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Crystal ball time
With 2024 rapidly approaching we're starting to see predictions for the year ahead. The first one I've seen comes from IMG (formerly 7League), who have released their Digital Trends 2024 report.
I've had a look through the report, and I've a few things that I think are worth picking out for on-the-ground marketing staff.
Stop saying 'social media'
If you've followed me for any length of time you'll probably have seen me posting information from the Twitter Tables (RIP).
I used to pay particular interest in how many teams across the leagues being tracked actually responded to fans in the form of replies or quote tweets. The answer was: not many. In fact, the table below shows how many posts were sent by Premier League clubs from June 2022 to April 2023 - you can see from the chart that most clubs barely replied to fans at all.
The full interactive report is below if you want to have a play around with it yourself.
Anyway, I've long thought that the phrase "social media" was redundant for a lot of teams. You can't be social if you're not replying.
IMG think the same. While I disagree that it's "easier for athletes and individuals than organisations with accounts penned by faceless admins" to reply to people - look at Brighton and Southampton above - you can't argue with the fact that two-way conversation is on the decline.
Most teams exist to post content online that furthers their agenda. And my own surveys and conversations find that teams value the number of people who engage with them on social, without putting any priority on whether they engage back. Generate responses and likes, but don't engage with them.
And as the IMG report also points out, these channels don't want people leaving them. Using them as ways of directing people to your website simply won't cut it as a meaningful strategy.
Instead, you should be using each channel differently depending on what your priorities are.
Want to broadcast messages and get people clicking links? A WhatsApp Channel is probably better. Want to tell stories? Maybe give Threads a look. Looking for short-form video? Here's TikTok. A one-size-fits-all approach shouldn't be the way forward.
I've built onlrl.co to try and help you solve this. It's a free shortlink generator. Create your UTM-laden URL, stick it in the generator, and you'll get a nice-looking short URL you can share in your messages. Happy sharing!
And there's also some pertinent advice that all businesses should adhere to:
"if a platform no longer works for you then don't be reluctant to deprioritise or drop it altogether"
Marketing teams at football clubs are increasingly stretched. One team I spoke to for the newsletter on Threads a few weeks ago said they hadn't moved to the channel because it would take the number of platforms they manage into double figures. That's far too many channels for a small team to look after.
In terms of picking channels, I really like the breakdown IMG provide. This aligns channels to what you're trying to achieve.
Platform power rankings
For the first time, the team have ranked the most important platforms for sports. It's based on where their clients put their efforts, the results they're achieving, the audience profile, and the growth opportunities offered by each one.
It's not a huge surprise to see TikTok at the top. And as IMG themselves point out, WhatsApp wouldn't have been above X 12 months ago.
So far, respondents in this year's State of Football Social Media survey are still ranking X as somewhat important or very important (83%). It's on a par with Facebook and Instagram, and they're all ahead of TikTok (52%). It'll be interesting to see how that ends up.
Fan engagement the Lincoln City way
Last week Think Fan Engagement hosted a webinar with Rob Noble and Jake Longworth from Lincoln City. The purpose was to explore the club's matchday experience and see what lessons other clubs can take from their approach.
It sounds like the team have a lot of free reign to makes fans' days as memorable as possible. And it's very much encouraged from the top down.
There's a lot more involved in marketing than simply "promoting the product". What's the point of all the promotion and advertising if what people receive is rubbish? Clubs like Lincoln get this.
Incentives like giving new fans a tour of the stadium are fantastic ways of making people feel like you value their attendance. They also let kids put the corner flags out and paint the penalty spots - small things in the grand scheme of things, but that will mean the world to kids and their families. And could play a big part in them coming back.
Two audiences are better than one
I spotted this from Oxford United on Threads this week. They invited Expired Film Club to have some photos taken during a recent fixture with Bolton Wanderers.
Why would a football club make this kind of offer to a content creator specialising in photography?
Across Instagram, Threads, and X, Oxford United have 160,390 followers.
Expired Film Club has 479,559.
A reminder that two audiences are better than one, and that there's an audience base outside of your immediate fans.
This post has nearly 5,000 likes on Instagram. The most likes they've had previously over the past few weeks is 1,500.
Content creators like Expired Film Club bring their own audience with them, which pushes the number of people who see your posts. And most social activity should be aimed at increasing reach and impressions.
And you never know what new audiences can bring.