Clubs and sports organizations are displacing the media as the broadcasters of their content and are learning how to reach an increasingly global audience through social networks without the need for intermediaries
Some 46% of the population take a look at social networks before going to sleep. Almost an identical percentage scroll through their smartphones when getting up in the morning, many immediately when the alarm goes off, before getting out of bed. Some 32% are entertained on the way to work reading news, news commentaries, tweets and retweets. And of all the users of social networks, 72% have a mobile phone in their hands. We continue to need information daily, but the way we receive it is nothing like how our parents did.
Newspapers no longer need kiosks to reach us, the radio is not necessarily heard via a transistor and the television is still a box, but getting smaller and smaller and now it is also portable. The media have been forced to change the way they work, to go in search of their audience wherever they are and give them fast, attractive and easily digestible content, because now the one who chooses, the one who makes the rules, is the consumer. And the consumer establishes the schedules, channels and methods. The fourth power has changed hands, social networks have given clubs and sports organizations the tools to compete ruthlessly with traditional media and have their own channels to reach their followers. Fast, direct, without different versions or interpretations, at any time and in any place.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, to name the most common, are the voice of the new generations, those who use the internet as a source of information. In the last decade, changes in consumption habits have directly affected the media and press officers of sports organizations. They are still needed, but in another way, and let’s say that their relationship is not so loyal.
Ernest Macià, sports journalist for Catalunya Ràdio and Esport 3, and commentator for the BBC and CNN, is also an expert in social media communication and has more than 15 years of experience in sports information. In our last exclusive webinar for the Alumni Cruyff Institute platform, he gave us a lesson on the use of social networks. A theoretical and practical class that could well be used as a survival manual for sports organizations, clubs, federations and media. If you recognize yourself among any of these groups, keep reading because this will interest you.
GOOD PRACTICES IN SOCIAL NETWORKS
Be proactive: be close to the audience that is following you. That means answering each mention or, at least, giving it importance with a ‘like’. Show information from inside the club, things that no one can see, like players eating, for example, or doing rehabilitation exercises if that’s what they’re doing … Share information that comes from a fan or from former players to create a community also works.
Have a plan for content and schedules: you should post at least twice a day and at the time when you are going to reach a greater audience, depending on the country. That is: 8-10am (when we get up, go to work or get to work), 1-4pm (during lunch or just after) and 8-10pm (during dinner or before bedtime).
Add videos to your content: it is the best format and should be of different length depending on the channel: maximum of one minute on Facebook and Twitter; between 25 and 30 seconds on Instagram and 5 seconds on Vine. As in television, there is a ‘prime time’ in social networks. Two videos a day is ideal.
Give content out of the competition period: keep your audience in contact with your organization in holiday periods, when there are no competitions, maintain their interest in what you do.
Choose your sources well: a good tip is to follow fewer accounts, but more reliable ones.
Select news for networks: we must differentiate between ‘hard news’ (politics, economy, technology, education) or ‘soft news’ (sports, entertainment) to choose the best channel on which to post. Twitter is the most used channel for sports news.
Distinguish between influencers and hubs: you must know how to recognize your followers and differentiate between influencers (people who will give you quality mentions or retweets and give you more followers) and hubs (diffusion platforms or organizations that have a good relationship with influencers and can increase the success of a brand).
Be responsive: the goal of any organization, club, etc. must be to adapt to the mobile phone platform. Mobile phones are the present and future and, in terms of content, video is king.
Create a community: you have to create it and feed it constantly. Enhancing the proximity between the club and its followers is crucial. That will give you a lot of feedback, even when you don’t expect it. Generating participation and debate creates a need for daily information and will open doors for people from all over the world. Launching promotions regularly will encourage this relationship between club and fans.
Enhance your product: use social networks as a means to lead more people to your website or landing page. That will attract more advertisers or sponsors to your page, which will increase your income, and give your followers access to something as important to any club as, for example, ticket sales without having to go through the box office.
