As is so often the case, you wait for one interview and two come along in a very short space of time. Today’s is with one of Scotland’s best off the pitch football industry exports. David Child’s has worked his way up from intern at the SPL to Social Media Manager at world football governing body, FIFA.

Could you just take a moment to introduce yourself?

Hello! I’m David Childs, and I’m a Social Media Manager for FIFA at their headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland.

We’ll get to your role at FIFA soon, but first, where it all began. How did you initially get the opportunity to work in the Scottish sports industry?

From a young age, I was always interested in journalism. In Fort William, I wrote for the local paper most weeks, writing about football, hockey, shinty and cricket (I’d often be writing match reports about games I was playing in).

I moved to Glasgow when I was 18 to study politics, but I kept writing about sport. I did some freelance reporting of rugby, and co-created a website called We Are Free Agents, which gave me and a few others opportunities to cover teams like Partick Thistle and Glasgow Rocks. I was Publicity Convenor for Glasgow University Sports Association, which is where I started doing more and more social media as opposed to traditional journalism, and eventually that lead to an internship at the SPL. A few months after that, following the merger with the SFL, I started full-time with the SPFL as a Digital Media Executive, before joining the Scottish FA as a Social Content Producer and then, last July, FIFA.

Looking back now on your time at the SPL/SPFL, what are your memories of the merger and how did it affect your role?

Coincidentally, the merger happened during the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, as it took until late in the night for it to happen. Little did I know I’d be at the following edition in Russia. It was a piece of history that I can say I was involved in, even if it was just rebranding the SPL twitter account.

Although I was still interning at that time, it changed the scope of the role massively. Six games a weekend became 21, working with teams on both ends of the spectrum in Scotland. During my time with the SPFL, we focussed a lot of our resources on the SPFL YouTube channel, so I became a lot more knowledgeable about the teams in the Scottish pyramid through watching and uploading highlights every week. We worked with a lot of clubs in Scotland to create content too, such as the Bin Header Challenge, which was also really enjoyable.

In your time at the SFA, the team were widely regarded as innovators. What do you think brought that out in yourselves?

We tried quite a few things that worked pretty well at the Scottish FA, and the key to that was having a good team with creative licence. At the time, the Scotland team were on the up, and that positivity created an environment to try new things. From Google+ Hangouts and Meerkat (remember those?!) to Snapchat Takeovers, emoji-related banter and goal graphics/gifs, I was lucky to be there at a time when opportunities were available, and to be part of a team that could take advantage.

Tell us about your current role at FIFA. How did it come about and what does a typical working day currently look like for you?

FIFA advertised a Social Media Manager position in late 2015, which I applied for. I was not expecting too much, but to my surprise, I was offered the job after a series of interviews last spring.

FIFA Digital have a network of editors based all over the world, servicing and our social channels in six different languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Russian). My job, along with two others in Zurich, is to manage the content for FIFA’s social media platforms, as well as the editors network who populate the channels.

We also manage and prepare the social strategy and content for FIFA’s tournaments – so far this year this has included The Best FIFA Football Awards, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, FIFA U-20 World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup, and coming up we have the FIFA Interactive World Cup, the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, to name but three events. On top of this, planning for next summer’s FIFA World Cup is already in full swing, too. So, it’s busy!

Just how does it compare to your previous roles? What’s the biggest difference you’ve found?

It’s quite different to my previous roles at the Scottish FA and the SPFL. In those positions, I was a member of a small team, and I personally delivered a lot of the content on Twitter and Facebook. At FIFA, my role is to provide an overall strategy for our network. There’s a lot of overlap between the roles (working with internal partners, sponsors, content creation etc), but that’s probably the biggest difference. It brings about its own challenges, too, but it’s an exciting one.

How much freedom were you given to produce content on social in your roles in Scotland?

Quite a lot. The people I worked with at the SPFL and the Scottish FA all agreed on the tone and voice our content needed to have, and because we knew and believed in what it was, it made content creation quite easy. We knew roughly what worked, and where our limits were. Interestingly, our Chief Executive at the Scottish FA was on Twitter, so he would often comment on any of our content if he liked it, too!

It is similar to the constraints we have at FIFA. We want to be engaging, fun and on the pulse, but at the same time, remember that we are a governing body too.

Scottish league matches, Scottish Cup matches or the Confederations Cup. What’s been your favourite competition to work at?

That’s a tough one! It’s honestly difficult to compare, as they all require different styles. I loved working Scotland games. It was the chance to act as a team channel instead of a governing body, which allowed us to provide more partisan and fan-centric content. The games against Germany and Poland will live long in the memory, although the results didn’t go our way. Shaun Maloney’s winner against Ireland is probably the best goal I’ve ever witnessed.

The Scottish Cup, and the “Unrivalled” aspect of that competition, was special. I was lucky enough to work at three finals, and they were all unique in their own ways. The 2014 final, where we strapped a GoPro on Dave MacKay as he lifted the Scottish Cup was really cool, but if I had to pick a match, it would be the 2016 final.

The Confederations Cup was an incredible experience, especially ahead of the World Cup next year. Covering the final in St Petersburg, and watching Germany defy odds against Chile, topped off a brilliant few weeks working in Russia. We worked really closely with our TV department during the tournament for native video on Facebook, and we totalled 13million views in two weeks, so seeing that come to fruition was really satisfying.

It was a lot of work, but it certainly whetted the appetite for next summer’s World Cup!

How important is it, in your opinion, to plan social content versus reacting in an agile way?

