Industry views
How football clubs use social media to inject personality into their players

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If you’ve ever watched a post-match interview with a footballer you’ll know that, generally, they’re not exactly the most unmissable part of the beautiful game. More often than not you can predict exactly what their formulaic response will be before the interviewer has even finished asking his question.

With every word meticulously scrutinised by the press, modern-day footballers seem to be nothing more than media-trained robots programmed to speak in clichés. This, along with the multi-millionaire status that even the more average top-level footballer enjoys, has only served to disconnect these players from the fans who pack the stadiums to watch them perform.

Gone are the days of the sixties, when you’d find your local top-flight team’s star striker down the pub or see a new signing travelling with the fans on the bus to the stadium before a game. Football, particularly in England, is now a global product exported for unfathomable sums of money, and the players are brands in their own right. With even the slightest misdemeanour, a player is at risk of losing thousands of pounds from their seemingly endless amounts of endorsement deals. It’s no wonder the modern footballer is hyper conscious to avoid controversy at all times.

Yet fans love a character. Sure, they’re happy to chant the name of a complete bore if they can take on three defenders and smash one into the top corner. However, when a player can also convey a likeable personality the fans really take him to their hearts, regardless of ability. Every club has a player with cult hero status for this reason; Emmanuel Eboue at Arsenal, Nyron Nosworthy at Sunderland, and it’s why Benjamin Mendy has become a fan favourite at Manchester City despite barely playing a game for them due to an early injury.

Social media is the ideal tool for a footballer to show off their personality. The problem with this is that the slightest dodgy tweet can send the media and public into a furore. Many players have received a backlash following an ill-advised tweet. Rio Ferdinand asking fans to “spare a thought” for him on New Year’s Eve because he couldn’t celebrate due to a match the next year, Carlton Cole joking that the England v Ghana friendly was a “trap” set up by immigration services, and pretty much anything Joey Barton has ever tweeted.

Football clubs themselves have taken measures to prevent these types of scandals, with most implementing a ‘social media code of conduct’ for their squad to adhere to. However, many savvy clubs have started using their own social media accounts to release content that shows off their players’ personalities, in a way that’s managed by the club. This kind of content has helped fans reconnect with their players in a way that the club can control, therefore reducing the risk of a player going rogue and offending somebody or embroiling himself in a scandal.

Manchester City’s Youtube videos

Manchester City may be relative newcomers amongst Europe’s elite, but they were one of the first clubs in England to use social media as a means to showcase the personalities of their expensively assembled squad. City’s Youtube channel has been producing funny, sharable content for many years. They gained real traction in 2012 with a series of Christmas themed Advert Calendar videos, many of them featuring the antics of Mario Balotelli. The viral star of the campaign though was Serbian left back Aleksandar Kolarov with his hilarious rendition of Jingle Bells.

Since then City have continued to make the most of their Youtube channel. Features such as Pep’s Taxi saw their manager Pep Guardiola surprising young fans. They have even drafted in celebrities such as actor Kevin Hart, who took part in a penalty shootout challenge against namesake and England number 1 goalkeeper Joe Hart. The crowning moment was a video featuring James Milner opening Christmas presents in the style of the famous Twitter parody character ‘Boring James Milner’. Rather than moan about his personality being mocked by the parody account, Milner played up to the character, which endeared him to even non-City fans up and down country.

Tottenham’s Wanyama spaghetti tweet

In May 2012, when playing for Scottish champions Celtic, Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama sent a tweet which simply read: “I had spaghetti and it was very nice i enjoyed it”. Wanyama, who had only been in the UK less than a year must have been baffled when the tweet went viral. People found the charmingly innocent tweet hilarious, at time of writing it has nearly 43,000 retweets and over 32,000 likes.

Wanyama’s career since then went from strength to strength and in June 2016 he was signed by Premier League big boys Tottenham Hotspur. Despite the tweet being over four years old, it’s legend followed him wherever he went. This led to Spurs ingeniously announcing the signing with this tweet and immediately endeared the midfielder to the White Hart Lane faithful:

Bristol City’s goal GIFs

The 2017-18 season has been a success for Championship club Bristol City. At the time of writing they sit 4th in the league despite being tipped to struggle, and await the second leg of a Carabao Cup semi-final with Premier League leaders Manchester City. Impressive achievements, but unlikely to really make the entire football world sit up and take notice. What has captured the hearts of football fans up and down the country however… their goal GIFs. Every time The Robins score they tweet a GIF of the goalscorer’s pre-recorded celebration. These started off fairly generic with fist pumps and the occasional silly dance, but have evolved into short clips of hilarity. More creative efforts have seen the scorer’s: ironing their own shirt, spraying a fire extinguisher, downing two glasses of milk, and pretending to DJ with plates (held up by someone off camera). Not only have these simple but effective clips become a hit with their own fans, but now whenever a City goal goes in, fans all over the country are jumping onto twitter to see what daft antics the latest GIF will contain. The best part is that there must be a catalogue of efforts from players who’ve yet to register a goal this season which are yet to see the light of day!

The growing trend

The run up to Christmas 2017 has seen record levels of this type of content being produced by teams at all levels of the game. Blackburn Rovers treated their followers throughout December with a ‘Bradvent calendar’ which featured new content starring talisman Bradley Dack singing, dancing or doing what he does best every day in the run up to Christmas.  Blackburn’s East Lancashire rivals Burnley also created a series of festive-themed social content, including videos featuring their players taking part in a ‘bad joke challenge’. Crystal Palace even parodied the Queen’s annual Christmas Speech with a video of their manager Roy Hodgson giving his own ‘Gaffer’s Speech’ on Christmas Day.

Social media content is of ever increasing importance to football clubs as more and more start to realise the endless opportunities to connect with fans in a variety of creative ways. At Pleece & Co we have plenty of experience in creating campaigns that include social media marketing and working with sports teams at various levels to increase their social following. Get in touch with us to find out how we can help your team engage with their fans by emailing info@pleeceandco.com. In the meantime we’re off to have some spaghetti, hope it’s very nice and we enjoy it.