A friend of mine recently took to unfollowing anything related to Liverpool FC on social media, prompted by their downturn in form since Christmas – for the good of his health, he thought it best to try and ignore his team’s plight until things take a turn for the better.

Once I’d finished rolling about laughing, I thought about how rare it is for a fan to unfollow their team on social media. For the most part, clubs can say or do anything and expect fans to stay with them. If only it was the same in the business world, eh?

Football is a business in itself, of course. This year saw Man United named the world’s richest club, ending Real Madrid’s 11-year stranglehold on top spot in Deloitte’s Football Money League, posting revenues of €689 million (£515m) in 2015-16.

Back of the net

This week, meanwhile, United went past 10 million followers on Twitter, while on Facebook the club has more than 72 million likes.

Managing the club’s official social media channels must be a dream; Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking goal against Stoke City, for example, notched over 100k Likes on Facebook and has enjoyed over 1.5 million views.

The club can afford to ‘play it safe’ and post what everybody expects it to post: match updates/highlights, interviews, man of the match polls, etc. But what about those unfortunate clubs that aren’t Man United? Or those brands which find followers hard to come by? How do they go about attracting new followers?

Here’s how the follower-hungry can get the desired results on social media:

1. Go behind the scenes

Football fans absolutely lap it up when their teams offer a glimpse into what goes on at the club behind the scenes. Footballers are invariably so well-trained in how to handle media today that any show of personality is a treat.

Behind the scenes

A new platform emerged last year looking to capitalise on fans’ insatiable appetite for ‘off the pitch’ content. Dugout.com offers exclusive content as part of a partnership deal with 150 players and clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona.

Brands, too, have plenty to gain from showing customers what goes on behind closed doors. It’s a chance to show prospective customers how well your team truly works together, proving that the picture that you paint of your business lives up to reality.

It’s also a chance to show that you are human and have a personality by sharing the personal moments. Or maybe you will seek to change the perception of your business for the better – whatever helps your customers build a connection with your business.

2. Live video

Football clubs are increasingly using live video platforms such as Periscope and Facebook Live, allowing fans to feel like they are directly involved in the goings-on at the club.

Live video is commonly used for player interviews, kit launches, supporter interaction and pre-match build up. Often, the coverage doesn’t have to be terribly exciting for fans to want to watch it – a live stream of the team warming up, for instance, is hardly going to thrill. However, it gives fans access to something they would otherwise miss entirely.

For brands, live video works in a similar way to behind-the-scenes content; the difference is, viewers know they are getting an unfiltered look at your business, seeing as editing’s not possible. Live video is also perfect for product launches, industry events, customer Q&As – anything which your customers or clients would find interesting or useful.

3. Unique features

Some of the features clubs roll out on social media are impossibly lame. That’s usually because either the participants really don’t want to get involved and are no good at hiding that fact, or the club think the feature is a whole lot funnier than it actually is. When this is the case, fans will leave but a one word response: “DELETE”.

However, when clubs managed to create a unique feature that is genuinely good, it spreads across social media like wildfire. Credit where credit’s due, that lot up the road have produced some interesting features recently. There was the young Man City fan who met Pep Guardiola in a taxi; a story that was picked up by the wider press. Whilst its ‘tunnel cam’ is still proving very popular on YouTube, nothing shown on it has lived up to this:

For brand inspiration on how to create unique features, you only need to look at someone like Carlsberg for inspiration. After bringing back its ‘If Carlsberg did’ tagline in 2015, it’s not looked back, releasing some brilliant videos.

4. Leverage personal brands

We often hear that “no player is bigger than the club” rolled out when a star player decides to leave. It’s true, but losing your best player can feel like you’ve lost a part of the club at the same time. In these moments, fans usually turn on players as a way of getting over the loss – West Ham fans will know exactly what I mean right now.

West Ham

It just goes to show how important personal brands are to both the players themselves and the clubs to which they are a part of. Players seem to have taken it up another notch in recent times on the personal brand front, with Paul Pogba even getting his own Twitter emoji. United won’t mind, of course. For them, it’s just another means to increase their revenues.

Outside of football, employers are coming round to the idea of employees building their personal brands, too. They understand that having employees build a name for themselves will result in greater credibility, recognition and prestige for the business.

5. Indulge your silly side

Football: it’s just 22 men (or women) kicking bag full of wind around for an hour and a half, isn’t it? True. But we can’t help ourselves take it super seriously at times. From time to time, though, it pays to not take ourselves (or our hobbies) too seriously.

Clubs are usually keen to avoid shenanigans on social media, but the odd bit of mischief can pay off. Last year, the Virgin Trains social team prompted a bit of a tête-à-tête with Aston Villa by tweeting a picture of an empty train accompanied by the caption: “With Roberto Di Matteo leaving, the next batch of potential #AVFC managers have just left for Birmingham New Street …”

Instead of just ignoring the tweet, Villa shot back with: “Would our managerial candidates actually get here for interviews on time if they arrived via @VirginTrains?”. From there ensued a series of tweets between the two about their respective lack of trophies and an inability to get trains running on time. It was daft, but Villa enjoyed thousands of retweets for those posts, compared to its usual hundred or so.

For brands, I’m not saying you should go and incite a squabble, but it wouldn’t hurt to indulge your firm’s silly side from time to time. Respond to tweets in a sarcastic tone, or drop in an unexpected emoji. It all makes your business appear more human, which acts as an ‘in’ for customers to connect to your brand.

The aim for clubs like United on social media is to make fans feel like they are a part of the club; firms should be making it their objective, too, to make customers feel like they have a connection with the business.

It’s harder for brands, of course, as they don’t have the benefit of fandom, but by giving customers an access-all-areas pass, showing them that your business has a more human side as well as being a credible company, you can make fans of your customers yet.

Ben Hollom

January 31, 2017