Scotland qualifying for a World Cup for the first time since 1998; over 18,000 fans at Hampden for a friendly; names like Erin Cuthbert, Claire Emslie and Kim Little entering into mainstream conversation; and a shared sense of national heartbreak after a dramatic exit. There’s no doubt that Scotland competing at the Women’s World Cup has left an impression on football fans across the country.
After three years working with Hibernian Ladies helping to develop their social media output and seeing the women’s game in Scotland gradually develop, I have taken a particular interest in how the national team’s appearance in France will help continue this growth. More specifically, how much this would advance the attention Scottish women’s football receives on social media.
We don’t have to look far from home to see the impact competing at a World Cup can have. After England’s run to the semi-final in Canada in 2015, women’s football seemed to develop at a rapid pace with new sponsorship deals and a fully professional top league being introduced.
This also translated to a general increase in attention, with the WSL seeing attendances rise by 5% from 2015-2017, search results for the Women’s FA Cup Final doubling and a boom in TV audiences rising to 12.4 million. Scotland’s world cup opener against England drew in a record audience, with 6.1 million viewers tuning in across the UK.
Of course, Scotland have already played at a major tournament with their appearance at the 2017 European Championships. This helped develop the game as participation numbers grew by 46%, with the number currently sitting at roughly 12,000.
But the World Cup is the pinnacle of football and nothing quite captures interest like the best players on the planet coming together, especially when that includes your very own.
So, with the assumption that more people will begin to pay attention to women’s football in Scotland, how can we grasp this opportunity and convert awareness into genuine fandom? Through the power of social media marketing.
Myself and a dedicated group of volunteers learned a lot of lessons whilst at Hibs Ladies. I wanted to take this watershed moment as an opportunity to share some of the good practices we picked up and hopefully help those working with club social media in their efforts to capitalise on this moment in history.
Define your goals, style and platforms
Whether you already have an established presence on social media or you’re looking to get up and running, a good place to start is by deciding how you want your club to come across, where this will take place, and what you want to achieve.
Depending on how involved the club hierarchy is with your social efforts, starting a discussion on your goals will help provide direction and purpose to everything you do. Do they want to sell more tickets, build a fanbase (both physically and virtually), improve sponsorship options or simply grow their social media presence?
When I started at Hibs Ladies in 2016 we were given two aims: provide supporters with updates on match day and increase the visibility of both the team and players. This helped when planning our strategy as we knew exactly what was expected of us instead of aimlessly stabbing in the dark.
Now that you know your objective, the next step is to decide what platforms you’re going to use. The first three to consider would be Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as these are the most popular and established channels for providing sports content. You could also consider other platforms such as Snapchat or TikTok. Whilst not as widely used by clubs at this level, they could help you connect with potential supporters due to the void.
However, using more platforms usually means more work (especially if you want to do them well). Take into account your skills, time and resources when deciding what platforms to use. At Hibs Ladies we decided to put most of our focus into Twitter for two seasons before picking up Instagram in 2018. This focus helped us immensely in building up our presence on Twitter as we began to see what worked, how followers reacted to different content and become one of the most active clubs in both women’s and men’s football in Scotland.
FT; Hibernian 9-0 Celtic— Hibs Ladies (@HibsLadies) May 20, 2018
A simply incredible, mesmerising and complete Hibernian performance comes to an end here at the Falkirk Stadium with Hibernian winning the #SWPLCup for the third season in a row pic.twitter.com/opPA3tD8Qy
The importance of building an active presence on a single platform. Over 160,000 people saw this tweet.
One of the biggest mistakes a club can make on social media, in my opinion, is presenting a huge range of tones and general inconsistencies in their communications. This usually comes about due to a combination of no set guidelines on ‘tone of voice’ and multiple people, with differing styles, putting out content. It’s understandable that it might be difficult for some clubs to have one person dedicated to social media coordination, however, a simple discussion on how you want your club’s messaging to come across can fix those inconsistencies.
It’s important to note here that there’s no right or wrong tone of voice. A lot of clubs have begun to opt for the fun, tongue-in-cheek style, made popular by the likes of AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen. However, this could mean an opportunity is available to go the other way. As long as your content resonates with your supporters (and whoever else you’re trying to reach) you can take whatever tone of voice you want. Think about the way you want your club to come across, what values does your club hold, what place does it have in the community, and what do people already associate with your club?
Content is king and queen
There were a few mentions of ‘content’ in the previous section. What does this term mean for clubs on social media? It’s what you’re going to create in order to deliver a certain message, information, entertainment, etc. Think video highlights, game pictures, graphics, articles. Even a simple one line tweet is content.
Social media is driven by sharing content. The kind of content you produce and share will largely define the success of your social media efforts. Football clubs are surrounded by potential content opportunities and there’s some fantastic examples from across the levels in Scotland. Glasgow City’s highlights package, Edinburgh City’s visually appealing Instagram game and Motherwell’s ‘Story of the Game’ features, to name just a few.
Glasgow City’s highlights provide comprehensive coverage of the full match day.
Let me reiterate: your content will largely define the success of your social media efforts. You can have the perfect goals, tone of voice, branding and everything else that comes with social media, but if your content is flat and doesn’t resonate with your followers, you’re going to struggle. Big time.
