It’s relatively easy to do good work when the team is winning on the pitch – but people who run clubs’ digital services often debate how to handle the darker times. Go quiet? Focus on the history? Recognition and realism? There are many options, but to get a fresh perspective we asked Daniel Ayers – Seven League’s latest recruit, formerly Sony Music digital director and Spurs fan – for his assessment. RA.
It is generally agreed that fan engagement, and a 2-way conversation with your audience, are A Good Thing. However, things get uncomfortable when you have to deliver bad news.
Spurs – who generally do a good job of bringing fans closer to the club via social media, especially with creative content on YouTube and Instagram - have had a rotten couple of days. On Sunday Dec 15th there was a 0-5 home defeat to Liverpool, a team they’ve often beaten or finished higher than in recent seasons. This was followed today (Monday 16th) by the sacking of the club’s manager, Andre Villas Boas.
Recent thrashings notwithstanding, AVB was generally well-liked by Spurs fans*: he achieved the a record Premier League points total for the club in the 2012-13 season and leaves with the highest win percentage of any Tottenham manager since 1899. And even for the #AVBOUT brigade, the news is humiliating. For now, at least, Spurs are the butt of everyone else’s jokes.
So: today was a big news day, and sensitive times for the fans. How did the club editorialise this across their channels?
Twitter (721k followers)
This is the club’s most active channel in terms of post volume, and we had 15 tweets today. But only 4 related to the managerial change, with 8 devoted to the Europa League draw, 1 linking to a regular Monday feature (‘Loan Watch’), 1 reflecting indirectly on the defeat to Liverpool and 1 on the all-important order deadline for Christmas delivery from the online store.
The Europa League draw against Ukrainian side FC Dnipro is undoubtedly news which merits coverage. Probably not in such detail though; including a tweet about the last time Spurs faced Ukrainian opposition felt a lot like padding.
Add in the ‘business as usual’ stories and there’s a definite sense of bad news being buried. Surely it would be sensible, in a period where fans are realistically only interested in one story, to acknowledge that by dropping anything non-essential?
There’s certainly no doubt which tweets had the largest reaction. At time of writing the 4 mgmt change tweets had garnered 15,348 retweets, compared to 833 for the other 11; an average response ratio of 50:1[a]
Facebook (3.1m followers)
The post volume on Facebook was lower (no 140 character restrictions, of course), but followed similar lines. Two items on the management change, and 1 each for the Europa League draw and Christmas delivery.
Fans are fully aware of the usual content schedule after games…
So, there’s a more appropriate balance in terms of post topics. And, of course, the AVB posts will bring debate in the comments. That’s not a huge CRM issue; venting feelings in an appropriate forum is cathartic, and the range of views does include those who agree with the decision, and continue to pledge support to the club.
The top comments on other posts reflect a sharp awareness of the club’s tendencies for glossing over bad news, though. Regular features like Man Of The Match votes can be cringeable after poor performances (sensibly the club declined to meet the dare shown above, and skipped it this time), and commercial messaging is clearly going to be derided in this kind of situation.
Commercial messaging alongside news about the managerial changes was met with some derision.
Latest news stories wisely prioritised the day’s main event.
The official site takes a more formal approach.Though there is a mix of topics in the latest news, the lead item relates to the management changes, as it should do.
Site news stories are never open for comments, so there is no risk of dissent here.
Sadly the club’s email newsletters are often laughably out of touch with the fans’ news agenda, and today’s was no exception. With turmoil abounding, fans were no doubt relieved to discover there’s still time to “Give the gift of FIFA 14″ this Christmas.
Now, presumably this email was a contractual obligation to EA Sports, but you’d imagine even they would rather put a little clear water between the sacking announcement and their promotion.
THFC email newsletters can often be out of step with the fans’ news agenda.
Really, there’s no easy way to deal with these communications; they suck for everyone concerned. At least Spurs were the first to officially break the news; if nothing else, they’ve reinforced their owned channels as the primary source for verified information.
The club also clearly have a strong hold on social media postings by players. Plenty of the first team squad are active on Twitter, but the usually loquacious Lewis Holtby, Kyle Walker, Andros Townsend et al were noticeable in their absence of comment. The only possible rebel was loaned-out fullback Benoit Assou-Ekotto, whose tweet about having “a good Monday” could be construed as a dig at the manager who shipped him out. Even Emmanuel Adebayor — apparently poorly regarded by AVB — was at pains to distance himself from accusations of mocking the 0-5 defeat.
Response from players across the league was muted, with only the self-appointed commentariat duo of Joey Barton and Rio Ferdinand weighing in. It’s a small industry of course; never a great idea to burn bridges publicly.
However, the own-goals – obvious attempts to drive negatives down the feed, and commercial messaging no fan is in the mood for – could easily have been avoided, either removed from the schedule entirely, or just postponed until happier times.
My personal exposure to social media comms crisis management comes primarily from the music industry, where the policy tended to be to say as little as possible on any negative story or outcome. Poorly received releases, or disappointing campaign responses, were generally never mentioned again.
When 2012 X Factor winner James Arthur recently had a rap – and Twitter – battle with Micky Worthless, he caused a storm around the homophobic language he apparently used (Arthur somewhat weakly claims his use of the term “fucking queer” was “not meant as a reference to homosexuality”), and ended up having to cede control of his Twitter account to his management company, who now run it on his behalf. There was no mention of the story, or his apology, on any other official channel: why give it any more oxygen?
For sports clubs, though, ignoring the issue is not an option. Whilst most music fans follow the artist for a short period of time, most football fans follow the club for life. Record companies rarely suffer lasting damage from the actions of their artists, because no-one really cares about the label brand anyway. In football though, the club is the brand; they can only protect it by tackling bad news head-on.
*Disclosure: I am one of those fans.
[a] Ratio calculated by taking average RT rate for manager change tweets (15348/4 = 3837), and comparing to average RT rate for other tweets (833/11 = 76). 3837:76 = 50:1.