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Twitter’s Promotion to the Premier League

Sunday saw the end of what was arguably, the most exciting Premier League season. As a football fan and Strategist on The Sun Football I wanted to reflect back over the past 9 months, and run through some other highlights, namely the ever increasing role social media plays in football

As the game has modernised, so too have the fans, the clubs and the media. No longer must one wait until MOTD for highlights or rush home for final score to see if that accumulator has come in. And, to my disappointment, I didn’t see anyone holding a radio to their ear yesterday to find out the other crucial scores. Social media really has revolutionised the way in which fans consume football. It’s now about instant, snackable and shareable content. A fan’s football diet will consist of a vast and diverse array of media, each with his/her own preferences. Media and news outlets, brands and even the clubs are quickly adapting the way in which they cover the beautiful game in order to best cater the modern fan. This season was actually the first season that all Premier League teams had a presence on Twitter.

Manchester United, relative amateurs to the Twittersphere, cemented Twitter’s pertinence to the sport just a few weeks back when they opted to announce the sacking of then manager, David Moyes, in merely 93 characters. Whether or not this was appropriate behaviour from an employer is a conversation for another time. Another example came just a couple nights back when former England player, Ashley Cole, leaked on the social networking site that he had been snubbed from the England World Cup Squad… Once again, news was being formed off the back of a tweet. This season we have also seen the standard Twitter player spats, the rise of the player Selfie and a new era of Vine taking footballers, the nation’s favourite being new wonder kid Luke Shaw. Twitter is allowing fans to get closer to the action than ever before; it’s a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of our sporting heroes. Away from Twitter, the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are having great successes with YouTube, also, creating exclusive content for supporters. Ten years ago, how could you have seen these players cracking jokes, doing pranks and just being normal people?

From a news perspective, this has great significance. News organisations have to make sure that they’re as relevant on social networks as they are offline. This season, we (Wunderman) have put in place a social media strategy for The Sun Football, ensuring just that. A brand mustn’t just re-write the news on its social media channels, but put their stamp to it, also. Ultimately, the outcome should always be shareable content. In order to do this, a blended reactive, predictive and proactive strategy must be in force to nurture such creativity. Just look at The Sun Football’s reaction to the Moyes sacking… Within a matter of minutes, a tactical, branded and controversial image was shared on Facebook and Twitter and due to its timely nature, the response was outstanding.

Traditional sports journalism is being turned on its head, and the ever illusive ‘exclusive’ is becoming trickier to capture with clubs and players now taking to social networks to leak/announce information themselves. For example, we all knew Hazard was off to Stamford Bridge through his ‘subtle’ tweet at the end of last season. This, however, doesn’t render news publishers obsolete – far from it. Fans will always look for the bigger, fuller story from their trusted news sources. But, moreover, this creates an opportunity for such news organisations – take these stories and make them your own. Using talent, creativity and tone of voice, publishers can create a social asset that will garner a reaction from fans and drive them to the website/app for more of the same.

Within any social media strategy, campaigns will always play a major role. And, in this area, Barclays, that age old sponsor of the Premier League (since 2001, to be precise), really upped their game. Their #YouAreFootball campaign hooked onto a beautifully true football insight, and that is, football is for the fans – ‘to follow is to love’, in their words. Supported by a heartfelt TV ad, Barclays encouraged fans to take to social and tell them why they loved football. Simple and effective. A fan ‘experiment’ was also created whereby heart rates were tracked and ‘passion’ was measured – albeit not the most original idea (see Sharp’s Fan Labs a few years back), the sentiment and execution was nice enough. Through implementing an emotional tone, Barclays were able to cut through the sheer noise of junk in the football arena, this season.

One brand always capable of cutting through the noise is Paddy Power. ‘The godfather of banter’ – an apt nickname, I feel. Their #ballofshame campaign kicked off (pun #6) in standard, spectacular fashion with a firmly tongue in cheek TV advert to then be followed by a series of bizarre (and often inappropriate) deals, offers and competitions. The bookmaker, last week, released their latest instalment of #ballofshame, inspired by the tweets of their fans. The outcome – a hilarious and unique way of using talent. Paddy Power serve as a strong reminder that brands can often be a little corporate and stiff at times, when, in fact, especially with football, fans are after entertainment. And, what’s more, like with The Sun Football, they highlight the importance of finding your tone of voice and sticking with it.

So… that’s it for this season, another Premier League campaign done and dusted. It’s been a cracker footballing wise, and as a fan, I can honestly say I have been excited to see the sport I love become ‘social’. There are a lot of tensions in football at the moment; overpriced tickets, overpriced shirts, overpriced players and bizarre owners, all aspects of the game that are distancing it from the fans, and for this, I salute the new era of social football. This year, fans have really been able to feel a bigger part of the club and I look forward to seeing this continue into the first social World Cup. Through all branded guff that we will inevitably see from random brands during the competition, I also expect to experience an immersive World Cup. Brands will work hard to bring the world’s biggest football stars to the fans via social media, adding a little extra magic to the tournament.