The premier league of social media

Which Premier League football clubs are using social media to their advantage best? And what more could they be doing to drive their social media strategy? Steak Digital's Peter Wood looks at how well football clubs are performing off the pitch... in the realm of Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Who are the winners and who lags behind in the social media game? As the new season kicks off The Drum laces up its boots and gets stuck in...

Football is a national addiction. For nine months of the year we are consumed by the beautiful game. The emergence of social media has enhanced our daily allowable dose of football to new levels. Football chat is no longer confined to the weekend or after-work drinking debates. The community can find you, in your pocket or at your desktop.Millions of us around the world now have access to 24 hour football chat. You can join forums, comment on blogs or inanely ramble about the latest controversies on Twitter. As Arsenal’s Head of Marketing Charles Allen put it, ‘We recognise we can’t accommodate all our Arsenal fans inside Emirates Stadium, but via social media we can give them a taste of Arsenal wherever they are in the world.’Social media is the most exciting thing to happen to football since the action replay, players and fans agree and are embracing it at a rapid pace. With the new season upon us, we decided to find out who the true champions of social media are.Using social media listening software, Steak Digital's Peter Wood ran a query for mentions of the top six clubs in the country – including their names, their shortened names and any slang names. Clubs named after towns have also been taken into consideration especially with the UK riots causing so many mentions. Girls called ‘Chelsea’ have also been removed – and believe us, in the world of social media, if you’re a girl called Chelsea, you talk... a lot!The following searches take into account mentions on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, comments, forums and forum replies. The search was run for seven days (from 03 to 10 August). Here’s how the teams match up.

Team mentions online

Out of the 486,780 mentions shared between the top six clubs in the UK, Manchester United took an incredible 43.7% of the mentions. The top three brands in football are Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. So it’s no surprise to see them line up in that order. Spurs line up in fourth and Chelsea and Manchester City take fifth and sixth respectively. The top four social teams correlate with the most clicked teams on Metro Online’s sports section (one of the fastest growing online newspaper publications).This immediately flags the importance of history. What Roman Abramovich has learned is that money can buy you trophies, but trophies don’t necessarily buy you fans. History and prestige still have a huge role to play in the modern game. This was clearly something The Fenway Sports Group recognised when purchasing Liverpool FC. Despite not winning a league trophy for over 20 years, the amazing run of dominance in the 70’s and 80’s has created a legacy that still converts into fans to this very day. Fans are key to commercial revenue growth, and especially important with the introduction of Financial Fair Play this year.Arsenal also have the luxury of a solid fan base due to a fabulous history in top flight football. The club added to their fan base through the late 90’s and early 2000s enjoying a spectacular 10 years of amazing football laden with silverware.

Total online fans and followers

Next up is the fan following. This combines the Twitter following and the Facebook following to show which club has the most reach. Once again, Manchester United lead the way with a following higher than the combined populations of Croatia and Portugal. Interestingly, Manchester United has opted out of Twitter, choosing to channel all their social media efforts through Facebook.Arsenal takes second position with a nearly 8 million strong army of supporters. Arsenal is a particularly socially savvy club with one of the best online offerings. That, combined with a socially engaged team, has helped give them the edge over Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs.

Players with the most reach

The final table showcases which club has the players with the most reach. The top 63 most followed players in the Premiership have a total of 10,907,545 followers; the top six teams’ players take 84% of that following. If you’re not contending for trophies on the pitch, chances are people won’t be too interested in what you have to tweet.The most followed player is Twitter addict Rio Ferdinand with 1.3million followers. If you combine player followings for each club, Manchester United once again top the league, just pipping Arsenal by 14,476. They have the largest player presence online with four players averaging 900,000 followers each! Arsenal has near enough the same reach but they’ve had to reach that figure with 13 players.This all points to one thing. Going forward, Premiership clubs have to start incorporating their players’ social media presence into their marketing strategies. When we advise clients on their social media strategies, we always recommend promoting brand ambassadors to champion themselves, but also the brand they’re representing.Arsenal’s Communications Director Mark Gonnella understands this point, "We have encouraged the players to take part through Twitter and their accounts are linked to Arsenal.com. This is an important way of the players getting closer to the fans and we have been impressed at the way the likes of Jack Wilshere, Robin van Persie and others have being using the channel. We do give on-going guidance to them about best practice."Common sense should prevail with social media, but players will be players so regulation and guidance will be needed to ensure personal and corporate brands are not damaged. The Football Association and clubs will likely enforce a social media code of conduct. Gonnella indicated Arsenal are already on top of this issue: "Everyone has to remember we are representatives of a great football club with very high standards and we expect those to be maintained whenever we are in public, be it on-line or off."Social media going forward will represent a good way for players to leverage more value from commercial deals and also create a genuine personal brand. In the case of Joey Barton, it represented a way to communicate his changed lifestyle. For Robbie Savage, it gave him a way into media he might not have had if his presence online wasn’t quite so impressive. For clubs it allows them to create a relationship with anyone with a web connection.Football and social media will forever be intertwined. Last year was the breakthrough, this year is going to be the year of integrated football social media strategy. There’s a growing army of fans all over the world waiting to be wooed by the superstars of the Premiership. The foundations are set for a battle of a very social nature. It’s going to be almost as exciting as the league itself... almost.

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