Post breaking news: in the case of clubs, giving information about the evolution of players’ injuries or showing them doing specific activities that can promote the club is very interesting. That is why today many European clubs tend to have their own media (television channel, radio and newsletter) through which they compete directly with the traditional media.
Recognize your mistakes: in life in general, but in social networks in particular, it is very important to recognize your mistakes. We all make them because everything goes very fast, but apologizing for a mistake is very useful and is a way to reconcile with anyone who may have felt hurt.
BAD PRACTICES IN SOCIAL NETWORKS
Being tedious or boring: sharing too much information about statistics, for example, can be boring if done too often. You have to know how to choose data that is very relevant, not everything goes.
Being reckless: do not write anything in networks that you would not write after thinking twice. Do not fall into provocation; there are many false profiles on the network that use corporate names and can do a lot of damage to an organization or person. Stay in your safe zone and think about what the impact may be before posting or tweeting.
Being tiresome: you have to be constant, but not tiresome. Posting every five minutes can become abusive and downplay what you are saying. It will not give you more impact, but rather it can create the opposite effect.
BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Comparisons are not always odious, as long as we use them to our advantage to improve. And, although it seems surprising, the clubs in the Premier League, the richest and most valued in the world, still have much to learn about this. All-powerful clubs like Manchester United or Chelsea are losing the battle in social media to clubs like FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. And everything has an explanation. Being in the right place at the right time also allows you to score a goal on social networks. That Barça and Real Madrid now have idols like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who are taking social media by storm makes their followers keep growing and growing.
Barça can look, in terms of networks, at all their rivals over their shoulder, because they are clearly top of the table. Not only because they have Messi, but because the club is still assiduously in the fight for the titles of all competitions. The same can be said of Real Madrid maintaining its prestige, while Manchester United has lost the dominance it had until the 2010-11 season. FC Barcelona invests more resources in social networks than many other European clubs, as we will analyze later.
The demographic situation of the clubs will also help in the race to have more followers. Another reason for Barça’s success, not only in its own territory but also far away, is because at the tourism level Barcelona is an equally successful brand. And people tend to associate this experience of enjoying one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world with FC Barcelona.
HOW DOES BARÇA WORK ITS SOCIAL NETWORKS?
FC Barcelona works very well on its content and that investment is reflected in the number of new followers that it is gaining daily in social networks. To give an example, on Instagram, the last platform on which it began to publish, it has 200,000 new users each week, according to the club’s own data. Barça is a multi-sports club: they have football, basketball, handball, roller hockey and futsal. But apart from all these different professional disciplines and women’s teams, they also have different categories (under-20s and under-18s).
And if you want to make a difference, and they do, you should treat all the teams individually and give them the time and space they need. Barça has a team of four people working exclusively for the first team in social networks, generating texts, videos, audios, images, etc. They are nourished by the content they receive from the press officers of each of the sections and the academy. They write 2 or 3 posts on Facebook and 2 or 3 tweets every day, a good formula to be constant without being tiresome.
In the continuous evolution of their strategy in social networks, they have also been incorporating different languages and channels. Barça is currently present on 15 platforms around the world: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Line, Google+, Viber, Snapchat, Linkedin, Sina (Chinese Twitter), WeChat (Chinese WhatsApp), Miaopai (Chinese Vimeo) , Daily Motion (YouTube in Europe), TuneIn (online radio), Pinterestand Periscope.
As for languages, the list is endless. FC Barcelona uses Spanish, Catalan and English as its ‘official’ languages, but also uses geolocation to post in French, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Indonesian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Arabic. And if a player is signed from some other corner of the planet, you can also rest assured that his followers will receive a message or two in that new language.
The use of WhatsApp has also become part of the day-to-day of press officers for communicating with the media that follow the activity of the team on a daily basis. A good practice is to create a unidirectional WhatsApp group through which the club can inform journalists directly and receive their ‘feedback’, although with individual responses. Some small clubs have also started using this channel to communicate with their fans.
