First Published on runningrugby.com
It is tough to accurately measure the impact of social media on a club’s commercial operations but there are few who still doubt its importance and a new study has found that just one club in either code of rugby appears in the UK’s top 10 for social media use.
The inaugural Sport Social Media Index, which was carried out by PR and social media agency UMPF, ranked 148 professional sporting outfits on their use of the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and YouTube and Leeds Rhinos are rugby’s sole representative among the social media elite.
The Rhinos finished fifth, alongside nine football clubs in the top 10, and UMPF’s founder and managing director Adrian Johnson explained the criteria on which they were judged.
“We used our own algorithms to look at eight different channels and we analysed two full months worth of data for 148 clubs during August and September last year,” he told Running Rugby.
“We plugged in the size of the audiences for all of the clubs at the beginning of August and looked at the total at the end of the period and then we also looked at levels of engagement, response times, things like grammatical errors and spelling errors and periods of idle time when clubs weren’t responding.”
Two thirds of a club’s score was based purely on statistical evidence, with the other third being decided by a panel of expert judges and marks being deducted for social media faux pas, and the Headingley-based side emerged from the initial analysis with particularly good stats.
They were also commended for “excellent use of hashtags” and “clever use of visual assets” and judge Amy Byard, who is a social media account manager, said the Rhinos experienced significant growth during the period of the study and were good at engaging fans.
“We looked at the breadth of social channels that they have, whether or not they were replying to people on their Facebook page, multimedia content and growth on their channels. We had a look at the amount of followers they had at the start of the period and the end and saw what percentage growth they had achieved and they [Leeds Rhinos] did very well in that area,” she told Running Rugby.
“It is all about creating conversation, tapping into existing topics, using existing hashtags that are being used and not just using a hashtag for the sake of it and you would be amazed how many teams that we looked at just don’t use hashtags at all.”
Leeds scored 62.8 per cent in total, just 7.1 per cent behind the overall winners Tottenham Hotspur and almost 10 per cent and 50 places above the next highest scoring rugby league club in Hull FC.
In rugby union, Leicester Tigers just missed out on a place in the top 10 (59.7 per cent in 12th) and both Wasps and Bath also finished inside the top 50.
A host of rugby clubs in both codes, such as Worcester, Gloucester, Sale, Saracens, Bradford, Huddersfield, Wigan, Hull KR, Widnes and London Broncos, finished in the bottom 50 of the index though and it appears that many are lagging behind their football counterparts in terms of social media usage.
However, Hashim Piperdy from digital sports agency Sotic doesn’t see it that way and feels that rugby clubs are often better at engaging in discussion with fans but that the timing of the study may have counted against them slightly.
“It is important to remember that in August and September football is in full swing and up to round seven or eight, where as rugby union is only in round three or four, so I think the time period is definitely important,” he said.
“Clubs and people might be more engaged with social media as the season goes on.
“I think every sport could be doing a bit more to be honest but I don’t think that rugby is particularly lagging behind football. In some ways rugby clubs innovate more and talk more with their fans.”
Amy Byard says the study was conducted in such a way that smaller clubs and those with fewer resources were not necessarily at a disadvantage, a fact borne out by the fact that Leyton Orient FC finished in third place, and even the bigger clubs often make simple mistakes.
“You would be amazed how many big clubs have idle periods where it just looks like nothing has happened. Grammatical errors as well are just a complete no-no for us; if you are going to be writing copy for social media, you need to be a decent copywriter,” she said.
“A lot of clubs also link Twitter with Facebook, so their Tweets are posted to Facebook and that is a no-no because you need to be understanding the medium you’re using and not just copying content.”
Byard, who herself was named in The Drum’s 30 Women in Digital Under 30 last year, acknowledges that it is hard to win new fans using social media because allegiances are usually fairly well ingrained but she says it is particularly useful for building brand advocacy and it can help encourage people to buy tickets and spend more money at a club.
“You might have someone who is marginally interested in rugby though and then they follow you and become more interested in what you are up to, get involved in your conversations and then they are slightly more interested in buying ticket,” she said.
“I wouldn’t say it is inextricably linked to the commercial element but it is more about brand advocacy and loyalty.”
The world of social media is one that never stands still and, whilst some rugby clubs may be playing catch-up, they would be well-served to make sure that they are keeping up with the latest trends and that means taking advantage of a Vine account, according to Byard:
“I would say that anyone looking to improve their ranking next year should learn how to use Vine in the way it is intended in order to use a short six-second clip to engage people because that is the way more people are consuming their media now. It is a lot faster than it used to be and people want their content now.”
It is no longer good enough to be simply using the major networks to send out updates at regular intervals and respond to the odd fan here and there and Byard says that clubs should be “thinking outside the box” if they want to steal a march on their rivals in the social media stakes.
“I think it is about doing things that are perhaps slightly more unusual. So, Tottenham Hotspur, for example, did some great stuff with behind the scenes footage and that did so well in terms of generating shares and likes,” she said.
“Everyone knows how to write conversational copy, so it is all about thinking outside the box.”
By Tim Groves for runningrugby.com