Social media in a league of its own

With a new football season underway and an eagerly anticipated Premier League campaign due to start this weekend, I’ve been considering my consumption of the global game recently and how it’s changed.  Not just for individuals, but for brands as well.

Everyone knows football is big business with dedicated, die-hard fans.  So social media provides the perfect forum for fans to interact, share their thoughts, keep up to date with their team’s latest gossip and transfer news.  The World Cup was also a ‘first’ for two reasons.  Not only was it the first tournament to be hosted in Africa, it was also dubbed the first ever ‘social media’ World Cup.

Interesting stats courtesy of back this up too.  Coca Cola’s sponsored hash tag #wc2010 received 86m impressions in 24 hours.  The Vuvuzela iPhone app was number 1 on iTunes in 50 countries in June.  Nike’s World Cup advert received more than 19million views on YouTube.  3,238 tweets per second recorded during the Japan Denmark match (the normal rate is 750).  497,000 ‘Likes’ for the England’s Team Facebook fanpage (seems like too many to me and it’s now more than 550,000?!)

Interestingly, brands who weren’t even ‘official’ sponsors in South Africa this year, maximised their use of online channels for their campaigns.  Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ campaign for example dominated the social media landscape prior to the World Cup.  Nielsen also found that Budweiser, who paid a heavy price for the global sponsorship rights, was trounced by their rival Carlsberg in terms of online chatter volumes.

Everyone, from fans to journalists, used Twitter to experience this tournament, with dedicated World Cup hash tags making commentary easier to source.  Twitter is a serious presence in social commentary, an effective means of gauging response and reaction to cultural events for brands looking for tactical as well as more strategic territories to associate themselves with.  Appreciating how consumers are changing their media behaviour reiterates the value of events like the World Cup.

It’s the brands who take the time to understand this relationship, understand where their fans are talking, that grab the real opportunities to engage with consumers.  More importantly, brands are able to measure engagement providing a compelling case for new forms of marketing and sales promotion.

It seems all football fans need now is an internet connection, or a smartphone and the information is at their fingertips.  The combination of podcasts (Guardian Football weekly), websites (nothing beats BBC Football, Football365), Twitter (some of the biggest official club feeds include Chelsea’s stamfordthelion Liverpool’s LFCTV) and Arsenal’s (arsenaldotcom), live streams over IPTV all prove valuable to brands looking to capitalise on fans’ online presence following their passions for the beautiful game.

However, not everyone will get it right first time.  As Umbro found out trying to run a Foursquare promotion at a Manchester City home game last season, aiming to create a record for the biggest number of people checking in at the same location.  Credit to Umbro for engaging with Foursquare so early on, however uptake was minimal.  More investment in the incentive to check in, free tickets or a replica shirt for example, rather than a t-shirt, could have produced further uptake.

Or was it because there aren’t many football fans using Foursquare yet?  We’ve seen brands succeed at the World Cup so I will be interested to monitor if those using social media tactics to good effect during the 2010/11 season…

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