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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Man City leading the Social Media charge

My latest article from Bristol City matchday programme Red Alert, taken from the Derby County game on March 31st:

Manchester City’s money-chucking approach to gain success on the pitch causes considerable consternation but there is a long-term plan in place off-the-pitch as well.  Away from impressive plans around new training facilities and holding open evenings to explain their accounts, the online team has also been making great strides.

The club has understood that whilst they can email fans or give away flyers with hot dogs, they will only ever reach a proportion of supporters via those methods.  Every other week 50,000 fans turn up at the Etihad Stadium, so what have Man City done?  They’ve turned over space on giant screens to fans tweeting about the game, about the club, about their day out – or about life in general.  Anyone tweeting using the hashtag #Blueview can find their tweet (and username) suddenly highlighted to all of their fellow supporters.  Bringing live social media interaction is just the latest step following setting up of free Wi-Fi within the stadium’s grounds and extensive advertising of their online presence.

They’re actively advertising their presence in the world of social media and encouraging droves of fans to sign up and follow – all generating better ways of communicating.

They’ve followed this up by playing on their most marketable and headline-generating current asset, Mario Balotelli.  By simply tagging themselves in an interactive photo including avatars of some top players, fans could win a signed shirt and a personalised video message from Balotelli himself.  Sean Walsh, a leading expert from Digital Football, had this view of this initiative:
“a fantastic idea that has all the ingredients of a successful Social campaign – an engaging piece of content, audience participation (finding both yourself and the fan favourites in the crowd) and a fabulous motive”

Richard Ayres, the grandly titled “Digital Playmaker” of the club claims that he doesn’t see the Blues as a football club but a “global entertainment brand”.  It may sound crass and disrespectful but when one takes a look at his task and realises he’s got more than 166 non-playing hours each week to fill with interaction and entertainment to keep people communicating with the club, you can understand the perspective.

Whilst you could argue they don’t need it, these sorts of activities bring in no direct revenue for the richest club in the world.  Many clubs now have some sort of SMS interaction but will often charge for the privilege.  This is different.  As City’s Commercial Director Kevin Smith alluded to in the recent interview on this page, if clubs (or indeed any business) see these new routes of communication as revenue-generation channels then they’re likely to be disappointed.  Fans use social media because it is free, because it’s instant and because they don’t have to subscribe or commit to anything.

However, by becoming more linked with everything going at behind the doors of your club, by becoming more engaged on a one-to-one basis, the expectation is that fans will feel more a part of the club than ever and this will directly lead to more tickets and merchandise being sold, not directly attributable to social media but it remains undoubtedly critical.

Ayres’ view is simple and underlines the indirect positive impact that can be gained in one of so many potential methods.
Our strategy is to talk regularly with the fans…to get ideas from them. This exchange with the fans is very important. It also gives fans the feeling to be involved. We show prototypes and get feedback. It makes us safer and it gives us a better sense regarding our product development activities.”

Man City’s official account saw growth in the number of Twitter followers of 20% in January alone, a staggering amount for an established channel, even by the micro-blogging site’s remarkable growth standards, and proves that there is plenty of catching up for the other 91 clubs to do if they’re going to try and keep pace off the pitch, let alone on it, with the new best club in the land* (* - possibly).

Thanks to www.digital-football.com for allowing reproduction of parts of this article.  Visit them for the best inside view on football’s interaction with social media.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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