A slightly self indulgent post but hopefully interesting all the same.
I was asked to mix my professional life (in corporate communications) with my football life by the good people at Simply Communicate, by speaking on their latest monthly webinars, Simply Live on the subject of social media and sport.
To help prep I wrote a small article which I’ve reproduced below. A fascinating area, one where its good to see Wealdstone FC at the forefront of change. Anyone have any views on this?
Are sports and social media easy companions?
As the Ryder Cup squelches into a 4th day, one debate set to run and run is whether players should be allowed to tweet, with both captains asking, or was that telling their star players that Twitter was banned for the duration of the competition.
In the UK this is not the first time we’ve heard these discussions. Recently top English cricketer Kevin Pietersen was fined and reprimanded after tweeting his displeasure about being left out the English team and England footballer Darren Bent sparked controversy when he used Twitter to publically demand a move from his then club Tottenham Hotspur.
Not surprisingly perhaps sporting bodies and the clubs themselves have tried to clamp down, to ‘muzzle’ their sports stars and exert their authority. But increasingly it becomes more obvious that they are struggling in vain and as in every other walk of life are having less and less control of the message.
The answer is simple, join the conversation – don’t try and control it.
I am Chairman of the Wealdstone Football Club, a club who play at the 7th level of English football in the Ryman Premier League, and a Club with an avid and involved fanbase. Even at our relatively modest level social media plays is playing an ever increasing part in making sure there are many conversations ongoing at any time with the official voice of the club under constant pressure to define and redefine its role.
When I became Chairman in May 2007, with my corporate communications background I decided we had to embrace what was happening in the communications world. I started a Chairman’s blog, The Electric Chair http://howiejk.wordpress.com/.
This was an attempt to write a leadership blog in a sporting world. By my reckoning this was an almost unique thing to do in professional sport at the time. Fans want to know what is going on at their club. For years they have been kept in the dark, dependent on what the media reports or the matchday programme (ie in house magazine) tells them. The blog was an attempt to keep people updated about what is going on and to provide a personal view of the pressures of running the club. Readership statistics suggest it continues to be well received.
But blogs are not the only way that social media is changing the face of sporting conversations. Fans used to only have the pub to complain about their club, now they use bulletin boards or fans forums http://www.wealdstonefc.co.uk/forum to air views, many critical about all different aspects of the club. Players are using Twitter or Facebook to share their views to communicate with each other.
This has all led to huge change. Conversations now take place between players and fans, or between fans of different clubs breaking down barriers – though whether this happens at the top end of professional sport in another thing. Club officials know what fans are saying and thinking and can react to questions, complaints or even occasional praise. And feedback suggests that it is not just young, more supposedly web-savvy fans who are joining the conversation but older fans as well.
Video highlights of action are quickly uploaded onto the web, audio files can be shared almost as quickly as they are recorded.
The influence of Twitter, Facebook, Bulletin boards and so on continues to grow. Social media is not only giving players and fans a voice it is creating conversations that have not been allowed to exist. Authorities increasingly face an uphill battle if they want to stay in charge of the message. The only way forward is to join the conversation, not to control it.