Yeah, it’s important. It’s all about balance, in my opinion. By all means, you need content plans, graphics prepared and hashtags pre-established, but not at the expense of spontaneous content.

Social media is at its best when the prepared meets the spontaneous. During the Confederations Cup, there was a rumour that Cristiano Ronaldo, who was at the competition with Portugal, was leaving Real Madrid. Because we had cool, branded artwork of Ronaldo in Russia, we were able to react to this in a neat.

What has your experience been in measuring the performance of social content? Do you think it’s a valuable task? Or should it just be ‘post it, move on’?

It certainly shouldn’t be “post it, move on”. As soon as content is posted, you should be keeping an eye on its performance for a few reasons, mainly:

  • Is there mistakes in the text/graphic?
  • Are fans engaging in it? Can you reply to fans?
  • How well is it performing, analytically?

In the early days, it was all about likes and followers, and of course it is a simple conclusion to how your pages are doing. But I think social media is at a point in its maturity where it is not a question of “how many”, but more of “how are they engaging”. We don’t base our performance on page likes, despite having a FIFA World Cup Facebook page with over 40million people on it. Rather, we look at posts, gauge if they are successful and then learn from it.

For example, we identified that “emoji voting” has proved to be successful, so that is a style of content that we focus on Facebook. On Instagram, we do a “Classic Stadium” feature, where fans comment with their favourite stadium, and we pick a user’s suggestion for the following week’s post.

FIFA's David Childs

As an outsider looking in now, what can we do to improve Scottish football as a whole?

I think that, fundamentally, the product we have in Scottish football is pretty good. We have the best supported league in Europe in terms of population with a Premiership consisting of iconic teams, classic stadiums, a rich history and, a track record of former players going on to make a name for themselves.

On top of all these “traditional” parts of Scottish football identities, we have so many personalities and characters that can appeal to football fans both in Scotland and elsewhere. I have two colleagues, one from South America and the other from South Africa, who have become Hibernian and Partick Thistle fans purely based on Jason Cummings and Kingsley. As daft as it sounds, we need to embrace the colourful aspects of Scottish football, and create a strong selling point for punters going on a Saturday and to broadcasters.

FIFA's David Childs

All of these things can provide the SPFL with a great platform to become an “alternative league”, for want of a better phrase. I watch a lot of football in Switzerland, a country that borders Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1. We may be next to one of the biggest leagues in the world in the Premier League (and by no means should we try and compare the two leagues), but we should embrace what makes our game different.

What more would you like to see our Scottish clubs doing on social? Are there any massive opportunities you can see that they’re currently missing out on?

This is may sound like a daft thing, but co-ordination between clubs for match hashtags is a small thing that really grinds my gears. You see with the top leagues in the world, such as the Premier League and the Bundesliga, a standardised system for hashtags – if Arsenal are playing Liverpool, they use #ARSLIV. Why are clubs opting for #TeamNameLIVE or their own match hashtags instead of agreeing on a consistent system? That’s a small change, which wouldn’t cost a penny, that I would 100% back.

On a bigger scale, a move towards streaming matches online would be huge, whether it would be on social media or on club-owned platforms. I think it would tie in well into the “alternative league” concept and go quite some way towards the league building its own USP and brand identity, although the hurdles that Scottish football faces before we get to that stage are well documented.

It’s obvious there’s numerous clubs in the SPFL that don’t quite have the manpower available to FIFA or even to rival other teams in the league system, what would you say to these clubs to help them improve their marketing or communications to fans?

Keep things simple. Regardless of the size of your team, establish what channels you have and what they are for, and build from there. Once you know why you have digital channels and their purpose that serves as a great reference point to build on.

As for resources, I think there’s a massive pool of talented people who are eager to learn and gain experience, a lot of which are fans of the clubs themselves. If a club is close to a college or a university, look into potential partnership opportunities? Salford City are a non-league team in England, and they have a partnership with the local university for video content. If I were working for a club, that’s the sort of pathway I would be looking towards.

What clubs or other organisations are impressing you at the moment for what they’re doing?

As the governing body, we take a lot of inspiration by how federations are utilising digital platforms. Recently, CONCACAF’s coverage of the Gold Cup has been really impressive, especially with their offerings on social with video. AFC offer a great service with their World Cup qualifiers live-streamed on YouTube, and UEFA’s digital offerings during EURO 2016 was really good.

Clubs like AS Roma and Bayern Munich (in particular their US Twitter channel) stand out for me and (I’m bias here!) the Scottish FA’s commitment to live streaming on social media for women’s and youth fixtures has certainly been a success.

What’s the next big thing in the sports marketing or digital sector?

Streaming. The growing popularity of platforms like DAZN (a self-proclaimed “Netflix of Sports”) shows that the way we watch live sport is changing. Many football fans either stream illegally or pay towards club TV channels. When the latest cycle of TV broadcast deals comes to an end, it will be fascinating to see how they change to reflect the changing landscape.

What advice would you give to anyone currently looking to break into the industry?

Get experience, and if you can’t find anyone to help you, make your own experience. The We Are Free Agents website that I co-created was a response to, what we felt, was a lack of genuine media opportunities. The site became a platform for young journalists and reporters, and we were able to offer experience to those who wanted a career in media, and some people who produced content for us have achieved just that.

Overall, my advice would be to just keep writing and producing content and, if conventional opportunities aren’t readily available, find your niche. This website is a great example of finding an aspect of sport and making it your own!