Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Soccer Marketing 101 - The Game Day Twitter Debate



Major League Soccer's seventeenth season begins in less than two months and as the teams prepare for the on pitch action their fans will prepare to follow them from not only stands, but with social media.

Their two main online allies? Facebook and Twitter.

Since the beginnings of MLS in the mid-1990s the Internet has exploded and in the last five years the advent of social media has changed the face of sports in the United States and the world. For many clubs in our domestic league, creating a valuable web and social presence is difficult work. Team sites are more than just a place for rosters, schedules, and press releases. They're a home for chats/forums, in-depth interviews with players, video and photo galleries to entice page views and interact with the fan base. Teams are building relationships with their fans.

Social media for soccer teams is an extension of this relationship building. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for MLS sides number in the tens of thousands and provide a fast and easy way for them to interact with fans, provide customer service, field questions, link to news and features, and cover games as they happen.

How to use all of these tools is the subject of great debate; the Twitter-side of it all the most perplexing when it comes to providing game day coverage.

For anyone that follows a single team on Twitter (or in our case... all of the teams), to keep up with their comings and goings, the 90-plus minutes of that team's in-game contest can be a chore. If you're following the game via Twitter or if you're coming back to the service after being away on match day.... good luck finding much of relevance. You've just experienced feed-flood.

This phenomenon is not limited to soccer teams, but for the sake of the discussion will stick with our MLS sides. It's also important to understand we've not against game updates, as fans must be informed of the narrative of the games lest the team not do their jobs.

We're all soccer fans of diverse tastes. We use social media like Twitter to follow not only soccer, but friends, family, celebrities, other sports, news, and the random. When a team "tweets" out minute-by-minute updates of the "action" all of our other interests drown in these tweet-floods.

Soccer is unlike any other sport where the action is nearly continuous and, thus, needs continuous updates to build the strong narrative that soccer demands. It is unfortunately a terrible combination for Twitter in many ways.

People that follow soccer in the United States come in two broad categories: supporter and casual fan. "Following" a team on Twitter is as easy as tapping a button on your phone and you're in the know. A team-specific flow of news, views, and updates from a MLS team is a blessing for both the die-hard and the casual fan.

Too much of something can be a bad thing, though. Information overload and you lose the casual fan. Underwhelm the die-hard and they move on as well.

The solution? Game day Twitter accounts.

One example of a match-day account.
The idea of a separate Twitter account for MLS teams during games is relatively new as they come to grips with the power of social media, but growing (Alexi Lalas even went on a charge to get more teams to create these late last season).

On the eve of the 2012 MLS season just six teams (Chicago Fire, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution [account to be revealed soon], Sporting KC, and Vancouver Whitecaps) of the 19 teams have or will have match day-specific accounts. Based on conversations with a couple of other teams (Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake) their digital media teams are actively considering them at the time this article was written.

Brendan Hannan, Communications Manager for the Chicago Fire, explained to FBM why his club decided to make a game-specific account:
"When looking at our club’s Twitter setup and the growing base of followers we wanted to provide fans a separate option for full play-by-play on Twitter. We received some valuable feedback from our supporters and made the decision to create @ChiFireMatch. The club will continue to explore create ways to engage soccer supporters on Twitter."
The benefits of this are pretty clear.

1) A game day Twitter account would provide all the same coverage (even more if a team-specific account was holding back previously) that fans would expect of the big game, but isolated from the main team account that would be solely focused on the original mission of fan interaction, customer service, and breaking news.

2) The main account could and should "re-tweet" important updates from the game: goals, shots, saves, cards, substitutions, etc to keep everyone up-to-date, but without all the previous feed flooding.

3) Fans who want the Twitter play-by-play would happily (and easily, if the accounts are well-publicized) follow the game day accounts, while those who enjoy a lower volume of "tweets" while still staying informed are satisfied. The risk is that team accounts will lose casual followers from excessive in-game tweeting and then valuable site traffic in the future, while providing a niche approach for die-hards is a win-win.

