Birmingham City reveal their unique way to educate players in Social Media

Social Media training as part of the youth setup, mock press conferences and finding out potentially embarrassing information from youth players Social Media pages are all tactics for Birmingham City’s education policy.

This week Digital-Football.com interviewed Andy Walker – PR and Social Media Manager for English Championship side Birmingham City FC. For a long time we’ve been working hard to try get clubs to open up a bit more about exactly what policies and procedures they undertake to train their players in Social Media. With a wealth of players on the likes of Twitter, the dynamic between player and press has drastically changed. Players no longer need to go through the press to get their comments out into the world, so it’s crucial that clubs ensure that players best understand the implications of a comment as well as understand what is appropriate. Andy has very kindly taken time out to answer a few of our questions and provide some excellent insight into how Birmingham City educate their players.

Birmingham City should be commended for being so transparent about their tactics and congratulated on running a smooth and effective Social Media strategy. Without further ado here’s our interview:

How long have you been involved with Birmingham City Social Media?

“I joined the football club in August 2010 with one of my major objectives being to develop a social media strategy. Prior to that, the club had set up a Twitter account but were using it sporadically so there was no consistent social media output.”

What is the clubs primary Social Media objective?

“Without a doubt our main objective is to interact with our fantastic global fanbase, you will soon find that the other benefits to social media will come off the back of that interactivity. While many of our counterparts have the financial muscle to make their social media platforms all singing all dancing, I’ve always prided myself on making Birmingham City one of the most interactive football clubs out there. I certainly didn’t want the club’s social media to just become a glorified RSS feed from the official website, it’s worth much more than that. It’s about getting out there and talking to our supporters about all areas of the football club, no matter how trivial. Once you have that trustworthy line of immediate communication then other benefits will follow.”

Why does the club feel its important to have things like a Social Media Policy or training?

“Before the arrival of Sky Sports and a 24/7 approach to sports coverage, footballers weren’t really given any form of media training. Yet now that their profession is constantly in the media spotlight, it’s logical that footballers need to be trained on how to carry themselves in an interview scenario. Social media works on the same principal. Rather than dealing with a room full of journalists armed with cameras/notepads/tape recorders in a press conference environment, footballers are now open to tens of thousands of mini interviews every day via social media. A lot of it is common sense but some form of social media training needs to be in place to protect the football club and its players.”

How long have these things been in play or have they always been there since the club started utilising Social Media?

“Following the explosion of social media in the last 18 months or so, the FA and all football clubs have been forced to include a relevant policy in all players’ contracts. Various forms of social media training have just gradually come off the back of that. The FA conduct their own while many football clubs tend to hold their own tailor-made sessions.”

How do Birmingham City educate their players from a youth level?

“Our young players come across several forms of social media training but the one I’ve personally been involved in is part of a lifestyle programme for second year scholars, so those on the brink of first-team football. Alongside their usual education programmes, the scholars have various sessions outside of the classroom. This includes healthy eating/cooking lessons in the kitchen with the club chef, visits to a local school or charitable cause and a session on the media. The social media education is part of the latter.”

How do Birmingham City actually test that their players are listening to the training?

“We hold a mock (although they don’t know that at the time) press conference with each scholar with tailor-made questions that are designed to purposely make life uncomfortable for them. We try to recreate an intense press conference environment – a photographer snapping away, plenty of onlookers scribbling into notepads, TV cameras aimed etc. While putting the questions together, research is done into each scholar’s background in social media. It’s rare that you don’t find a tweet or post on Facebook from them that could be potentially twisted by the media into a negative story. Suitable questions are devised on this basis. Once each ‘press conference’ is held, we play back the videos to the whole group and talk them through good and bad points. It’s amazing how the group are surprised to learn that what appears to be an innocent tweet in their eyes could easily be taken out of context by a journalist looking for a story.”

If you had one key lesson that you want players to learn from the experience what would it be?

“For them to take a second to stop and think before letting their emotions get the better of them and they publish a thought to the entire world. What may be good natured banter between them and their mates may have a very different meaning to others. I always use a good example of a experienced first-team player who was innocently caught out. He tweeted: ‘I could smash my forearm into somebody’s temple right now…’ That one tweet escalated into a national newspaper thinking it was the result of a training ground bust up. It turned out that it was a line from a film that he was watching at that moment and one that his friends would recognise. Obviously the newspaper journalist didn’t recognise it but thankfully we managed to clear the situation before it went to print. Otherwise it could have been very embarrassing for all involved.”

What about the senior players?

“Obviously the majority of senior players will have come through an academy system at other clubs during a time when social media wasn’t as prominent in football. As mentioned earlier, all players have a social media policy written into their contracts that they have to stick to while I believe the FA hold sessions on the topic. From a club’s point of view, it’s more about educating on an ad hoc basis. For example, that could mean having a quiet word with a player who may have just started tweeting. Essentially briefing players in the same way we would normally ahead of more traditional media duties. However, it goes without saying that all professional footballers will soon have been subject to some form of social media training.”

To read our interviews with FC Barcelona, Manchester City and Celtic FC – click here.

Sean Walsh

Founder of Digital-Football.com and leading Football Social Media expert.

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2 Responses

  1. August 31, 2013

    […] City are well known already for Social Media innovation having revealed how they use Social Media to educate players in mock press conferences and as the first adopter of Football Social Media monitoring platform Social Pundit in the […]

  2. October 4, 2013

    […] excellent initiative created and used at Birmingham City FC is the use of mock press conferences and integrating real Social Media content from a players own Social Media to test their reactions […]

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