A lesson in managing social media in sports
When social media were on the very rise, and I was busy with public relations agency projects, I cameÂ across a blog post of a girl, who was managing digital activities for an NHL club. She was writing ofÂ tweet-ups for fans, setting an official pages on Flickr, YouTube and Facebook and all things social. IÂ was so fascinated when I saw the opportunities and prospects of merging social media and marketingÂ communications in sports so I started thinking of it as a dream job. And now Iâ€™m living this dreamÂ though, managing social media activities for the most popular sports team in Russia â€“ FC SpartakÂ Moscow.
We started early in 2010, together with the launch of new website. And it was a great test to find outÂ what social media could do for us. When we had troubles on the website, and that is inevitable withÂ any new site, we could publish urgent official messages on our newly set pages, get reposts from massÂ media and reach the audience just like weâ€™d do with a website. Then again, we had our site tested insideÂ out by users and had all bug reports collected in discussion topics we set on our pages.
Our communities have been growing fast, and are one of the largest in Russian segment of the audienceÂ of popular social networks. Some say, weâ€™re lucky or sports on a whole are lucky, because we alreadyÂ have fans and fan communities easy to transfer to social media world. True. Youâ€™re more comfortableÂ with liking your favorite sports team than an FMCG brand. But thereâ€™s a catch. Two of them, actually.Â One is that sports fans are well organized and they are okay within their own communities â€“ be it aÂ fan website, forum or a group on a social media website. And one has to really be interesting contentÂ producer and great engager to keep the audience on a club page. Another trick is that fans are faithfulÂ and rarely change their attitude towards the team. Say, if you sell mobile phones and someone doesnâ€™tÂ like your new model or the way your brand communicates â€“ they can switch. But if a football fanÂ doesnâ€™t like the game score or a fan shop items choice or a food on the stadium, theyâ€™ll keep with theÂ club, but will constantly keep providing their negative feedback on every possible channel, includingÂ social media. So the amount of audience on social media is an indicator of whether the team is open toÂ the fans and is ready to change.
When weâ€™ve started, we were the first ones in Russian sports to do social media, and I was most afraidÂ of opponentâ€™s fans to ruin the idea. I even had a nightmare on the night we had a launch, that I wakeÂ up the morning after and the page wall is filled with cute kittens pictures, posted by fans of CSKA andÂ Zenit. But it didnâ€™t happen. And I guess thatâ€™s because we keep forbidden fruit free â€“ if youâ€™re a fan ofÂ another club but like to get our news on social media, want to discuss and comment without aggressionÂ â€“ feel free to join, no one will ban you.
The hardest thing so far in social media for Spartak is to find the right balance between variousÂ communication channels and find the place for digital in it. At first weâ€™ve only reposted official news,Â then started adding exclusive content, viral content, contests and live chatting. But still our social mediaÂ activities have existed aside comms triangle that incorporates real life and traditional media as well.Â Now weâ€™re on a stage of getting all our communications play together, just like football team does.Â Every channel plays its role to achieve one result.
Another challenge is sponsorship activation, since it requires understanding of social media significanceÂ and techniques from sponsors as well. But we already have several successful cases. One is presentingÂ of new Nike kit exclusively on Facebook. It might seem a common practice for brands now, but thenÂ it helped to make a great buzz and draw attention to promo video. Another case worth mentioning isÂ New Year giveaway by Henderson clothing. We had a football fashion trivia on twitter, supported byÂ #henderson hashtag. Not only we had all our audience involved but also had twice as much hashtagÂ mentions as we had audience at the moment â€“ great buzz effect.
But all those challenges step aside as there are fantastic prospects that social media provide to sportsÂ fans. Russia is huge, and a boy from Vladivostok could never dream of winning a jersey or chatting withÂ his football idol. And now with help of Facebook, twitter or Vkontakte (thatâ€™s largest Russian-speakingÂ network) he can do it. We had a contest once where fans suggested their support line on social networkÂ and a winning line appeared on a stadium screen during a game. Thatâ€™s another example on making fansÂ even from abroad closer to whatâ€™s going on in the club.
Weâ€™re also experimenting with new progressing networks, such as Foursquare or Google + to seeÂ how it goes and be where our fans want us to be. Fans are the best asset of any sport club, and we atÂ Spartak know that very well and can proudly say that our fans are best in the country. Therefore ourÂ communication is where itâ€™s best for our fans.
Asya Shalimova, Social Media Officer at FC Spartak Moscow
Spent half of her life in sport dancing, competing and teaching. Worked in public relations both onÂ client and agency sides. Then passion for sports prevailed. Since 2010 doing marketing communicationsÂ and social media at FC Spartak Moscow. Founder and teacher at sports journalism school courses at
Peopleâ€™s Friendship University of Russia.