social media space. In addition, Mangold and Faulds (2009) argue that effective marketing and communications are navigating away from traditional methods of advertising, and resorting to social media as a trustworthy source. Mangold and Faulds (2009) further add that there is an amplified increase in consumer conversations and a decrease in a company’s direct control over its brand’s conversation. Therefore, the scholars believe that it is critical for organizations to remain active in monitoring and participating in the social media dialogue (Mangold & Faulds, 2009).
They identify nine ways that businesses use social media successfully; (1) provide networking platforms, (2) use blogs and other social media tools to engage customers, (3) use both traditional and Internet-based promotional tools to engage customers, (4) provide information, (5) be outrageous, (6) provide exclusivity, (7) design products with talking points and consumers’ desired self-images in mind, (8) support causes that are important to consumers, and (9) utilize the power of stories (Mangold and Faulds, 2009).
The scholars say that it is important for an organization to define its social media strategy and utilize these tactics to be successful in the social media environment. The evolution of mobile technology, specifically in regard to increased access to social media and mobile marketing has become crucial to business efforts. Wright, Khanfar, Harrington, and Kizer (2010) theorize that utilizing mobile technology to reach an audience is becoming more efficient than traditional methods of marketing, communication, and advertising (Wright et al., 2010). Wright et al. (2010) find that traditional methods of marketing such as television, radio, and print are capable of reaching a large population but these mediums are too general. Social media efforts, specifically through mobile technology, are becoming more valuable in reaching particular audiences and tailoring the message based on each individual consumer (Wright et al., 2010). The increase in mobile marketing and interactive marketing is expected to continue its growth (Wright et al., 2010).
Moreover, mobile technology provides an excellent medium for brands to constantly stay connected with consumers and develop "intimate relationships." Wright et al. (2010) state that "the use of smartphones, like iPhones and Blackberries, allow consumers to be connected to their favourite social media outlets 24 hours a day." Further, the academics explain that the key to effectively using these social media tools is not to appear as a marketer to the consumer but to establish a relationship with the consumer and build their trust (Wright et al., 2010). Many organizations are recognizing this trend and have added a Facebook page, Twitter account, and an iPhone application to their social media strategy.
Social Media and Sports Communication:
The use of social media by professional sports teams is increasingly rapidly. Many teams are dedicating more time and resources to operate their social media presence and to connect with stakeholders. Additionally, nearly all sports teams’ websites now integrate links to their respective pages for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. This makes sense because brands rely heavily on a fan following, so it is essential to understand what media fans want. These digital media outlets provide efficient means for sports organizations to facilitate fan interaction and commentary of their brand due to low entry costs and large fan populations present.
Rothschild (2011) found that there is a significant rise in social media use in the sports and entertainment industry resulting in the decline of traditional marketing and communication methods. He conducted an online survey of sports and entertainment venue managers to understand their perceptions and predictions of social media in sport and entertainment facilities. Rothschild (2011) found that a strategic social media approach is becoming increasingly important in sports and entertainment venues, in addition to the need for more resources to be dedicated to these digital efforts. The results of the survey identified the following characteristics about social media usage in sports and entertainment:
• Sixty-two per cent have someone dedicated to managing social media versus 37 per cent who are without someone dedicated to managing social media.
• Eight per cent classify the venue’s use of social media as expert, 47 per cent as proficient, 34 per cent as still learning, 8 per cent as behind the curve, and 2 per cent as not using it and do not care to use.
• Fifty-seven per cent of venues have a defined social media strategy versus 47 per cent who do not have a defined social media strategy
• Fifty-two per cent reported venues experienced a revenue increase with a defined social media strategy versus 19 per cent that reported revenue increase without a defined social media strategy
The study illustrates the rise in social media while traditional methods are becoming less efficient due to cost, variety of product, and consumer resistance to advertising (Rothschild, 2011). Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube emerged as the most important platforms to monitor the conversation about their venue (Rothschild, 2011).