SOME QUESTIONS TO REFLECT ON
How old should a community manager of a club be and what studies should they have?
In my opinion, a good community manager should be, if possible, young and talented, intelligent and consistent. As we have said, tenacious does not mean tiresome. But if you are young and a social network native, I’m sure that you’ll already know instinctively how to make the best use of each social network, without needing to learn it. From there, you must study, because that will give you an in-depth knowledge of the tool. And, of course, you must be prudent, responsible and use common sense.
As a journalist, have you had more problems with what you have said on the radio or in social networks?
In social networks, without any doubt. There, everything is written and anyone can take a screenshot. Even if you delete a message from your profile, anyone can have captured it and, later, show what you said to hurt you. That is why I insist that we must be very cautious in social networks because the impact and the implications can be extraordinary, both for good and bad.
Do you think that the media have lost exclusivity with their audience since the appearance of social networks?
Yes, we have lost that exclusivity of being the interlocutor between club and follower, but that does not mean that we have lost our audience. Currently, the press competes with the clubs, who have privileged information that they can broadcast exclusively and directly, and the media follow behind. Television has less influence than in the past, and it is the same for radio and newspapers, because social networks have changed everything, but we can all coexist. There is room for everyone because audiences have also grown a lot.
Francesco Totti takes a selfie during a goal celebration. (Image: Reuters)
Do you think that athletes should receive training on how to use their social networks?
They do receive it. In fact, there are athletes who receive a small manual with some basic rules for using networks. It is clear that many of them have people working on their social networks, one, two or even three people, if they are very popular athletes who post a lot of content. But athletes also have direct access to their networks and, although they don’t usually interact directly with their followers, sometimes they do. Some are social media natives and others aren’t. But, in any case, they are not media professionals and can make big mistakes. That is why organizations like the NBA, the NFL, the MLS, the UEFA Champions League, the ASB League and the Spanish Basketball League, as far as I know, give them instructions on how to act. Then, obviously, they are free to follow them or not, but they are given instructions. It is important that these athletes know how to behave in a world as complex as the one they live in today to avoid major problems.
How often should you post videos on social networks?
It depends on each case. Two videos a day would be very good, depending on your activity or if you can work on them a lot so they are good quality. But if we’re talking about Facebook Live or Instagam Stories, there is no limit. If you are a person with a lot of impact and a large number of followers, they will be interested in everything you show them; how you train, how you go to training, how you get to the hotel after a match or what you eat, to give a few examples. All that has a place in Instagram Stories, Vimeo or Snapchat. But if not, two videos a day is fine.
Is there any way to detect when an athlete is posting directly or someone is doing it for them?
Sometimes they sign messages by capitalizing the first letter of their first and last name, but they don’t do it very often. I think if you’re a native, you know how to distinguish when it is they who are posting and when it is not. But normally, when they’re short messages, very specific, or simply a photo you can deduce that it is them posting directly. Organizations often post longer, more elaborate messages and use AdWords to know which word works in a particular place at a particular time. For example, ‘soccer’ works very well in the United States, but very badly in Europe, where ‘football’ is used, while in the United States, ‘football’ can be understood as American football. Athletes don’t do this job of searching by countries, but companies do.
How should clubs use social networks to market their products?
Social networks give you the option of inserting a purchase button that directs you directly to the merchandise store, for example, or to buy tickets. You don’t need to go through the landing page of the corporate website. It’s a good way to direct people to a part of your information, which will generate money without having to search among all the content.
What is better, a quick tweet or a later tweet but with verified information?
Good question! The best thing is a quick tweet with verified information. Obviously, if you post a tweet at the same time something is happening it can be fantastic, but you also run the risk of making a mistake. We have to be very responsible and know that a tweet can be important but also cause damage. Think of terrorist attacks, for example, with people tweeting when nothing has been officially confirmed yet. As a journalist, the smartest thing is to make sure that a tweet is verified and, then, the sooner you publish it, the better. The most important thing is your prestige, your reputation in social networks, and both can be ruined by a single tweet.