Premier League football clubs saw a 42% decrease in Facebook engagement in 2018 as Instagram stepped in to take a 70% share, showing that the image-led platform is becoming a favoured place for fans to consume club content.
A study from social media research agency Newton Insights analysed global Premier League football club performance across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and China's Weibo. It found that as Facebook growth has plateaued and engagement has dropped (which could be down to changes to the platform's algorithms making cut-through slightly harder).
The report read: “Several clubs are seeing their Facebook growth fall to minimal or even negative levels due to a combination of maturing fan bases and the increasing popularity of other networks.”
Despite this, Facebook retained more fans than any other platform, with an audience of 260 million. It also served to direct fans to follow associated Twitter (75 million), YouTube (7.8 million) and Instagram (84 million) accounts.
The study concluded that Facebook remained a useful platform in spite of slow growth.
“It has more unique users than any other network. For this reason, Facebook is a good barometer for the Premier League’s acquisition of genuinely ‘new’ fans and for country penetration around the globe," it said.
Manchester United topped the list across all platforms (except YouTube), followed by Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal failed to grow their fanbases on Facebook last year. Manchester City, on the other hand, acquired 7 million new fans, claiming the title of fastest growing club on the platform.
In 2018, clubs cumulatively added 52 million new fans, exhibiting 13% social growth at a rate of 140,000 fans per day. On a daily basis, the 20 clubs combined put out 720 posts across all platforms, of which 7.5 million fans engaged with.
Instagram, meanwhile, saw growth of 40% with 25 million fan additions, drastically outpacing Facebook’s 5% growth (12 million fans). Twitter’s growth was down to 13% (8.6 million fans). YouTube saw only 1.7% (3.4 million) and Weibo was up 7% (2.5m). Instagram exhibited half of all growth on the teams’ social channels. It held a 70% share of engagement.
Liverpool, buoyed by league-topping performances, is catching up on Manchester United’s social dominance.
“In 2018 Liverpool recruited 6 million new fans on Instagram, compared to United’s gain of 5 million. On Facebook, Manchester City’s pursuit of new audiences in Africa and Asia has taken a 7 million bite out of United's lead in fan numbers. In China, five clubs added more new fans than United on Weibo, although United remains number one overall, with 9 million Weibo fans compared to City’s 8 million. Manchester United seems to have acknowledged that it has reached maturity on Facebook, and the club is directing its output towards Instagram and its new YouTube channel.”
Additionally, the report outlined some of the vague trends facing some of the league’s smaller clubs. “Burnley are doing well in China and closer to home Brighton and Hove Albion have doubled engagement with fans on Twitter. Wolverhampton Wanderers fans are hugely motivated to engage with their club on all social networks.”
Manchester United, last to join YouTube in 2018 (now with 1.3 million fans), ranked third behind rival Man City (1.6 million) and Liverpool (1.8 million).
United recently spoke The Drum through how their new manager has created the so-called 'Ole Effect', a surge in engagement and sentiment on the club's digital channels.