The primary motives for utilizing social media were to increase lead generation (65%), to monitor the conversation about their brand (51%), and in response to their competitors doing it (37%) (Rothschild, 2011). Additionally, the research identified the greatest obstacles to executing a social media strategy were not having enough staff to manage it (67%), and not enough data or analytics to develop ROI (30%) (Rothschild, 2011). As new media marketing tools will be more prevalent in the next three years, it is vital for sports and entertainment venues to become heavily involved in social media (Rothschild, 2011).
Social media have transformed sports media and its consumption. Fans, athletes, and teams now have the ability to easily connect with one another (Sanderson & Kassing, 2011). Sanderson and Kassing (2011) state that social media provide professional teams and athletes with "more control over the release of sports news in addition to increasing their self-preservation management" (Sanderson & Kassing, 2011). Sports journalists and other sports media personnel also utilize these mediums to reach audiences, but the public, professional teams and athletes now have the ability to bypass traditional media outlets through social media platforms (Sanderson & Kassing, 2011). Sanderson and Kassing (2011) assert that blogs and Twitter have revolutionized sports media by giving athletes and teams an active role in content production. Mass media outlets appear to be losing their edge in sports media due to professional athletes’ progressive engagement in social media. The integration of social media into sports communication changes the dynamic of how news and information is released. This provides opportunities for professional sports teams and professional athletes to better connect with their stakeholders.
This research employs a case study method that provides a holistic view of the use of social media by a EPL club. Case study is "an exploration of a bounded system or a case (or multiple cases) over time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information rich in context" (Creswell, 1998 p. 61). Yin (2003) also stated that case studies can deal with complex situations where there are many variables of interest, utilize multiple sources of evidence, with data needing to converge in a triangulating fashion, and can benefit from the prior development of theoretical propositions to guide data collection and analysis. Zonabend (1992) stated that case study is done by giving special attention to completeness in observation, reconstruction, and analysis of the cases under study. Case study is done in a way that incorporates the views of the actors in the case under study. Merriam (2006) acknowledged, "by concentrating on a single phenomenon or entity (the case), the researcher aims to uncover the interaction of significant factors characteristic of the phenomenon" (p. 51).
Yin (2003, p. 37) stated a case study design should be considered when: (a) the focus of the study is to answer the "why" and "how" questions; (b) you cannot manipulate the behaviour of those involved in the study; (c) you want to cover contextual conditions because you believe they are relevant to the phenomenon under study. Based on Yin and other qualitative researchers’ criteria, the intersection of social media and the EPL meets the criteria for a case study.
The research questions focus on the why, and how social media is used by EPL clubs and provide a deeper understanding for their rationale and strategies.
The research also follows a theoretical approach. Data is gathered by reviewing individual EPL clubs’ online social media efforts. Furthermore, the data were analysed for apparent gaps in social media usage.
Finally, all relevant data from the literature, and observations were drawn upon and synthesized into the findings and discussion, and best practices.
Findings and Discussion:
Using Social Media to assist the efforts of individual EPL clubs is relatively new. Most of the clubs are still in the beginning to the middle stages of identifying the powers and capabilities of social media and are in the process of experimenting the evolving technology to reach their stakeholders more efficiently. There is a great scope for EPL clubs to strengthen and expand their social media presence thereby creating a better overall fan base experience. The findings will address the elements of social media efforts of EPL clubs namely Social Media Platforms, Social Media Strategy, Social Media Campaigns, Offline Presence, In arena Presence, Content, Connecting with fans outside the arena, Metrics and ROI and EPL’s Social Media Guidelines and Issues.
Social Media Platforms:
The English Premier League, arguably the world’s most popular sports organization uses a variety of platforms to generate explosive growth off the pitch in the realm of social media. But they are often criticized for their out of date approach to social media when compared to the youthful and creative tactics used by other sports leagues such as NFL, NBA etc. The rise of social media is being observed in the last couple of years and clubs are now investing in it.
