The explosion in social media is helping football fans reengage with their clubs.
“Social networking sites and social media is now at the forefront of news full stop,” says Andy Lewis, New Media Journalist at Everton FC. “For organisations such as football clubs it is a perfect way to interact with supporters.
“Fans are going to use these sites in large numbers so it is only natural a club would embrace it and try and use it to their advantage.
“The importance being placed on it is clear to see. Should you go to Old Trafford, for example, the advertising hoardings around the pitch on a matchday have a plug for their Facebook page on heavy rotation.
“Also the websites of Premier League clubs – Everton included – are covered with adverts for Facebook and Twitter feeds. In fact every story I write for the official website has a link to my Twitter account alongside my byline.”
The Goodison Park club has more than 125,000 followers on Facebook and around 10,000 Twitter followers.
“You post something on Facebook and there are hundreds of comments almost instantaneously – not all of them constructive!
“But it is a great way to interact and also drive traffic to your own website, products and services.”
The sports world has embraced social media. Many brands and clubs have taken to Facebook to help promote and engage, with Nike, Adidas and Barclays among the most ‘liked’ pages on the 500 million member site.
Sportsmen and women however, seem to prefer the more personable medium of Twitter. England captain Rio Ferdinand, Olympic medal winners Chris Hoy and Jessica Ennis and even Tiger Woods have accounts on the site.
Defender Rio Ferdinand is one of the most famous footballing tweeters, having clocked up 4,607 tweets since June 15th last year. With 542,614 followers, when Rio speaks, people are listening.
From cheering on his team to apologising for missing a game with an injury, one of the biggest figures in the national game is able to speak publicly without having to utilise the press.
Unlike his engagements with the nation’s journalists, Ferdinand holds a weekly question and answer session with his followers – where he discusses everything from how United midfielder Antonio Valencia styles his hair to thoughts on young prodigies such as Danish winger Christian Eriksen, “Eriksen has been the pick of the players on show so far, looks sharp, nice movement, imagination and good delivery.”
Ferdinand even offered his support for the protestors in Egypt:
Former Arsenal and Tottenham winger Rohan Ricketts is another footballer heavily engaged with social media. Currently plying his trade at German side SV Wilhelmshaven, 28 year old Ricketts has carved himself a niche as a a columnist for Sabotage Times, where he discusses the workings of the world of football.
“ [Twitter] cuts out the middle man,” Ricketts explained, “it allows freedom of speech.” During a rancourous January transfer Ricketts regularly complained to his followers the troubles he was experiencing. In contrast to the secretive multi-million pound deals that normally occur, Ricketts provided a refreshing insight into the difficulties of footballing red-tape.
Jordan Stewart, a footballer for Skoda Xanthi in Greece, agrees that social media is good for fans. “ [It] gives fans an insight of footballers daily life and a few of their thoughts.” The former Derby, Sheffield United and Watford player explains, simply, that Twitter, “ [is] just and easy way to communicate with people.”
There are obvious dangers to such an open platform of communication. The Telegraph’s football correspondent Mark Ogden explains that, “Twitter doesn’t do irony or sarcasm very well.” Former Wales international Robbie Savage publicly quit Twitter after receiving abusive messages about his father’s illness. Jordan Stewart agrees, “You get the odd prat talking rubbish,” he told me, before dismissing it as “normal.”
Tweeting Tottenham Hotspur fan Ed Billins enjoys having the access to footballers on twitter, “Having footballers on twitter is interesting as long as they are honest and say what they feel, it seems pointless if they regurgitate the cliches from press interviews.”
Several footballers have got themselves in trouble for tweeting opinions that the governing bodies were not happy with. However, Billins believes it is just this insight that is good about sport and social media, “The FA should just let it be now, people like to hear what footballers have to say when they are being honest.”
Not everyone agrees.
“I think they are pretty dull, in the main,” complains Newcastle United fan Ben Haynes. “I don’t actually follow any footballers anymore, except for Toon players in the vain hope of getting some insight into my club.”
Haynes does however admit, “I think that any tool that brings fans a bit closer to these players, especially the Premier League megastars that seem so far removed from any semblance of normality, is a good thing, in theory.”
Manchester United fan and social media consultant Eliot Fineberg explains, “we are all publishers now, go with the flow, not against it.” The FA may be lagging behind with their understanding of the power of social media, but many players clearly enjoy the interaction they get with their teams fans.
There may be occasional issues with footballers and twitter, as Ryan Babel and Jack Wilshere have both found to their cost after outbursts against refereeing decisions. Most fans however enjoy being able to hear from their team’s players, and enjoy the occasional outburst of honesty that is rarely displayed in more formal media work from the players.