Influencer marketing is not a new phenomenon. It hasn’t just sprung out of nowhere to become the new ‘in’ marketing buzzword. It’s mass adoption across businesses and brands hasn’t been as widespread as social or content marketing were, though. As a general rule of thumb, the business of sport tends to lag behind the corporate world when it comes to adopting new innovations. With a little bit of attention and a smattering of savvy though, it’s got plenty of opportunity to jump ahead of wider businesses and truly embrace the world of influencers.

Definitions

As ever, there’s a few different definitions of influencer marketing available.

“A non-promotional approach to marketing in which brands focus their efforts on opinion leaders, as opposed to direct target market touchpoints.”

John Hall, Forbes, April 2016

Hall goes on to dig deeper and differ it between paid influencer marketing, and promotion that is organically earned and unpaid. Kissmetrics’ definition focuses more on where the influencers are active, mostly they are groups or individuals that create some kind of content and/or have huge social followings. They are brand advocates, but they point out that if the product or service they’re promoting doesn’t necessarily fit with the influencer, then it may well fall on deaf ears or eyes (depending on how your consuming your content).

It’s certainly an ambiguous one. Isn’t it just a traditional sponsorship deal, like an advert on TV with a famous person endorsing a certain product or service? Well, yes, it is. The meteoric rise of social media though has caused that model to shift. Cristiano Ronaldo is much more likely to post his feelings for a product or service in an Instagram post these days, rather than appearing in a TV advert on it.

Influencers in Football

Players like Ronaldo and Messi can quite obviously be classed as influencers. If they wear a piece of clothing or are seen using a certain product, you can be sure that at least one person in their fandom will be influenced to look into purchasing it too.

We’ll discuss Spencer Owen later on, but in a similar vein, you have the F2 Freestylers. It only needs a quick glance over the case studies and testimonials section on their website to show you that they’re hugely respected by footballers and considered major influencers by brands looking to tap into their unique football/entertainment crossover. It helps they have a huge social following too, of course. The duo were Adidas’ first ever influencer partners, as they looked to innovatively keep up with ever-changing consumer trends.

Scottish sport actually does do it’s fair share of influencer marketing, perhaps without realising. Ever seen a club legend appear in the paper holding a piece of cardboard? We certainly have. This is attempting to influence you enough to go out and buy whatever you’re trying to be sold, whether it’s a ticket for the cup tie at the weekend, or a brick in the wall of the stadium.

Influencing in 2017

My motivation to write this post came after listening to Seb Carmichael-Brown on Dan McLaren’s Digital Sport podcast. Carmichael-Brown is the commercial director of Hashtag United, and business manager for Spencer FC. If you’ve never heard of either of them, then you’re already behind. Spencer Owen is one of the hottest influencers in football, and probably the whole of sport, right now. He’s got over 3million followers across social platforms and various different accounts, and huge subscriber to view ratios on Hashtag United videos, especially. Spencer started off creating FIFA videos on YouTube and turned to it full time in 2013. This came to it’s head last year as his created-for-YouTube team, Hashtag United, played in the EE Cup at Wembley. Various media outlets reported on it and his rise to prominence, including this BBC article. The footage from the match, which included a host of YouTubers plus a footballing legend or two, now has over 4million views on YouTube. The people watching this video are the fans clubs are trying so desperately to get through the turnstiles.

In the podcast, Carmichael-Brown relayed an anecdote about a football fan he’d met abroad wearing an Arsenal shirt. Upon asking him why Arsenal, the answer was that they were the first team that appeared on FIFA. Not to miss out on an opportunity, of course you’re able to buy Hashtag United merchandise. This is on a bigger scale, but it happens on a smaller scale too. People making Football Manager videos and content don’t have the same reach or following as many of the FIFA YouTubers, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t trying to capitalise on the support of those that are watching.

The above Tweet is from Football Manager YouTube content creator, Golden FM. He has over 20,000 followers on Twitter, and over 26,000 subscribers on YouTube, which ranks just behind Rangers and miles ahead of Hearts or Aberdeen if you want a rough idea up against some Scottish football clubs. The Tweet is him gauging interest in whether he should look into putting together an option for his followers to be able to purchase some merchandise for his current series, which is a club he’s created from scratch within the game. Even if only the 48 Twitter users that liked the Tweet purchased a t-shirt at say £15 each, that’s not an insignificant amount of money made.

I spoke with an individual who has indeed purchased some merchandise being sold by a YouTube content creator. What motivates someone to do that?

“I’ve been a subscriber of his YouTube channel for about a year now. I know how much effort he puts into his videos and I thought it would be a good way to give something back. It’s a nice idea for the shirts and it’s supporting him so it’s a win win really.”

Never mind that instead of Kilmarnock or Motherwell kits, tomorrow’s fans are already buying Real Madrid or Barcelona kits. They’re now buying merchandise of clubs that you could say don’t even technically exist, or individuals who’ve been creating content for a fraction of the time some of our sports organisations have been around. How can clubs replicate or piggyback on the back of opportunities like this?

One club that certainly could have done more very recently is Ayr United. Quill18 is a Canadian YouTuber with over 409,000 subscribers. His 40 Football Manager videos with Ayr United have been viewed over 125,000 so far.

Quill18 - Influencers

He recently decided to fly over 3,000 miles to watch his adopted team play against Dunfermline at Somerset. His visit was picked up by a few papers and a few pictures were taken around the ground as you can see above. Did his visit appear on Ayr’s website? No. Was it pushed and mentioned relentlessly by the club across their social platforms? Does sharing and Retweeting a post on Facebook and Twitter from the Ayrshire Post count, or a few Retweets of his Tweets? No, it certainly doesn’t. Am I being harsh? Perhaps. Ayr themselves should have completely owned the communication around Quill’s visit. I know resource, in time and manpower, is a huge issue at our sports clubs and organisations across the country, but I think opportunities like this to associate the club with an influencer and a little bit of positive sentiment are too big to pass up.

Dark Social

In our recent interview with George Francis, we discussed how the club could engage with and try and attract the next generation of fans to Firhill. One way Scottish clubs and organisations could attempt to do this is to copy adidas’ approach to dark social. Friend of the site, Scott Goodacre of the Online Rule, wrote a great piece introducing dark social and how it could be adopted by businesses.

Dark social is conversations and sharing that takes place on platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger or traditional, old-school texting. It’s dark because it can’t be tracked in the same way as traffic from more public channels. It can definitely classed as a strand of influencer marketing, but it’s different in nature. Adidas put together ‘squads’ of individuals in cities across the globe, with the aim of telling them about new products before anyone else and sending invites to exclusive events. Instead of approaching a famous face, I’d love to see our clubs reach out to groups or individual fans and keep them in the know of updates before anyone else. It might be a sneak preview of next season’s kit, the exclusive opportunity to meet a player or even garnering a fans eye view on concourse or ticket prices.

As always, fan engagement is high on the agenda. It’s all about trying things, being different and getting tomorrow’s generation of fans onside and into the stands. Otherwise they might just choose to watch a club playing friendly matches on YouTube.