Many clubs have expanded their social media strategies across various platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube,FourSquare,Google+, Flickr, LinkedIn, blogs etc. So Far, the league has a stronger presence on Facebook than on Twitter. Liverpool, became the first premier league team to promote itself using Pinterest. Pinterest is a inventive and creative way to use that will help the team engage with its fans. The club stocked boards with historic photos, fan gear, memorabilia, old uniforms etc. Pinterest is one of the new ways sports teams around the world are seeking to leverage social media.
Manchester City has recently partnered with Foursquare. This helps fans to check into the Etihad Stadium and take advantage of club offers on hospitality and Merchandising. It also provides fans with exclusive content that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. The club has already attracted over 16,000 followers. This helps Manchester United to build a more meaningful and rewarding relationship with their fans. Manchester City also launched a YouTube partnership in which fans’ can be integrated with their social media experiences. Other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are used for a lot of purposes. For instance, Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes uses Twitter to ask fans which players they wanted the club to acquire, and midfielder Joey Barton used promoted tweets to apologize to fans for being thrown out of a match.
Though Twitter is one of the main battlegrounds, evaluating how clubs have performed by simply looking at the number of followers isn’t the fairest way to analyse their performance. People tend to follow teams online just because they support them and not because their social media policy is good.
The use of various Social Media Platforms by the top clubs in the Premier League is explained in the following charts (analyticsseo, 22 Feb 2013)
Facebook Use by Premier League Clubs:
Facebook is clearly a useful channel that allows clubs to engage with their Fanbases. It was interesting to compare not only the number of likes a club received but also the rate at which they accumulated these fans since the start of their FB page.
The chart tells you the following:
The top four clubs of the league (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea an d Arsenal) have a much bigger following than other clubs.
The reach of Facebook would indicate that these clubs do indeed have a global fan base.
The clubs can fill their respective stadiums many times over with just their Facebook fan bases. For Example, Manchester United can fill their stadium, Old Trafford 412 time over.
Some Exceptions such as Wigan, Norwich, Sunderland and Reading produced low single digit ratios. These clubs shouldn’t be keen on expanding their stadiums unless they have a significant loyal and a localised fan base.
Some smaller clubs such as Stoke City were quicker than big clubs in recognizing the online potential and setting up an official Facebook page. But, still Stoke only picked up 38 likes a day while bigger clubs such as Arsenal picked up 6,394 likes a day and Manchester United picked up 24,786 per day. So Manchester United's relative lethargy in setting up an official page was more than compensated by the rate at which they gathered fans, once the page was up and running.
Some clubs such as Manchester United have their only official presence on Twitter via their press office. This shows that these clubs aren’t that bothered to engage with their fans using this method. The clubs’ using Twitter can be classified into the following heads
Early Adopters: Manchester City and Everton
Frantic Tweeters: Reading, Norwich and Manchester City
Following their Fans: Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City appeared to be the only clubs interested in following their Twitter accounts.
All the clubs picked up fans at a significant rate after opening their official account. Some smaller clubs such as Sunderland, Norwich and Reading have a bigger following on Twitter than on Facebook.
Google+/ YouTube Use:
The Premier League clubs use Google+’s hangout technology, a multi way video chat technology which allows up to 10 participants at once to allow the fans interact with the club during the match day. They are tied up with YouTube and each session will be streamed live on the clubs’ Google+ and YouTube channels allowing the clubs’ supporters to watch it for free. Fans from all over the world can interact with their favourite players like never before and can ask questions. The use of Google+ and YouTube by various clubs are as shown below
Initiatives such as Google+ are positive for football fans as it shows how much the clubs cares for their fans and how they allow their fans to open up and engage with their players in a very personal and direct manner.
