How to engage with fans socially beyond the football terraces

   Engaging with football fans in social media beyond the terracesI was at Old Trafford recently… I felt the excitement of 76,000 fans as Ian Brown’s voice belted out of the speaker system ‘This is the One’. I did something that I couldn’t have done before the start of this season, when Old Trafford improved its connectivity and offered free Wi-fi to fans. I sent a tweet and my 1,007 followers got a tiny piece of FA Cup excitement as it was happening in real time. In some strange way they felt connected to the game through me.

Talking about football has always been a huge part of the fan experience. We spend Wednesday to Saturday anticipating the game and then Saturday to Wednesday talking about how it went. Ten years ago this chat may have been restricted to the stadium, the local pub or the office on a Monday morning, but the world has changed. The social revolution has meant that everyone is broadcaster and ‘Channel Me’ runs from tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. Fan chat is non-stop from Tottenham to Thailand and now at last with increased connectivity it’s even coming live from the stadium.

The volume of football fans tweeting, hash-tagging or posting status updates is vast and no longer restricted to whether or not you physically attend. You can talk to somebody about the match you’ve both just watched without sitting next to them or even being in the same country. Twitter, perhaps more so than any other social media platform, has extended the experience globally, allowing fans around the world to participate in the incredible emotion of live sport. We are in the age of conversation and football fans are part of vast connected global networks clustered around a shared passion.

It becomes slightly more challenging when brand partners want to join the conversation. Clever brands know we’ve moved from the age of shouting about stuff via TV ads to engaging consumers about things they love. The old days of ‘badge and broadcast’ in sport are gone and campaigns need to be built on great ideas and bite sized chunks of valuable content that fans will share. The hunger for unique authentic content can put brand partners at the heart of a fan-base. The brands doing this well make sure they understand fan passion and what makes it tick. Quite simply, if you want to join and shape a conversation they need to speak the same language.

Starting a Twitter #hashtag is one of the most important phenomena to have an impact on how fans and brands engage. Shared ideas and concepts are unparalleled when it comes to creating excitement around a new player, shirt or partnership. Let’s get hash-tagging! Whether serious or silly, the togetherness that hash tagging creates is extremely powerful in its ability to make people sit up and take notice.

Live tweeting is much the same. Like sitting around a radio on a Saturday afternoon, live social media activity from football clubs and the fans that support them acts as a snappy commentary of events that can be accessed anytime anywhere; at home on a computer or on a mobile device at the match itself. Technology is catching up with ambition and those at the matches can now transmit what’s happened in a couple of seconds, often competing with newsroom giants. The most influential fans have an insatiable hunger for their teams that is relentless and on-going, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They are becoming the first wave of authentic commentary.

Social media is nothing new. No longer a sensation, it is clearly here to stay. While people still talk in the pub, the power of social has increased the opportunity for fans to connect exponentially. As technology improves it means that huge live sport audiences can add to the conversation direct from the stadium. Expect to see another massive surge in how fans engage with the game and how brands can get more from their sport partnerships.

Steve Smith (@_stevesmith) is managing director of Ear to the Ground, a communications company that specialises in connecting brands with sport and music fans.