Interview with the man behind Manchester City’s Social Media

Any reader of this blog will know that we whole heartedly believe Manchester City to be the finest example of Social Media Engagement in the English Premier League. Again and again, City produce creative and innovative fan engagement Social Media activity.

This week, Benjamin Stoll – a German football social media blogger on “The Missing Piece“, and contributor to – has very kindly provided us access to an interview he conducted with Richard Ayers via Google+ Hangout. Richard has been the “digital playmaker” leading the Manchester City team and without a doubt, the thought-leader in Football Social Media at this moment. Benjamin has a full transcript of the interview (though it’s in German!) on his website – where you can also listen to the interview (in English). For the sake of brevity, here are our highlights:

Football is an entertainment brand

Ayers states that,

“we [City] do not think of ourselves as a football club, we are a global entertainment brand”

Football is after all a form of entertainment so why do clubs persist in not thinking like the rest of the industry. Ayers explains that many of City’s digital activities are not ROI based – the QR codes, the tunnel cam, the Google streetview within the stadium – it’s all about providing for fans that want to feel closer to the club.

Football Social Media isn’t just for the fans

An interesting comment Ayers made was that Manchester City’s activity intends to target “new people who are not passionate about the club”. Activity shouldn’t just be exclusively for their current fans but it should be for winning and creating new fans – a particularly shrewd strategy when you look at the EPL’s global viewership and adoption in emerging markets. For City, Social Media isn’t just about the football – but it’s sharing that “experience” and what it means to be part of the club.

Richard on Google+ Hangouts with Benjamin Stoll

Geolocation one to watch

When asked about what were the trends that most excited him, Ayers responded that he believed Geolocation would have a big role in the industry.  Following this interview, it was announced that City would become the first official team to partner with the geolocation checkin app giant – Foursquare. Many clubs are experimenting and thinking about Geolocation at the minute but struggling to understand how to commercialise/intergrate it into their marketing activity. It will be interesting to see how City utilise the platform.

Niche Social Networks – no thanks

Another good point made by Ayers was regarding niche Social Networks – simply, should football clubs try to create their own Facebook? Last year it was rumoured that Manchester United were planning creating their own social media channel in order to maximise on data collection. However, on the other side of Manchester, it doesn’t seem likely to be part of their long term plans. Ayers argues that Communities form and evolve “naturally” and the club should support this. There is no need to host the discussions themselves, as there are more potential problems than benefits e.g. costs, moderation, transparency. City look to their 50 bloggers and 5 major fan forums instead – communities that are more authentic and already established with a rich history.

Behind the scenes content is key

As we’ve already written about before, City believe that behind the scenes content is the core of engagement within football clubs. Ayers says however that in order to gain that level of trust with the players and make sure everyone is “bought in” to the concept, a level of internal discussion must be had that should demonstrate what value it will bring to the club as a whole. This is particularly interesting as it really is a great move to educate players into understanding the dynamics of Social Media and why this kind of content is more successful than say a 500 word blog post.

“Curated experience”

Towards the end of the interview Benjamin brought up how Manchester City had optimised their stadium for Social Media, more specifically the #BlueView hashtag in which fans could tweet to screens around the concourse of the stadium. Ayers is passionate that City Social Media is a “curated experience”, whether that is during a matchday where photos, tweets and video are shared from within the stadium to international fans, or that is crowdsourcing ideas from the football fans.

Our strategy is to talk regularly with the fans…to get ideas from them. This exchange with the fans is very important. It also gives fans the feeling to be involved. We show prototypes and get feedback. It makes us safer and it gives us a better sense regarding our product development activities.”

One example of this was that the Manchester City digital team used Twitter and their blog to crowdsource potential ideas/bugs/wishlists for their iPhone app. The more involved fans are in the clubs life, the more they feel affinity and therefore they are more engaged.

This is merely just a snapshot of the interview that was cleverly conducted over Google+ Hangouts, so I would strongly advise you to visit Benjamin’s blog to listen to it in full. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Benjamin for allowing us to use the interview.

Sean Walsh

Founder of and leading Football Social Media expert.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    All v interesting stuff mate, if you check out my blog I’ve done a whole season of football/social media links for the Bristol City matchday programme (tagged ‘On the Social’) and there is some synergy between Ayres’ comments above and the interview I did with Commercial Director Kevin Smith at City.

    He seems on the right wavelength regarding RoI and what should be used for.

    Are you OK if I extract certain aspects from your site for a piece before the end of the season, fully crediting and linking, of course?

    • Sean Walsh says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the comment and support. I’ll take a look at your blog this evening – cheers. Interested to see how a Championship team like Bristol (with obviously lesser budget) approaches Social so should be interesting!

      Of course mate – appreciate you asking 🙂


  1. May 22, 2013

    […] 4. Interview with the man behind Manchester City’s Social Media […]

  2. February 3, 2014

    […] In April, EPL clubs collected a combined total of 357,822 Twitter followers (the largest increase yet) and 1.9 million new Facebook Likes. Fans of the beautiful game are flocking to Social Media channels to bypass the traditional media and get the very latest information about clubs and players straight from the official club press desk. The best clubs are using Social Media not just provide fans with an endless stream of news, but levy the powerful relationship between sports fan and clubs and use their online presence as an entertainment channel (Something Manchester City digital boss Richard Ayers recently advocated). […]

  3. February 27, 2014

    […] Other believe Twitter is a positive influence, allowing these brand characters to interact on a personal level, with fans. Manchester City believe this interaction is important, to gain insights, ideas and opinion. Richard Ayers, the former Manchester City Digital Innovation lead, said back in 2012: […]

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