The number of followers in Twitter and the number of Facebook likes of the clubs in Premier League are as shown below (Mar, 2013)
PREMIER LEAGUE TWITTER FOLLOWERS TABLE
No. of Followers
PREMIER LEAGUE FACEBOOK LIKES TABLE
No. of Likes
Social Media Strategy:
Many EPL clubs have identified their own strategy and objectives in utilizing social media. Most organizations use social media primarily as a branding and marketing tool to easily reach their fans. The growing digital space has become valuable in developing a community for fans, and promoting online and offline fan engagement.
Additionally, Premier League teams are looking to utilize social media as a customer relationship management tool. EPL organizations have found that digital platforms can efficiently provide customer service and handle questions, concerns, problems, and related issues.
Finally, EPL teams are attempting to monetize their daily functions via social media.
Ultimately, every organization strives to drive stakeholders to its website to increase ticket sales, merchandise sales, and sponsorship deals. The ability for social media to directly connect with audiences provides the opportunity for Premier League organizations to directly impact the bottom line.
Another important component of EPL team’s social media strategy is the magnitude of a given team’s brand and their level of success. EPL clubs with major brand recognition and elite players garner a greater digital following. Therefore, these teams can focus less on encouraging fans to engage with their social media channels but rather provide tools and initiatives to creatively influence the online conversation, and further concentrate on the monetization of their efforts. Additionally, EPL clubs with recent winning success are likely to receive positive engagement in higher frequency.
When a given EPL club is losing, the organization does not want it’s presence on social media channels to be a losing brand. Therefore, teams must adjust the online messaging and conversation accordingly based on the success of the team. These aspects are critical to keep in mind as EPL clubs implement social media strategy.
Most EPL teams stress that the most important aspect of a social media presence is the content; there must be quality content. For this study, we can define quality content in the social media realm to be authentic, exclusive information in varying forms, whether it be text, pictures, video, or anything else, that is posted with appropriate length and frequency, and gives value to stakeholders. Social media is cluttered with content. Therefore quality content allows for a given team’s message to stand out from all other visible content on social media feeds. It is vital that EPL club’s social media platforms provide value to their audience. Quality content that is exclusive in nature is necessary. This exclusive content includes information that highlights the proximity to the team, behind the scenes information, and player contact; information that they cannot get elsewhere. EPL clubs have found success in providing quality content by integrating their social media tools. For example, many teams are utilizing the social media platforms YouTube and Instagram to post videos and pictures, respectively, through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. This integration of tools provides varying content to fans which further increases engagement and interaction.
Social Media Campaigns:
Many teams have found success in developing social media campaigns around specific thematic content. Posts typically do not have a long life span; therefore connecting each post to an overarching campaign can strengthen its effectiveness and better promote the EPL team’s brand. Twitter is especially useful in developing hash tag campaigns around a season-long hash tag or using game-night hash tags. Twitter has created the #TwitterLeagueTable to show some of the greatest uses of Twitter by Premier League clubs, players and fans. Manchester City tops the table when it comes to the #TwitterLeagueTable. The table is based on metrics such as follower numbers for team and player accounts, use of official team hash tags, and how much fans interact with the content shared by the teams. Recently, Manchester City signed up its captain Vincent Kompany, to Twitter and urged its supporters to send him inspirational messages ahead of the derby with the hash tag #followthecaptain. Kompany chose the most inspirational and the person who posted it got the prize of Kompany’s match day shirt and armband along with an autographed poster of his tweet. Birmingham City FC became one of the first sports team to be an early adopter of Twitter’s new 6 second video sharing app – Vine. Vine has presented clubs with an excellent opportunity to capture the highlights of a football club – whether that is the day to day routine of a football club, a match day experience or the signing of a new player.
Manchester City also ramped up its use of YouTube as a medium to reach fans all around the world. The club strike a deal with YouTube that allowed managing ads on its new channel. Their first video uploaded on the channel, of Samir Nasri attracted more than half a million views in three days. The club also rolled out an innovative campaign named TunnelCam on YouTube. It was a short, simple but incredibly effective way of engaging content throughout the year.
