ITFC are missing a massive opportunity.

I’ll start by saying it’s not only ITFC who are missing a massive opportunity – almost every football club in the country could (and should) be doing more with social media. I’d also like to say that generally ITFC are good with their fans and fan engagement offline, the club often runs events for fans with members of staff and coaching staff turning up to answer questions.

However, social media opens up the opportunity for ITFC to engage with fans everyday not at one off events. Sports teams have a MASSIVE advantage over other brands when it comes to social media – almost every team will have dedicated fan sites, un-official fan pages and people talking about them all day long and in my opinion this is one of the reasons that many clubs are yet to get involved in social media – they don’t need to chase publicity and start conversation! They will get coverage everyday without doing anything, but, why not capitalize upon that? And make the most of the opportunities provided by social media?

Online Presence

Besides itfc.co.uk the club has very little official online presence and as far as I can make out they have no official presence on any social networking sites.

There are however many un-official ITFC fan groups and pages on Facebook the largest of which are:
Ipswich Town Football Club – 3,829 fans.

Ipswich Town – 2,290 fans.

The Sir Bobby Robson Stand, Ipswich Town FC – 3,123

And one page which may be of particular interest to Simon Clegg –“Improve the atmosphere at Ipswich Town games!

From looking at these pages its clear there’s an audience for ITFC and I’m sure they could attract a large number of fans to an official page if they were sharing the right information and content. There’s already plenty of conversation about ITFC across a few social networking platforms and the club should really be getting involved and making the most out of this.

A couple of missed opportunities

When researching this post I came across this article on the ITFC website “NOMINATE YOUR FAN OF THE YEAR.” This was a huge opportunity to start engaging with fans across various social media networks. ITFC could have put out the question: Are you ITFC’s fan of the year? Challenge fans to upload videos to YouTube of why they should be fan of the year, get fans to add pictures to the facebook fan page of them at games or showing how they have gone beyond the call of duty to follow ITFC.

A second missed opportunity happened very recently when the club released the new away shirt for next season with very little hype and promotion – the only reason I came across it was because another ITFC fan mentioned it on Twitter. Of course it was mentioned at Saturdays game and in the programme but I was pretty underwhelmed by the whole thing and if I wasn’t at the game Saturday or on Twitter I probably wouldn’t have realised they’d launched it yet.

Umbro using Facebook to create a buzz about the new England Away kit.

In contrast let’s take a look at how Umbro utilised social media to build up interest in the new England away shirt prior to its release – they used their blog to show where the design inspiration came from, posting glimpses of the shirt on Twitter and Facebook. Everyday they were sharing more about the shirt and interacting with England fans, I knew exactly when it was coming out, how it was designed and all the thought that went into it – the only thing I didn’t know what the shirt looked like, but, I knew I wanted one!

Roy Keane.

The ITFC manager, Roy Keane, was one of the most famous and influential players of the premier league era and since his appointment the club has received a major boost in press and TV coverage.

However, ITFC could surely utilise this further through social media. Before every match Keane writes his thoughts for the matchday programme these are also posted on the clubs website (itfc.co.uk) on a page which is hard to find. People (not just Ipswich fans) care what Roy Keane says and these pages on the website could be very high traffic if they were easier to find or even better if they found the fans through social media.

Conclusion.

Social media has changed the way we communicate and share information. Just as newspapers, radio, television and the internet have in the past – the only difference is social media is changing things much quicker and like it or not the sports world needs to adapt.

ITFC and social media are subjects I can talk about all day – so don’t be suprised if you see a part 2 posted very soon!

For an example of how clubs should be using social media check out my recent interview with Manchester City.

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  • http://afslater.wordpress.com/ Andrew Slater

    I agree. The trouble is that many in the sports industry are unwilling to take a risk on a medium that has no real underlying research. Manchester City have taken a bold decision to employ their social media executive, and it seems as though it was a wise move.

    However, there is one major problem underlying Ipswich's, and other football league clubs online ambitions. By agreeing the sponsorship deal for the website, the monotony of the football league club websites has meant that any room to manoeuvre information has become too difficult. The format of the websites are static, and far too rigid in terms how they appear. By agreeing the deal it took a lot of hassle out of the clubs setting up their own pages. It is noted that one club (whose name currently slip my mindm, quite possibly Manchester City), bought themselves out of the deal after having major issues with the website.

    The website is essentially the platform in which fans will interact with most. Until they are able to re-evaluate this, the possibility of maximising social media will be limited due to lack of promotion space available to the clubs.

    • AshRead

      Andrew – thanks for the comment.

      Whilst some clubs and people in the sports industry may see social media as I risk it offers huge opportunity – it's not just Manchester City who are reaping the benefits of getting on board many other clubs and teams have now started to utilise social media (mainly in the US though but social media is getting just as big here now and more clubs should be utilising it).

      The Football League website situation is holding many teams back – if you take a look at the teams who use social media Everton, Liverpool, Man City, Sunderland, Aston Villa (to name a few) they all have their own websites. That said, Blackburn are active on Facebook and Twitter and they have the FLi website, like you say these sites are far to static and rigid (something I've heard from a few fans recently) and in my opinion are in need of a major redesign.

