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Sports & Social Media: 5 things sports properties can learn from AS Roma, Kanye & Zlatan

In April we had the four European Champions League (CL) quarter finals. The second legs of three games were epic. Roma beat Barcelona in one of the greatest comebacks in CL history. Juventus almost did the same against Real Madrid, while Liverpool destroyed Manchester City 5-1 over two legs. Bayern Munich won the fourth quarterfinal, a relatively straight forward one-sided game. The social media accounts of all these football clubs were churning out real time content. Of the four match winners, Roma won the content/social media game hands down, as can be seen in the below table.

How come Roma, with ~3 times less followers (reach) than Bayern, 6 times less than Liverpool & 19 times less than Madrid had a staggering 185 times, 11 times and 16 times more engagement (retweets & likes) than the three clubs, respectively? Differentiated, fun & engaging content!

We are being fed so much content every single day that unless there is something unique about your content, consumers will ignore it. As a top sports property (sports team or player) you can get millions of social media followers because of the power of your brand. However, unless your content captures users' attention they wont engage with it (like, retweet). Engagement is king. If you are getting engagement, if people are sharing your content, you will automatically get reach. Otherwise, having all the followers in the world is useless if the content is not worth talking about.

Key to Producing Engaging Content

Engaging content has one or more of the following:

  1. Unique: different from standard content being churned out on social media

  2. Behind the scenes & un-curated: Real content that connects followers to the sports property

  3. Dramatic: Captures real time emotions, especially after a win or loss

  4. Plays on current social trends

  5. Ironic/audacious: as opposed to the standard, bland, low risk boring content being put out to not offend anyone

AS Roma

Below are some of Roma's twitter posts during & after the CL second leg win over Barcelona.

Tweet: Final Whistle

Emotional & random, posted right after the final whistle of the historic win against Barcelona

If you dont love me at my worst, you dont deserve me at my best

Funny, self-deprecating & playing up on current social trends.

Roma got so many likes, replies and shares not just through its own following (reach) but also through viral reach as friends of friends kept viewing, liking & retweeting its great content.

Roma is building a digital voice that is engaging. Even though it does not fall in the top 10 most supported European clubs globally, very soon it will build a large social media following due to its different & engaging content. Roma used the CL quarter final against Barcelona - a big game with high viewership - to get their content out there.

Kanye West

For a celebrity or sports star, its not about being exclusive & hard to reach, its about your fans/followers/audience being able to interact with you, getting to know you better, being able to relate to you & finding common ground.

A great example is Kanye West. Some of his tweets are truly brilliant and not what you would expect from a celebrity. You can see that he himself tweets rather than leaving it to a social media team. He comments on current social events, is audacious and gives his point of view. He provides insight to the man behind one of the icons of our times & is instantly relatable.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Another icon, Zlatan has built a great persona around being the best, doing amazing stuff on & off the field and building up on it on social media.

Zlatan has fantastic endorsements based on being the best. Any brand associated with Zlatan is automatically assumed to be the best in its category. Again, just looking at Zlatan's tweets shows us how he goes about building his brand image. While most sports stars stick to the bland & boring - "great win today, happy for the lads" - Zlatan is audacious, dramatic, plays on current social trends & is different from everyone else. When Zlatan posts on social media or gives an interview it goes viral. Nike's Dare to Zlatan Campaign was built around this.

Zlatan recently signed a deal with Visa - or should I say viZa - for the coming World Cup in June - July 2018.

The instagram video has had 4.3m+ views in less than two weeks!

Why do all these top brands - Nike, Visa, Samsung, Volvo - partner with Zlatan? Because he is the best and has a different & unique brand that people engage with. He uses social media to build up this brand and is fully leveraging it. He has even come up with his own clothing range, A-Z By Zlatan and a video game, Zlatan Legends.

Roma & Qatar Airways Partnership

Soon after AS Roma completed its epic come back win over Barcelona, Qatar Airways became its main shirt sponsor in a deal that is the 6th highest in value in global football, even though Roma is not even in the top 10 most popular clubs in the world and has not won the Serie A title since 2000-2001. Its not even the most successful club in Italy. However, Qatar Airways wants to penetrate the Italian market and AS Roma will provide the airline with brand awareness & association with a club from the capital of Italy that has a strong identity. More importantly, Qatar Airways will get lots of engagement through AS Roma's social media platforms.

We asked Paul Rogers, the Head of Digital and Social Media at AS Roma, how much of an influence its fantastic social media platforms had in pushing the deal over the line?

"The deal between Roma and Qatar Airways was actually agreed long before the Barcelona tie but it’s fair to say that the club’s social and digital strategy played an integral part in all the discussions about the partnership," Rogers said. In January, Rogers travelled to Doha with members of Roma's commercial team - based out of London - and key personnel from Rome to meet with Qatar Airways, as digital activation was very high on their list of priorities to discuss.

"The front of the shirt visibility and in-stadium LED boards are probably the most prominent sponsorship assets a football club has to offer on matchdays," he said, as clubs and partners look for ways to provide fans with a better & more engaging experience.

Discussing how digital can provide fans with such an experience, Rogers said, "Digital and social media allows brands to reach fans in ways that many traditional sponsorship assets can’t and Qatar Airways actually have the biggest social following of any airline in the world themselves. They were excited about what the club’s president, Jim Pallotta, is doing with the Roma brand, both on and off the pitch, and we were also excited about how we can work together with them on social media to provide existing and new fans with even better content that makes them feel closer to both the team and the airline."

"Big social media follower numbers are great, but they have become a bit of a vanity metric if there is very little engagement on the actual content. I think that is something Roma understands well and that is reflected in the content and numbers we see on our social channels.” Rogers said.

As Rogers mentions, engagement is much more important than reach (fan following). It will be exciting to see what sort of content this partnership produces and how AS Roma comes up with new ways to keep their fans entertained & engaged!

Are you a sports property that wants to develop its social media strategy to build a differentiated & engaging identity?

Comment below or drop me a line at wali@sportsconnect.org for more details. You can also reach out to me on twitter @SportsConnectWK