The ability to create exciting, informative, value-driven, beautiful pieces of content is what sets aspiring social media creatives apart.
Don’t let this put you off as this should be seen as the most exciting challenge you’ll come across on social. You also shouldn’t be disheartened by seeing some of the big budget creations coming out from professional teams. Like when deciding on what platforms to use, consider what skills you hold and how much time/resource you have? A simple picture or piece of text can hold the same value as a video, depending on how it is put across. Also, don’t get caught up in creating something completely new. Most of the time, your supporters will appreciate getting an insight into their team, whether they’ve seen someone else do it or not.
“It’s taken a long hard 17 years. A lot of people, and a lot of hard work has gone into it, but we’ve got there in the end.’— Clydebank FC (@clydebankfc) June 19, 2019
Get your season ticket for 2019-20 now.https://t.co/Kzy0mwW2zg pic.twitter.com/TwOafVk8Nw
Clydebank’s new season ticket promotional video was shot solely on an iPhone and shows you don’t have to break the bank to create good content.
When deciding on what content you will produce, I want to introduce one concept – ‘content pillars’. Certainly not something developed by myself and it’s already the basis of how a lot of brands create social media content. The basic idea is taking one main story/event, creating a long-form piece of content from that and then re-purposing that into shorter pieces to repost and drive engagement. Here are two scenarios as an example:
1) Your club plays their game at the weekend, you create a 10-minute highlights package, post it on YouTube and do nothing else with it apart from post a link on your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
2) You create the same 10-minute highlights package and post to YouTube, but instead of only posting the link, you go through the highlights and create separate, shorter videos/GIFs showing just the goals, exciting/funny moments, controversial moments, individual player highlights and whatever else you can find. You’ve now got multiple pieces of content to beef up your social game.
Which scenario is going to drive further engagement (provided the separate pieces are quality) and even push people to watch the full highlights package? Number two, of course.
One of my favourite ways to re-purpose highlights whilst at Hibs Ladies was to create GIFs out of player celebrations, particularly from big or high emotion games. This lets you capture often entertaining and emotionally charged moments and use them alongside other messages.
Our highlights cam picked up the subs’ reaction to a winning goal and made into a GIF to accompany tweets which portrayed a sense of excitement.
Whatever content you decide to create, don’t get attached to it. If it’s not working, try something else or look to improve it. Testing is a key aspect of social.
Focus on the individuals
Whilst football is a team game, it’s made up of individuals. Each player (and staff member) has their own personality, values and story which can be shared on social media.
The fact that football clubs have dozens of individual stories to tell is a massive opportunity in an age when football fans, and consumers in general, want to see relatable and engaging content. Make your players as accessible as possible via your platforms.
Think about how you can portray each player’s personality and strengths through your content.
Whilst at Hibs Ladies, some of our most popular pieces were those that focused on one or two players, rather than the whole team. Sometimes this was made easier due to the more established names within the squad but we also tried to raise the profile of some of Scotland’s most exciting talents.
Using pictures, videos or GIFs of individual players in action accompanied with copy which included their social media handles was a common feature throughout last season. This linked back to our goal of increasing the visibility of the players.
We also ran a video series called ‘Who Are Ya’ which aimed at diving into the background, lifestyle and ambitions of different players. Throughout the interview and production process we tried to unearth obscure facts about the player. One example of this was when Lucy Graham, now playing professionally down in England, revealed to us she loved practicing mindfulness and yoga. Not something you’d necessarily expect from a football player.
? | In part three of @LUCYGRAHAM1010‘s #WhoAreYa player feature, she talks about her life outside football and her ambitions for the future— Hibs Ladies (@HibsLadies) April 6, 2018
“I’m so laid-back, just work day-to-day” ?♀️ pic.twitter.com/ohvpmUMe6t
Our Who Are Ya feature was designed to help supporters build a deeper connection with the players on the pitch.
The overarching objective of focusing on the individuals within your squad is to find fun, interesting facts which you can then share with your audience, creating deeper connections between the players and fans. The difference between a young girl deciding to support your club over another could be found within her admiration for a certain player which began because she related to something she saw on social media.
Aim to inspire
When myself and club videographer, Reece Baptie, were putting together our handover note for the incoming Hibs Ladies media team at the beginning of this year he pointed out something very important: women’s football is the fastest growing sport in Scotland and promoting its clubs is a must and a pleasure.
With Scotland playing at the biggest Women’s World Cup ever, this trend should continue, with many fans experiencing their first bit of mainstream exposure to the women’s national team. Whether or not this translates into an increase of diehard women’s football fans is still to be determined. But one thing is certainly going to happen and that’s a boost in overall interest.
Players, coaching and support staff, club leaders, established fans, and aspiring players across the country deserve to have their achievements and hard work shared to as many people as possible.
How can you tap into these inspirational stories and grab attention?
At the end of the day, everyone involved in the marketing of women’s clubs across Scotland should have the same basic goals – increasing exposure and developing the game.
Enjoy what you do, be creative and inspire the next generation.
Huge thank you to Matthew for providing these brilliant insights from his time at Hibs Ladies. Guest posts are always welcome on Sports Marketing Scotland if you’ve got an opinion to share on the business and marketing of Scottish sport. The email address to get in touch with is firstname.lastname@example.org, or just Tweet @sportsmarketsco.