by Matt Hurst

There can be no denying that social media is becoming more relevant to football as each football filled day goes by. This summer saw Brazil host the World Cup and since then Facebook and Twitter have been releasing all sorts of statistics from the tournament. For instance, Facebook announced that 88 million people generated 280 million ‘interactions’ during the World Cup final, making it the most-talked about sporting event in Facebook history.  Twitter made similar claims via their @TwitterData account, stating that 32.1 million tweets were sent during the final game, with the ‘tweets per minute’ reaching a peak of 618,725; a record number of TPM.

Are the above statistics really that surprising? After all, the World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event; it was here a long time before ‘tweets’ and ‘likes’.  Perhaps not, the World Cup was always going to generate a lot of interest, however what is interesting is how fans are latching onto social media.

Social media has quickly become the go-to for football fans who wish to find out the latest about their club, transfer market and minute-by-minute commentary. Fans are also able to feel a closer engagement with their sporting heroes by being offered an insight into their daily routines, thoughts, and even engaging in Q&A sessions.

It appears that fans are engaging with social media more than ever; English Premier League clubs on Facebook saw a combined growth of 58.5m between August 2013 and May 2014 – that’s an increase of 65%. The trend wasn’t just related to Facebook; Premier League clubs on Twitter witnessed a combined growth of 7.2m – an increase of 66%.

Looking at the statistics, you may be surprised that it’s the smaller clubs that have benefited the most. Crystal Palace saw a staggering growth of 1614% on their Facebook page, shifting from 15,393 ‘likes’ in August 2013, to 263,797 by May 2014. Hull City are in second place with 691,270 ‘likes’, a 802% growth from 76,636. Southampton complete the top three with a growth of 613%, shifting from 55,926 in August 2013 to 398,747 ‘likes’ in May 2014.

The smaller clubs may claim a victory in growth margins however that’s not to say that the larger clubs lost out – Manchester United added 14m ‘likes’, and their city rivals added a respectable 7m ‘likes’ from August 2013 to May 2014.

It may be clear that fans are demanding engagement with their clubs via social media, however just because the demand exists, it should not mean that clubs latch onto social media without a clear plan. If clubs jump in blindly, they may well gain a significant amount of followers and generate a number of interactions because of their brand, however they will have missed a massive opportunity.

Football clubs should think about their purpose, why are they using social media in the first place? Who are they targeting and what platforms do they use? These are just a few questions which should make up a wide range of questions that clubs ought to answer before joining social media. It’s not complicated to get right, however with a little time and effort, clubs can reap great rewards.

What’s next for social media and football? We’re yet to see, it’s an exciting area which is constantly evolving. I think we’re going to see a lot of clubs follow Southampton and latch onto SnapChat. It’s an exciting area for clubs to play with; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, SnapChat and Pinterest all offer unique experiences for clubs to offer their fans.

You can see more statistics from the growth of social media in the English Premier League and Championship by checking out Storyz or the June 2014 edition of FC Business.

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