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How to use digital channels as a sports team.

In the modern world, sports teams of all shapes and sizes can connect with their fanbase instantaneously via digital channels. Whether this means building a local community around a club, or connecting with a global fanbase from a multitude of cultures, the tools are out there. You just need to develop a system that works for your team. 

Identify your touchpoints

The digital world is saturated with platforms and apps which all compete for our time. That means the attention of your target audience (or fanbase) will be separated across a range of networks. You should identify those that are most relevant to your needs and begin formulating a strategy for them, ignoring the ones you feel are less relevant to your audience. You can do this via detailed market research; but for the sake of simplicity, here are the platforms we feel are generally the most beneficial for a sports team to use effectively.

Facebook

Your team can create a Facebook Page and assign as many individual administrators as you like, even setting different levels of permission to limit the action they can all take. This means you can manage the page as a team, or with an external partner (like a digital marketing agency).

The platform is most useful for connecting with fans in the 25+ age range, but is not exclusive to them. Here are things you should consider when using the network.

Timing

Timing when you post your updates is critical to actually connecting with your intended audience. Once published, Facebook posts exist on a timeline (known as a newsfeed) and most users don't scroll back too far through theirs; so if your post misses them by a few hours then it's unlikely to ever be seen by them. Again, market research will help identify the optimum times for you to post, but the best way to determine them is to experiment with different timings, analyse the performance of those posts and try to be analytical about why some are more successful than others (e.g. your audience is at work) — business.facebook.com has some useful tools you can use to see when your connected fanbase is most active on the platform.

You might even want to consider repeating some content at differing times in order to try and get a wider reach, but be careful about clogging up your audiences' newsfeeds and don't recycle content too much.

Consistency

This goes for all of your communications, but you need to develop a consistent tone-of-voice and visual style for your brand. Together, these can be refined by commissioning brand guidelines and visual identity guidelines, which will help you manage it internally as well as give external creative agencies a framework to build their ideas around. If you need help creating these style guides, why not speak to us today.

On Facebook in particular, this means creating some templated images of a fixed "house" style. You might need some for infographics, some for quotes from key personnel and even some for depicting live action (such as a scoreline or full-time result). The visual consistency reinforces your brand and strengthens the connection to your fans, who begin to recognise your output without seeing a logo or club crest.

Variety

Facebook users will become bored if they see the same thing over and over. You should vary your messages and the mediums you use to convey them. This means you might mix up graphics with photography. You might visualise a quote from a key player, followed by a link to deeper content that lives on your website (i.e. the full interview) or you might post a video—if you do the latter, remember to produce the video with subtitles (where possible) because video content on Facebook autoplays with mute enabled. Viewers might therefore read the first few lines of the subtitles before "committing" to the video by tapping it to watch in full.

Keep your audience on their toes and surprise them with different types of content on Facebook. If the visual consistency is right and you have a good selection of options, you will succeed on the platform.

Generate engagement

Your fans are the lifeblood of your club, so remember to encourage engagement with them as much as possible. Run polls and ask them questions about a particular performance, or who should be awarded man-of-the-match (MoTM) or most valuable player (MVP). If you address them directly and involve them in the things you share, you will find a higher volume of responses.

Responding to engagement

As a sports team, you will likely have a much greater engagement than other brands on Facebook. To your fans, your enterprise is usually ingrained into their social lives, meaning they see you as a family member and/or close friend. Some of this will be positive, and you can join in with this conversation (keeping your brand values in mind) to a certain extent.

However, you will receive negative responses. Rather than policing your page by pruning all negative engagement, you should assess whether or not it needs removing (e.g. if it is racist, sexist, homophobic or promoting illegal activity) and whether it needs a response from the club. If it doesn't, ignore it or take action behind-the-scenes (such as reporting it to Facebook directly). Most importantly, train your admins on what to ignore, what to respond to and how to respond.

Twitter

Twitter has a slightly different demographic to Facebook, though still fairly popular with the 25+ age group, it also has a good base of younger users. In terms of your tone-of-voice, though, it shouldn't be all that different from the output on Facebook.

The differences here are that your tweets have much shorter lifespans than Facebook posts do. They also appear chronologically in a newsfeed, as opposed to being ordered via a more secretive algorithm (based on what other content users are engaging with the most). These two things combined means that you can tweet more freely and more often. Live-tweeting in-game progress is a must and you should prepare some graphics for important moments (such as a goal) to try and drum up further engagement. You could further personalise this by creating graphics for each player in your squad, allowing you to tweet out a graphic of the exact goalscorer.

Match-reports, analysis and post-match interviews should exist on your website, but tweeting links to them shortly after the relevant event is a solid idea too because it is a go-to resource for people eager to find out what happened.

In terms of media, you can post tweets, links, images, animated gifs, videos and polls, so remember to vary your usage of them again.

Instagram

Instagram is a purely visual platform, and the best accounts will all have a consistent visual look-and-feel to their posts. If you look at the overview grid of these accounts, you will notice a consistent subject-matter, colour palette or filter/editing style. Your own account should be no different, but again you should try to vary your subject matter between showing professional-level shots and the more candid, behind-the-scenes action of your team. Social media is a great resource because it gives fans a look at the club they love on a much more personal level.

Instagram also supports video content, including slow-motion footage and reverse-looping videos. It even has two sister apps (Hyperlapse and Boomerang) designed specifically for these two things. A fourth app, Layout, also allows you to tile multiple photographs into one image. They're all part of the same app-family (developed by Instagram) so download the entire suite and get comfortable using them in tandem!

Despite being visual, you shouldn't overlook how important the caption functionality is. Speaking to your audience in the same brand voice, you can elicit a greater emotional response by celebrating achievements with an energetic caption and reflecting on failures with an empathetic one. Incorporate relevant hashtags, or claim ownership of a new one, and build a community around your posts.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a social network more popular with professionals, meaning the video of your players in training or a matchday quote from the manager are probably not as relevant here. Your club LinkedIn page should be aimed at professionals interested in working at, or with, the club. That could mean new employees, suppliers, business partners or sponsors. Think of it as the personification of your club at a business networking event.

You should post about developments at the club, new deals and exciting new ventures you are undertaking. Don't be afraid of getting some mention of sport in there, but it should be much more reserved than on the other channels discussed.

Email marketing

Email is an often-overlooked digital channel, but it is one of the most surefire ways to engage with your fanbase. The reason is simple; your content requires action. That means your subscribers either actively open your email message, or they actively choose to delete it from their inbox. Don't be discouraged by the latter, your fans won't be interested in absolutely everything you have to say and there are plenty of techniques you can employ to improve your open rate.

Email marketing, like any digital marketing, requires concerted input in order to make it work; but if you focus on building a database of recipients, segmenting it into targeted groups and then send relevant e-shots to the right people, you will see a much higher engagement with your content. This in turn, like any of the channels discussed, will lead to a stronger brand connection and—ultimately—greater engagement and higher sales.

Conclusion

There are lots of digital channels you can use to connect with your fanbase, all of which will encourage growth in some way; focus on the ones that are right for you and then remember the following:

  • Have a consistent tone-of-voice, influenced by a set of brand guidelines
  • Consider your publishing schedule, taking into account the platform you are posting from
  • Vary your usage of media
  • Encourage engagement
  • Encourage direct action
  • Be emotive

To learn more about how digital marketing can help your sports team, contact us today to arrange a meeting with your club or organisation.


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