Other Clubs recognise this effectiveness of campaigns in social media and strive to make full use of it. Chelsea used Twitter in a tactical way to promote their 2012/13 kit launch and trend globally using the #CFCkit hash tag. Chelsea sent out 1250 tweets that month. By engaging with their followers through the hashtag, Chelsea managed to generate a real buzz about their merchandise.
An example of a high level brand awareness campaign was the one conducted by Turkish Airlines in collaboration with Manchester United. The campaign was called Fans United and made an effort to engage Manchester United’s legion of loyal fans. Turkish Airlines held a contest in the form of a Facebook trivia App, choosing 19 lucky fans from around the world for a trip to Manchester’s Old Trafford for the first home match of the 2012 season against Fulham. Turkish Airlines has been a sponsor of Manchester United since 2010. During the four month engagement Turkish Airlines was able to engage with the club’s 29 million Facebook fans. According to Manchester United, the campaign generated over 322 million impressions across channels and Turkish Airlines generated an additional 190 thousand Facebook fans.
Another fantastic campaign was by Everton named #BlueCrimbo campaign. The aim of the campaign was to involve fans from the start. Keeping it as interactive as possible, it was decided that the conversation would be driven by content and this would keep it alive for some time.
Blue Crimbo was an evolution of previous campaigns rather than a completely new one. The campaign included e commerce, ticketing and social media in one place. The team created a virtual map of the city Liverpool which turns more and more blue every time a fan does his bit on the bluecrimbo page.
Fans can help the city turn blue in any one of the six different ways
Tweeting a message containing #BlueCrimbo
Buying match tickets online
Uploading a picture
Opening a new window on the club online advent calendar
Filling their stocking
Overall, the campaign was a success bringing together different elements of the business into a single, simple campaign.
Embracing these social media campaigns online is vital but many teams emphasize that it is equally important to incorporate social media and related campaigns in offline efforts as well.
In Arena Presence:
Connecting with Fans outside the Arena:
Social media enables fans to interact with EPL organizations when not in attendance of games. Twitter and Facebook are very popular, in addition to live chats and live video streaming. When fans are watching a Premier League game on television, EPL teams want them posting and tweeting about the game to broadly promote the brand and reach fan’s individual networks. Additionally, some Premier League teams have a live chat platform that provides as a conversational tool for fans during games. The live chat tool is effective in gathering fans in a common digital location, informing them of frequent game updates, and generating discussion around the team. Furthermore, the growth of "second screen" applications and "social TV" gives fans the opportunity to engage more interactively with EPL teams over mobile devices while watching television.
Broadcaster Sky has added a new football second screen experience the ‘Football Match Centre’ to its iPad app to support Sky Sports’ coverage of the new Barclays Premier League season.
All game content – including analysis and player information is housed in the new area within the Sky Sports iPad app, available free to Sky Sports customers. The Football Match Centre accompanies Premier League matches broadcast on Sky Sports. The Match Centre includes in-depth player stats including full squad listings, team line-ups, formations and profiles along with appearance stats and fantasy football points. It also includes match-day stats such as the number of shots on and off-target, yellow and red cards and passing success rates. In terms of social media the Football Match Centre includes a curated Twitter feed with aggregated fan commentary.
Ultimately, every EPL team should operate each platform recognizing fans may not be in attendance of a game in order to further encourage them to engage with the team as a casual fan, a brand ambassador, or ticket and merchandise consumer.
