At Exeter City, we may be in League Two and have limited resources and budget, but we don’t see that as a barrier. As a club we firmly believe that you should aim high and be the best you can be on and off the pitch.
Exeter City being awarded the first champions of the Fan Engagement Index recently is a huge achievement for us, as we’ve come ahead of 91 other clubs from the top four divisions in England.
The award is testament to the hard work that goes on behind the scenes from a small group of paid and volunteer staff who, to use a cliché, bleed red and white. The award looked at dialogue, governance, and transparency and, in that sense, being a supporter owned club benefited us.
The award, however, reflected the culture of the club which has developed since becoming saved by the supporters nearly 20 years ago.
We aren’t perfect – far from it in fact. There is room for improvement every day. Fan engagement shouldn’t stop at online interactions or face-to-face in the club shop or reception. It should be embodied by everyone who steps foot inside the stadium, from the match day stewards to catering staff, from the chairman to the media manager. The list goes on.
My contribution to our fan engagement is mainly online focused, and I was delighted to be asked by the Online Rule to suggest our top three tips for fan engagement. Now we don’t have the biggest audience, but we do have a loyal fanbase who appreciate the efforts we go to to keep them informed, entertained, and interested in the club.
So, here goes.
#1 Use social as a customer service tool
It might sound simple or a silly thing to say, but be responsive online (on all channels). Open up those Twitter DMs and respond to those Facebook messages you’ve been putting off (OK, maybe not those asking for a trial from a country you’ve never heard of, or those fans wanting the club to fold for ruining their accy).
We live in a world that is by and large more comfortable with communicating online than reaching out via the phone or in person; leverage that and respond to people to show that you care about them as an individual.
You’ll be surprised as to how much it can change people’s opinion of the club if you have that personal touch with them.
Also: if you ask questions of fans, respond to their responses!
#2 Get fans involved
Online, we actively try and get supporters as involved in what we do as we can.
It can be small things such as getting people to pick the pre-match playlist by suggesting songs on our social media accounts, or larger things such as offering a personalised wallpaper service on #WallpaperWednesday (a word of warning with that one – make sure you have resources to achieve it – 500 wallpapers later I was near collapse!). It was great to see the end result though and how happy people were to have their names on City shirts as their phone wallpaper.
Supporters have such great stories to tell; use them. We’ve been running a series this season called City & Me where we invite supporters (young and old) to come in and tell their stories on camera. These have been well received because they invoke that sense of nostalgia and “I remember that” moments. The content created can also be used in programmes and on the club website.
Other things such as asking people to suggest 25 of the top City goals for our Christmas countdown or the best 10 games of the last decade as a countdown again allow fans to be involved and have their say.
#3 Think like a fan
Before you do anything online, stop for a second and think like a fan. Is it what you’d want to see as a supporter of the club? is it the right tone? Does it feel authentic? Does it fit with the style of how you do things?
It’s sometimes easy to forget the audience that you are speaking to online so put yourself in their shoes first.