4) Teams like the Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC already have multiple sub-accounts that followers can target their interest, too. Seattle has accounts for their their women's side, U23 team, their academy, and contest account while Kansas City created separate accounts for merchandise and for "soccer newbies" to ask questions.

5) Teams that have separate game day accounts are able to construct a strong narrative of the game for followers who want as realistic as possible coverage of the match. Beyond the major plays these Twitter accounts can fill-in all sorts of bonus information and creative action that would be excessive on the team account.

6) Fans (and journalists) that follow multiple teams or all the teams will not longer be buried in an avalanche of tweets from the team accounts that have yet to switch to game-specific accounts. If you've ever tried to check Twitter on a MLS match day and follow any games (or any other accounts for that matter) you will understand how insane Twitter looks with most of the league's teams tweeting out play-by-play.

Some MLS teams already provide alternative play-by-play coverage. Seattle live blogs their games and Los Angeles has live audio for fans, but as the league grows and (most certainly) Twitter continues to be a medium (more than most other sports) that fans gravitate to, teams must respond to the growing need for separate accounts.

There are very few downsides to this relatively simple change. Important in-game updates still arrive via the main Twitter team account, but if advertised well, the split to a game-specific account can be relatively painless and can become a useful tool in connecting deeper with their fan base. Managing another account might take the resources of another person (if you wanted detailed game coverage), but if the same person was doing play-by-play on the main account before certainly they could do it on the new one and re-tweet to the main account.

MLS teams.... take some solid advice and add a game-specific account to your Twitter repertoire. A move like this won't cost you any followers, but will most likely save your casual and "newbie" fans coming on. The most passionate fans are either already in the stands (thus not needing the Tweets) or also going to follow your play-by-play account.

It's a smart and focused new media strategy that plays well to all types of American soccer fans.

(Oh and follow us on Twitter.... we won't flood your feed!)


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19 comments:

  1. Best thing about match-day specific accounts is that you can just run a search on Twitter on match day if you want to see the live tweet of one match. You don't have to follow the whole account and get the tweets for matches that you are at or are already watching on TV. Plus, with most teams having a specific hashtag that their hardcore fans follow (like #DCU), you can always search that way as the match-specific feed will usually identify the team using that hashtag, leaving your timeline cleaner and easier to decipher.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I may be in the minority here, but I'm tired of all these sub-accounts. Seems they spend more time cross promoting the other feeds than they do providing relevant information. Keep in simple.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cross-promotion can be a bit annoying, but I love sub-RSS feeds and sub-Twitter accounts - they let me follow authors and events while cutting out other noise.

      Delete
  3. The Revs have no need to open up a game-day Twitter, they barely use the one they have. Most news comes from employees' twitter accounts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, no offense to him, but it seems wrong that Jeff Lemieux uses his personal account for news and play by play...

      Delete
  4. I like the way Fox Soccer handles matchday tweeting. There main account retweets the important moments in big matches from their live tweet streams. I could see this working for a MLS team twitter as well.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Not a Twitter thing but Toronto almost always has a live chat via the club website for away games.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The best one I've seen is #borolive - Middlesbrough's unofficial game feed ran by a local journalist with full support from people at the game and nervous listeners abroad like me. Check it out today from 2:45EST when we play Sunderland in the FA Cup. See how it's done.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Far too much work that creates several online redundancies in what is prescribed here. Most teams don't have the resources to do all of this. Major updates from the main account is good enough. Sub-accounts can split the following and keep teams from maximizing on its audience.

    Toronto, Portland and a couple of other teams do a live chat on their website, which is another model. Sorry to be harsh, but if this is soccer marketing 101, I would change schools.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's good to see MLS slowly catching on to social media and technological developments. While I can understand frustration about a team account dumping on your Facebook feed (like US Soccer did during the most recent friendlies), Twitter is much more fluid (especially if you use Tweetdeck or another real-time platform). No one wants a club to dump 5-10 tweets at a time, but I have no problem with match tweets from the official account. Most of the time I've found certain bloggers & fans (myself included) tweeting more than the actual club anyway.

    ReplyDelete
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