A lot of weight is given to social media as a tool for direct communication with fans. Generally, it’s often thought of as a way of having one-to-one conversations with those interested in your business, and clubs are no different. In fact, it’s the unique role of the fan that makes it such a perfect tool for football clubs to use.
But as part of a wider research project we’ve been carrying out recently, we’ve found that on Twitter, professional clubs in England are split almost down the middle when it comes two-way communication using the tool. We’ve looked at Twitter first, on the basis that it’s about the most effective SM tool out there. Except the problem is it’s also one of the most effective broadcasting tools too. That means that whilst it’s useful for finding out what someone thinks about an issue, or resolving something through an exchange of Tweets or DMs, it’s also highly effective at pushing information out in one direction: from club to fans/followers.
These are very different uses, and I’m not sure that all clubs realise the difference – or what they’re missing out on not using for more two-way interaction.
One of the issues could be size: with huge followings, it won’t be easy to use the official Twitter account to converse with fans. A club like Liverpool for example won’t find it easy to converse with supporters or answer enquiries via the general @LFC handle. If it did, its important role in pushing information out (as a broadcast channel) becomes compromised. It might also have to put its match updates onto a different channel for example, which is just confusing.
This is where having a ‘help’ Twitter channel might be a useful addition to your toolbox, and in fact Liverpool did used to have an @LFC_Help handle, but its last post in 2013 was to tell followers that ‘We are currently reviewing the LFC customer service Twitter.’ (it also proceeds to direct users to a domain that, clearly, has nothing to do with football anymore!). Similar clubs like Manchester City or Leicester City do use Twitter for supporter services/help, and so they have a virtual supporter services channel. In the same way that you might have a dedicated supporter services phone number, email address or even fully-actual department, you do the same for Twitter.
Of course, there are probably a majority of clubs in England which are smaller, don’t need them, and might struggle to dedicate the resources. But smaller clubs can get around this. You can use a single channel and do a Q&A on particular days, or save up questions and queries over the week and answer them at once. You could also encourage your Supporter Liaison Officer(s) (SLO) to deliver some sort of service, as often they’ll be performing supporter services support. This can be especially useful where, like Lincoln City, you have a team, not just one person, performing the role. One thing that’s important to note when we talk about SLOs, is that a lot of clubs are still appointing employees as SLOs. In some cases, even directors and CEOs are playing this role, and this would I suspect make what I’m suggesting difficult or impossible for a number of reasons. I’d advise reviewing how SLOs are appointed anyway, and creating a role is more along the lines of what it was always meant to be: independent from the ownership structure, and with (a) genuine fan(s) engaged to do the role. Peterborough United do this, and have an active Twitter channel @theposhSLO|
However you do it, two-way conversation on social media channels like Twitter with your fans relies on process, and then culture or habit.
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