Tracking, Measurement and ROI:
With numerous social media initiatives in place, many EPL teams are still struggling to put a dollar value on the return on investment (ROI) for these efforts. However, there are many online tools to track and measure social media. The most common of these tools that teams are utilizing include Facebook Insights, Twitter Dashboard Analytics via Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, Bit.ly link tracking, Foursquare Analytics, and some have developed their own internal document. Many teams are expressing interest in partnering with Radian6, a social media monitoring business dedicated to assisting brands in measuring, analysing, and reporting their social media to better engage with their fans. These tools are providing EPL teams with insights on fan engagement and interaction over their social media channels. Also, teams are able to measure links that lead to ticket sales or merchandise sales. Premier League teams can identify more specific components of their efforts such as best times of day to post, trending topics, influential fans, and popular content. Most importantly, EPL teams can analyse all of the incoming data and then adjust their social media tactics accordingly. Most teams embrace a number of these tools but are still working to get their social media strategy down to a science so that they can develop consistent numbers for most efficient fan engagement and return on investment.
Premier League Social Media Issues:
Many teams understand that there are still limitations to the overall effectiveness of social media in the EPL. Social media is relatively new and continually evolving. It is evident that there has been difficulty monitoring the existing platforms and keeping up with new platforms. Effectively maintaining a social media presence across multiple channels is a major overtaking and requires a great deal of resources at this level. Minimal staffing dedicated to social media is one example of limited resources that has affected efforts of most teams. Most teams have between two and six employees dedicated to social media. Many of these professionals are also responsible for other key tasks within the organization such as public relations, marketing, and website management/editing.
Another issue is that there has been a feeling among a lot of footballers that they are being ignored or taken for granted in their clubs’ headlong rush to rake in even more money and attract sponsors.
Some teams like Manchester United have little interaction on their official club Twitter feed, whereas their star performers like Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are the most successful tweeters of all Premier League players. Both Rooney and Ferdinand regularly engage with their followers, sometimes in a negative way. In one instance, Rooney fumed at a fan and abused him after a Twitter bust up.
It is critically important for clubs to have a clear strategy for social media and guidelines for players and staff about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
The Premier League issued guidelines to all the clubs’ use of social media a year back. The guidelines set out clear directions to players on the use of social media. The guidelines focus on a number of areas including the benefits of using social media to engage with supporters, understanding the potential audience of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and recognising that it is possible to commit offences online via social media.
Some teams can’t stand the fact that their fans are criticizing their performance that might reduce the morale of the team and the players and might also lead to lawsuits.
Apart from these issues, there can also be internal problems such as 1) concerns about security, (2) senior management apathy, (3) fear of using unproven technologies and (4) fear of a negative impact on productivity.
Based on reviewing relevant literature and analysing EPL team’s online social media efforts, the following best practices were established.
These best practices are drawn from the similarities and differences in the usage of social media by EPL teams. The best practices also take into account the common challenges and drawbacks of current social media use in the Premier League. This should be used to establish a plan of social media usage for EPL teams in their strategy and tactics
One key lesson is that Social Media must be a form of entertainment, and not just a corporate marketing brand. Football Clubs should let go off their traditional marketing plans and sales promotions and provide data to entertain fans – Datatainment. Prior to matches, they should show a build-up trailer to the game and use platforms such as YouTube to show snippets of highlights of past games, or talk about key players and unite the fans behind emotive team support using hash tags on Twitter.
The greatest ingredient of social media is that it literally connects with people together and transcends all barriers of location and language. The teams should focus on possibilities of tapping the network of talented and eager fans. Instead of making the website editor write the match report, a fan can be asked to write one. Fans should be given space in the team by using fan videos form the stands, promoting fan written articles and using platforms such as Twitter to talk and listen to the fans.
The teams should set up a LinkedIn channel along with their new Facebook and Twitter pages. Though LinkedIn is less social than Facebook and Twitter, it shouldn’t be ignored altogether. There are unofficial groups and communities set up and moderated by fans to connect with each other. The clubs can start a business network in LinkedIn that exploits the bond between the fans in a more formal way. The members of the group can network with each other, listen to keynote speakers, and do business with likeminded fans.
