Tear up the tech textbook: It’s time to talk!

Each week, we’re going to be looking at a section from our Little Book of Fan Insights in a bit more detail

The motivation behind the book – and Fan Insights itself – came from seeing too many fan engagement ‘experts’ at conferences and events – the places football often goes to find out what the best practice is – failing to get to the heart of the unique relationship between a club and its fans – even less so, how that relationship needs to be managed on a practical level.

This week, the focus is on technology itself, how to use it to your advantage, whilst avoiding the inevitable temptations to indulge in fads, or broadcast and not genuinely listen, or to overuse it.

The use of every communications ‘tool’ at your club has to be the result of a process. That doesn’t mean you have to go through a long, drawn-out strategy every time a new tool comes out, but what it does mean is it has to fit into this:


You need to make sure that you haven’t just set up a YouTube channel and have no content because you don’t have a club journalist to deliver the content, because the role hasn’t been identified in any strategic process. Or if you want to use VR or video technology to do guided tours around the stadium, fine. But if your stadium is currently undergoing renovation and you can’t access half of it, what’s the purpose? You might want to show fans the renovations, but what if the site is currently too dangerous to access at the moment?


The use of every communications ‘tool’ at your club has to be the result of a process. That doesn’t mean you have to go through a long, drawn-out strategy every time a new tool comes out, but what it does mean is it has to fit into this


Think of a tool like twitter: you wouldn’t use it as the primary way of communicating in a relationship, would you? Although we might use twitter, facebook, or another media to communicate on something like the shopping list, pick-up times for the kids, when the car needs collecting from the garage, we don’t have in depth discussions about purchasing the new house, or problems with the teenage son or daughter that way. Or at least we know that important issues need to be dealt with sensitively, because trying to follow a thread of messages isn’t going to convey our true feelings properly, which makes face-to-face the best medium.

In the same way, if you’re seeking to consult on, say, a new stadium, carrying out a twitter poll, or even doing an online survey, can’t be the only way you do it. You need to have conversations, spend time, with people. You need to be in the room.

Football clubs are not alone either: Plenty of businesses and people struggle with it, and whilst there are plenty of people who like to tell you they know what they’re doing, it’s not an exact science. Social Media Marketing for example – getting sales results via twitter, facebook, etc – is still a bit hit and miss. Here’s a really good piece on Social Media Marketing, and why smaller businesses in particular should be cautious about its use: https://www.bigmouthmarketing.co/why-social-media-marketing-does-not-work-for-small-businesses

Choosing how we communicate with the most important people to us, in business terms stakeholders (known as ‘publics’ in PR talk) – our fans in this case – needs to be done thoughtfully and sensitively. It also often needs to be two-way, and be both talking and listening (being prepared to move and change minds on both sides – what’s known as ‘symmetrical’). Jim Macnamara talks about this in his report, ‘Creating an architecture of listening in organisations’, saying: ‘Books and articles focus too much…on a transmissional broadcast approach to public communication.’ Modern technology – particularly the type where we can broadcast easy messages – can be tempting to use to transmit, and not to converse.

Tricia Wang worked for Nokia and is a ‘Global Tech Ethnographer’. This might be quite a mouthful, but essentially she helps organisations to understand the the habits, needs, desires of people by observing and interacting with them. The point being that ‘qualitative’ data and information – conversations, meetings, understanding the person and people behind the statistics – brings a richness to your understanding of them – particularly where you’re using ‘big data’ (surveying, etc). In this case, of your fanbase.

She did some research for Nokia to try to understand what the market wanted, and at that time, the emerging battle was iPhones versus Nokia handsets (you could probably add Blackberries into that too). Nokia’s ‘big data’ research and surveying showed that their customers thought Smartphones were a ‘fad’. Her research suggested strongly that iPhones were the growth area, and they essentially dismissed her research. We all know what happened to Nokia.

In the end, football clubs are essentially people-centred organisations, and you need to keep that at the forefront of what you do. When you want to use tech to engage, think: does it meet the Values>Strategy>Messaging>Tools process? Is it going to get the insight you want? Is it going to result in people switching off?

So whilst technology, new ideas and concepts are important to challenge old thinking, and make us do things differently, it isn’t the way to solve the challenge of football clubs communicating better with their fanbase.

Fan Insights:
Try watching this Ted Talk by Patricia Wang, called ‘The Human
Insights Missing from Big Data’: https://goo.gl/eMYmCX and this blog post by Jim Macnamara from the University of Technology Sydney, and visiting professor at London’s LSE: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2016/09/27/everybodys-talking-at-me-is-anyone-listening

If you want to find out more about Fan Insights, drop us a line, or download the Little Book of Fan Insights

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