      However, I don't feel these sites stop the clubs from becoming active and engaging with fans via social media. The club website broadcasts a one way message to fans – there's no interaction on the site and whilst the deal with the football league may stop them from changing this, they can take advantage of social tools to engage with fans and send traffic back to the club website (where they sell merchandise and tickets).

  • http://afslater.wordpress.com/ Andrew Slater

    I can see your point. Although the reasons the others have been such a success, in my opinion, is the fact that the message of the social media participation has been broadcast well. As a key landing platform, the oppotunity for all fans to take a look into the social media world through the official line of their clubs website is a MASSIVE one. One concern for fans is the potential of wasting their time on unofficial feeds, whether it be on facebook or Twitter, amongst others.

    Like you say, the platform to interact with fans is bigger than ever, and FRM is now a bigger issue for sports businesses than they would have ever thought possible. Ipswich, and the other league clubs, need to recgonise this quickly, and force the Football League into a position whereby the Leagues are able to interact with their fans through the key media platforms, that the majority of fans can access. Whether it is a basic forum, or a top spec interactive asymmetric communication model, the website is potentially the bigger issue in the long term.

    • http://www.ashread.com/ Ash Read

      Broadcasting their social media participation has helped greatly – being able to put banners on their sites etc has definitely played a part in building up their followings on different social media sites – that's for sure! The clubs with the FLi sites still have opportunities to promote their social media participation whether it's via newsletters, news stories on the site or other offline mediums such as matchday programmes. Once the message was out there it would quickly spread.

      I 100% agree with you that Ipswich and the other football league clubs NEED to recognise the importance of social media and online fan interaction, and force the FLi service into adapting. However, I don't think teams should over obsess about owning an interactive community on their site (something that is mentioned here http://bit.ly/9rrLeI and briefly here http://bit.ly/cJ5Cz0).

  • Stephen Bailey

    Good article. I run the Ipswich Town Facebook page that you mentioned (The 1st one on the list) I contacted Simon Clegg in January to see if I could make it official, this is what he said:

    “The problem with social media is the unpredictable nature of the communication and any official club status would be seen to be an official endorsement of any views expressed in the pages whether we support them or not.”

    I know this one isn't obviously run by the club, but my fans on that page said that its better to be 'un-official anyway. My page is the biggest ITFC page on FB which is updated daily.

    • AshRead

      Hi Stephen – thanks for the comment.

      I can see why the club wouldn't want a fan ran page as “official” and the reason Simon Clegg gave is an understandable one, in that any Status on the page would be seen as the clubs point of view and that may not be the case.

      Whether or not fans would prefer an “official” or “un-official” page would eventually come down to the content that was being published on each page – for an idea of the content that an official page could post take a look at Man City's http://bit.ly/9NVQh5 and it could also be worth taking a look at this article too http://bit.ly/aht1AL. I think there would be room for both “official” and “un-official” pages on Facebook as the content and discussions on each page would be different, and from the clubs point of view it would be perfect to have both!

      Nice work with the page – it's a good resource to keep fans up-to-date!

  • http://twitter.com/SweMeatballs78 Swedish Meatballs

    I think you'll find that Ipswich, like the rest of the Coca Cola League clubs and some in the Premier League are bound to the FLi deal. The deal was signed over 10 years ago and requires Club to provide news and video clips for their official site and these Clubs aren't allowed to provide or host any other digital channels with Club related information – some clubs have chosen to use twitter and facebook to provide with links back to the Official sites but struggle to provide any other exclusive content or hosting (ie photo albums on flickr) on social media sites.

    It is a shame but there's not much these Clubs can do, on the flipside, they are getting guaranteed income from FLi, which means they can maintain an online presence even in the current financial climate.

    Man City is often used as an example to showcase their wonderful usage of social media, however it's all come at a cost – their website costed a tasty SIX FIGURE SUM and yes they may have XXXX amount of fans on facebook or twitter but at the end of the day, they still don't manage to sell out the majority of games. Now if they were making a six figure sum on the back of their online investment, then yes, all Clubs will be giving it more thought but until then, these Clubs have more pressing issues….

    • http://www.ashread.com/ Ash Read

      Thanks for the comment and the insight into the FLi deal – I wasn't too sure into the rules regarding sharing content – I guess the FLi deal has it's pro's and cons just as everything else does. It would be great to see clubs allowed to share a bit more content though as I'm sure they could use it to entice more fans to join the Premuim services offered on their websites and increase their website traffic and sales.

  • philip

    ironic that the video uses same 'right here' track that itfc used to (still do?) come out to.

    don't disagree with you re social media in general, and that town/football clubs could be doing more. but the very low 'take up' figures for the facebook groups show that perhaps there's no the interest in this channel amongst the wider support/customer base of itfc? perhaps town have done some research on this? that said… i've felt the club is a little backward on a few things, so wouldn't surprise me that they'e not considered social media yet.

    possibly one factor in football clubs staying away from social media is likelihood of it being hijacked by supporters from rival clubs. lots of examples of online votes (for kits, players etc) being skewed by fans of other clubs. would social media channels make that easier to do?

    that video is very USA-focused but has some interesting points.