Should brands be allowed to use copyright laws to boost their own Facebook page?


How many times have we seen it? A brand (or in this case a sports club) announces a new Facebook page but within just a few hours they already have accumulated a spectacular number of Likes. Point in case, when Leo Messi launched his Facebook page in April, I incorrectly reported that he had obtained 6.6 million new Facebook fans in less than 3 hours. After a bit of research, #digisport contributor Kristian Gotsche pointed out that Messi (well, his PR people) had forced ownership of a number of unofficial fan pages to their control with copyright infringement threats. The story received global coverage and it appeared that Leo Messi had somewhat activated his following in just a short amount of time.

Equally, this month, Glasgow Rangers announced that they were adopting social media through anofficial Facebook page and Twitter account. I commend the club for embracing social media and it’s good to see yet another football club getting involved with utilising social media to communicate directly with their fans.

However, what caught my eye was the sheer rate of growth Rangers had seen in just a few days. Having closely followed their rivals, Celtic F.C.’s Facebook page over the past few months – I was surprised to see that Rangers had managed to surpass Celtic. Celtic have about 120,000 Facebook Likes after roughly 6 or 7 months of promotion and engagement. Rangers on the other hand, managed 200,000 in less than a week.

As it turns out, it appears that Rangers forced control of these unofficial pages by claiming copyright violations against their own fans in order to boost their own official Facebook page Likes.

Social Media is about nurturing and building relationships, not the number of Likes. Instead, brands should be looking to utilise these ‘unofficial community managers’ who operate unofficial fan pages in other ways – perhaps allowing them to continue in some capacity? At the very least, they should be rewarded for their efforts and be made to feel that the brand appreciates everything they have done. Here’s just a few ideas Rangers could’ve done instead:

  • – Keep unofficial Facebook  page admins – a risky strategy, but it would be nice to see the club give them some training
  • – Offer unofficial community managers a chance to guest blog on the website
  • – Thank unofficial page admins with some kind of PR event – give them free tickets, invite them to blog about maintaining the Facebook following and the hand over
  • – Brand advocacy – keep unofficial page admins on as fan liaisons or social media ambassadors
  • – Don’t take over their page to start of with – instead work with these unofficial pages to build awareness for the official page. Create a network of connected fan pages.
  • – At least say thank you publicly.

I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with brands be able to make a claim on pages – if anything it makes sense in order to moderate fans online. Especially for Rangers, who have had recent problems regarding death threats and sectarian comments on web communities.

However, I feel that threatening those who took the time to set up and often community manage these pages is just plain wrong. This does nothing to recognise the efforts of the administrator (the fan who set the page up), who essentially have being doing a job that the brand should really be paying for. Using the threat of legal action and copyright is a complete cop-out and smacks of the club not caring about their fans in the slightest, and only interested in ‘having a larger Facebook follower’ (Which any sensible person in social will tell you, isn’t everything).

Glasgow Rangers were asked to comment but have so far not replied.

Sean Walsh

Founder of and leading Football Social Media expert.

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