Quality Content should be given. The content a team provides over social media should give fans value and make following the team worthwhile. The content could include text, pictures, video, links, news articles, incentives, trivia, polls, free giveaways, tickets, merchandise, team website, and access to other social media channels. The content should also be exclusive. The information and visuals provided over these channels should be unique such as behind the scenes footage or highlights of close proximity to the team. Additionally, within the content, there must be a call to action. Simply posting news or links will not be effective but creating a reaction will lead to likes, comments, retweets, tweets, and discussion about the brand.
Incorporate social media offline: The goal of a EPL team from a marketing perspective is to have their fans consistently talking about your brand. Therefore, wherever your brand is your social media channels should be present as a means to continue the conversation online. These placements include tickets, posters, billboards, television channels airing games, and all in-arena signage. Social media channels and the organization’s website should also promote each other. Every event or promotion should highlight the team’s social media channels, specifically the Facebook URL and Twitter handle. This is critical in reaching new fans and expanding the brand’s following. The future may see these aspects further explored potentially with the integration of social media on player jerseys and on the football stadium, among other specific placements.
Personalize fans on social media: Be authentic and use personality. Show that the relationships with the audiences via social media are genuine. Provide customer service through answering questions, responding to problems, handling tickets and merchandise concerns, and related issues. At times, communicate accordingly by utilizing abbreviation, appropriate slang, and punctuation. Additionally, EPL clubs should maintain a consistent plan of communication over social media channels and avoid gaps as it applies to game days, non-game days, in-season, and off-season.
Gamify social media efforts: Premier League teams can incorporate competitive gaming applications that spark fan interest. The games may or may not relate to the teams’ on the stadium efforts but are effective in generating engagement and directing traffic to EPL team’s social media platforms and website. Manchester United have developed the new United game app that allows fans to play as a current Old Trafford star Shinji Kagawa, Ryan Giggs, or Robin Van Persie and show off their skills and post their scores on Facebook. The game itself is fun to play and the there’s an added incentive of entering a prize draw to win a match entry at Old Trafford. This "gamification" ties fans closer to the team, creates more impressions, and allows EPL teams to gather information on fans. Furthermore, sports fans are more likely to be gamers, which give more incentive for a "gamification" approach to engage fans (Consumer Electronic Association, 2008).
Collect fan data: EPL teams can use social media platforms, applications, and related contests to gather fan information and fan input. It is essential to track which fans interact with individual EPL team’s social media and provide applications where fans can sign up or input data such as email, phone numbers, and zip codes. From these efforts, EPL teams can build a database of fan information, and directly contact fans inside and outside of social media to market tickets, merchandise, and related deals. The ability to identify who and where fans are allows the teams to better market to their key audiences.
Use fans to amplify the EPL club’s message: EPL clubs can increase the impressions of their messages, and their following by utilizing fans and their networks. Providing quality content will lead to re-tweets, likes, and sharing, but teams can go even further with the fan relationship by asking fans to amplify the message through incentives. Teams can ask fans to re-tweet and then the team will follow them on Twitter. These small initiatives can yield major results in increasing the fan base, brand impressions, fan interaction, and social media awareness around a given team.
Track, measure, analyse, and adjust: Utilize social media tracking analytics to measure and analyse the EPL team’s on-going initiatives. Facebook Insights and Twitter Dashboard Analytics via Hoot suite and Tweet deck are especially effective in providing quality data, visuals, and reports. Additionally, the Twitter Dashboard Analytics can provide link tracking as well as Bit.ly Analytics. All of this data can provide measurable insights to social efficiency and return on investment of a EPL team. This data can provide foresight to potential times of day to post, type of content to post, and most influential fans. Once the data has been measured and analysed, it is essential for the teams to adjust their social media tactics to provide a more engaging fan experience via social media.
These best practices establish not only how to use social media in sports communication but why these practices are important. These best practices include guiding examples in which teams have utilized these methods. It is essential for sports entities to understand the most effective ways they can utilize social media tools, and why those tools work for them. Each of these practices should be integrated into an overarching social media communications strategy.