Sports

How football clubs use social media in battle for global fans

Premier League teams may be about to resume hostilities this weekend, but away from the field on social media the battle for supremacy never went away.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Weibo have emerged as key frontiers for clubs from the worlds most high-profile competition as they aim to attract an increasingly global supporter base.

And it isnt just commercial behemoth Manchester United attempting to converse with supporters in several languages; insights shared with City A.M. by leading digital sports agency Seven League show that the likes of West Ham and newcomers Wolves are also dipping their toes in international waters.

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“Social media is at the heart of Premier League clubs attempts to grow engagement with a global fanbase,” says Seven League consultant Francois Westcombe.

“As well as the so-called Big Six clubs, our research and continued work in this area shows the fascinating reality that smaller and emerging clubs see this as a huge opportunity too.”

Twitter remains one of the most important platforms for Premier League clubs to reach overseas fans, as reflected by the more than 75 international accounts which have accumulated a total of 88m non-duplicate followers.

United, champions Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham lead the way in coverage but do not have a monopoly on non-English output.

West Hams concerted effort to grow their brand is evident in their separate Twitter accounts in Spanish, Indonesian, Malaysian, Japanese and Arabic, which have an aggregate 60,000 followers.

Newly promoted Wolves, meanwhile, have sought to capitalise on their recent influx of Iberian players with Twitter accounts in Portuguese and Spanish.

On other platforms, multiple accounts are less common for Englands top-flight clubs.

Only Liverpool and Chelsea have foreign-language profiles on Facebook, while on Instagram – a medium more visually orientated and less text-heavy – all Premier League teams favour a single, global account in English.

In contrast, Barcelona have a single Instagram account with accompanying text in Spanish, English and Catalan, while Paris Saint-Germain take a similar approach using English and French.

Premier League teams are understandably eager to tap into the increasing appetite for football among Chinas 1.3bn population and Weibo offers them a direct means of communication.

United (9m) boast the most followers on the platform, followed by part Chinese-owned City (8m), Arsenal (4m), Chelsea (3m), Liverpool (2m) and Tottenham (1.6m).

Newcastle, with 48,000 followers, and Crystal Palace, with 15,000, have also established a presence on Weibo – but not everyone has got it right.

Bournemouth set up an account but have not posted for more than a year, while Burnley have publicised their Weibo presence yet it appears to be undiscoverable on the platform.

“While reaching a football obsessed population sounds straightforward, the rules of engagement remain the same,” adds Westcombe.

“It requires a commitment from clubs to create relevant content that resonates with local nuances, allied to a long-term focus as well as community management rooted in the region itself. The clubs who understand this and take it seriously stand the best chance of success.”

Signing players from a certain region, as in the case of Wolves, is a typical catalyst for new accounts. Other prompts can include direction from an overseas owner and pressure from sponsors, although these are not necessarily the most effective.

“There are several reasons why clubs are focusing on developing new, international based, social presences,” says Westcombe.

“Often these are prompted by immediate-term reactions, as opposed to the long-term strategic rationale that we would always recommend at Seven League.”

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