Portuguese clubs using Social: Engagement & Propaganda

Social media is rapidly becoming the focus of the communication and marketing strategies for top clubs. Curiously, two of the most well-known cases of success in their social media and online presence are Barcelona (With the largest amount of followers in the Spanish La Liga table) and social media innovators Manchester City (current Premier League holders). These club’s success on and off the field has been result of world class management teams, particularly in their marketing and communication departments.

Barcelona, for example has today over 39M fans on Facebook, over than 10% more than their archrivals and the self claimed “biggest club in the world” – Real Madrid.

In the UK, rather than on the number of fans, Manchester City’s main success has been in terms of brand – though City has a respectful 4.5M fans on Facebook, they can’t yet be compared with their Manchester rivals United who currently have over 35M fans on that social network. Other clubs such as PSG or Chelsea who were bought by foreign investors and, by that, lost some of the admiration and respect of “traditional” football fans, City have been successful in globally projecting a positive image of the club and pioneering in many online engagement-generating initiatives with their fans.

The two main pay-offs of this strategy have been:

  1. improving the satisfaction levels of old citizens – those supporters and members who have followed the club for whole their lives; and
  2. a steady growth of the club’s fanbase: new citizens from abroad – projecting Manchester City’s brand and gaining  international market share.

In other parts of the world, however, clubs choose other marketing and communication strategies. For example, last Wednesday, Portuguese champions FC Porto released what can be called a “motivational video” for their fans, about last weekend’s “Clássico dos Clássicos”, otherwise known as the Benfica-FC Porto derby. The current leader of the Portuguese league Benfica and the holding champions FC Porto drew 2-2 and Benfica kept their 3 points advantage to FC Porto who, in turn, have one game less to play.

Following three days of mutual public accusations in the press (coaches, players and presidents of both clubs gave extensive interviews and press-conferences), the “battle” came to new media when FC Porto released on their Facebook page a 4min video titled “Fair-play is bullshit” (yes, true). The video repeatedly shows images of violent fouls of Benfica players and supposed mistakes of the referee against FC Porto. In between, you can actually see the 2 goals FC Porto scored. Professional video editing and “epic” Portuguese music back the video as a soundtrack.

Benfica’s fight back came on the next day, publishing a video in which one can listen FC Porto’s coach and president complaining about the referee on post-match press conference while simultaneously are presented images of flagrant fouls of FC Porto players and supposed mistakes of the referee against Benfica. The ironic style adopted made it an instantaneous success in a country and soon went viral in Portugal.

Combined, the two videos had over 4000 shares on Facebook less than 12 hours after Benfica posted their reply. Since being uploaded the videos have quickly surpassed the 150,000 views mark in a short timeframe. As a consequence, the engagement rates of both club’s post were higher than their average.

But should success in football clubs social media be measured only in terms of figures and engagement rates? How should social media strategies success be evaluated for football clubs?

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4 Responses

  1. Sean Walsh says:

    It’s a fascinating article – particularly looking at how the clubs have used Social Media as a way of “digital propaganda” and criticising referee’s and their competitors!

    I’m sure that the footballing body in Portugal won’t allow this – especially when you consider UEFA’s RESPECT campaign to referee’s.

    An interesting development for the way Social Media is used.

  2. Ivo Loureiro says:

    Sean, thanks for your nice comment and personal opinion on the subject. In fact, for us portuguese, this type of public attack between clubs and of clubs to referees is frequent and almost considered “normal”. With this situation, I was actually aiming to launch a debate or at get some opinions about the last question of the text:
    — “Should success in football clubs social media be measured only in terms of figures and engagement rates? How should social media strategies success be evaluated for football clubs?”–

    In my personal opinion, it’s not enough to talk about engagement rates while evaluating any social media strategy. And my arguments are presented in two ways: (1), I question the definition of engagement rate as widely accepted; and (2), I focus on the content of posting and social media strateg – one thing is when something good for your reputation goes viral, another one is when something bad that hurts your business’ reputation is seen and discussed by virtually everyone.

    –> (1) Figures are important, but should not be interpreted as success or failure indicators per se. Not in the football industry, nor in any other. Engagement rates (ER) – as traditionaly defined by the ratio between the sum of likes, shares and comments on a post and the total number of pagefans on that post’s day – turve one of he main goals and benefits of social media: to listen to the market, to know what the market demands.

    Traditional ER=(Likes+Comments+Shares) / # of pagefans

    By weightening Likes, Comments and Shares equally, this formula mixes too much different actions taken by online audiences. One thing is to Like a post: an easy-to-click, rather sympathetic button than you can press 60 times per minute if you’ve practiced enough. Another one is to Comment on a post: you only comment on something if you are comfortable enough to give your opinion and expect someone will actually listen (or read). And Sharing something is a third form of interacting with a brand’s page content that generaly transmits confidence and true identification with the brand (or, in the case of football, with the club). So it’s clear I defend different weights when evaluating Likes, Comments and Shares on a post. I’m aware that, by doing so, we’ll introduce some subjectivity to the analysis, so I recommend thinking the following way:

    Most agree that, generally, the value of a Share is bigger than a Like. The question is: how much bigger? How many likes would you be willing to give away in order to have one extra share? 5 likes? 3? 10?
    A comment, by the discussion it may generate and for providing the page owner with the possibility to learn more about its audience, seems also to be more valuable than a simple like. Now again, how much bigger? 3 times, 4? Maybe 5?
    And between a comment and a share, what seems more important? Well, again it’s very subjective, but I’d say most of the times a share is at least as important as comment, unless the comment is extraordinarily brilliant and opens the so-desired discussion.

    It’s virtually impossible to find a consensual rule to weighten these different user interactions with a post. However, it’s clear that a post success (and a social media strategy in general) should not be simply evaluated by “traditional engagement rates” as we’ve heard about. According to the market in analysis and its specificities, one should be able to come up with ponderated weights to user interactions that would redefine the formula for Engagement Rate .

    (2) The quality of posts should be evaluated taking into consideration the potential effects it will have not only on the brand’s (or the club’s) image, but also on the market in which it operates (or leagues in which it competes). It’s pretty obvious, from the examples above, that FCPorto and Benfica chose a bad way to promote their own product. OK, one can agree it is definitely entertaining for the masses to assist to public accusations and injuries. The “Big Brother Generations” surely appreciate and consume controversy. However, what will the portuguese league look like in the eyes of football fans from abroad after seeing those videos of violence and controverse refereeing decisions? Are they more likely to consume portuguese football or to simply disconsider it? Again, the answer is simple.

    Much of my personal disappointment comes as a portuguese football fan who is, like many other, devoting an increasing number of enternainment hours to leagues that promote the Beautiful Game for which we fell in love when we were kids. And in what comes to the Beautiful Game, inspite of surely missing Messi, Ronaldo or Mourinho, the Premier League is and will surely be for wordlwide football fans what NBA has been for ages for worlwide basketball fans: simply unique.

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