Twitter becomes the world’s largest sofa whenever sport is being broadcast,” says Alex Trickett, global sports chair for Twitter. “Users get to sit alongside rival fans, experts, pundits, former players, referees – a whole world of people who have an interest in the same event as they have. They can see what all of them are saying and engage with them in real time.”
Trickett has not only witnessed but had an active hand in the growth of social media. He joined Twitter in September 2013, following a 10-year career at the BBC. As the BBC’s social media lead, he and his team made the organisation the first mainstream European broadcaster to integrate with Twitter and to create tie-ins with Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
At Twitter, he has a dual role. “I’m the global sports chair for Twitter and also head of sports for Twitter UK,” he explains. “So it’s my job to bring together the heads of sports from our 20+ offices around the world. I also organise and maintain our relationships with sports organisations such as FIFA, UEFA and the IOC.”
IMPORTANCE OF SPORT
Trickett says sport is one of the most important “currencies” Twitter deals in. There are 500m tweets every day and a huge percentage are about sport, especially when there’s a football match on. “Eighty one per cent of our users say they tweet or follow tweets while watching sport on TV,” says Trickett. “Two thirds say Twitter makes live sporting events more exciting and more engaging. Twitter is perfect for sport because at its heart, it’s a real-time, public stage. It brings people together to share moments.
“You can really tell when something big happens – a catalytic moment in a football game, for example, which gets people celebrating or reduces them to tears. That’s when people reach for Twitter.”
Trickett picks the FIFA 2014 World Cup semi-final between host nation Brazil and eventual winners Germany as an example. The most eagerly awaited match of the tournament quickly became one of the most extraordinary in football history, as Germany raced to a 5-0 lead inside 29 minutes, destroying Brazil’s hopes.
By the time Germany scored its fifth goal, the game was generating 580,166 tweets per minute – a new record. It also broke the record for the most tweets during a single event, with 35.6m, far outperforming other popular events such as the 2015 Super Bowl (28m) and the 2015 Oscars night (5.9m).
From a marketing point of view, Trickett says these catalytic moments can really create value to those wanting to use social media for strengthening their brand awareness and reach. “It’s incredibly important that clubs and organisations are alive to these potential peaks and troughs of conversation,” Trickett says. “You can really capitalise on these moments by putting up brilliant content that everybody wants to share and talk about.”
So how can clubs and sports organisations benefit from Twitter? What approach should they take to maximise their reach, create interest in their brand and build a loyal base of followers? Trickett has come up with a formula based on five key areas – “We call it BRAVE,” he says – “Breaking news, rich media, amplify yourself, value others and exclusive access.
“We know that things happen on Twitter first. When there’s news to break, people come to Twitter to break it. As a club or organisation, break the news effectively on twitter and you’ll reap the benefits.
“For example, going into the 2014 World Cup, the Football Association had the @england Twitter handle but no followers for it. Then they came up with the idea of announcing the names of the World Cup squad exclusively through the account. It really took off after that, has 2.11m followers and is recognised as the primary source of all news from the FA.
“Rich media – videos and photography/images – is important too. We know that if you add a photo to a tweet, it gives you a 50 per cent uplift in engagement. People want to see what you see.”
“When it comes to amplifying and spreading the word, don’t leave people guessing as to where they get involved in the discussion. If you create a hashtag, make sure people know about it. The tennis championships at Wimbledon do this brilliantly. They lay out their Twitter handle on a piece of ingenious landscaping right next to the courts where people queue to get in – making sure everybody sees it,” he says.
“Also, make sure your fans and followers feel valuable – wherever they are. When Wayne Rooney passed 10m followers, he recognised the global nature of his status and tweeted out a “retweet to win a shirt” in five languages. One of the tweets, in Indonesian, got as many engagements as the original English one.
Trickett has a close working relationship with rights owners, organisations and clubs. Ideas are exchanged and worked on.
“My job is to be an in-house consultant to the sports industry,” he says. “So quite often I’ll be reaching out to big events, teams and organisations and saying ‘what you’re doing on Twitter is great and here are a few new ideas’. At other times, people come to us with ideas and we simply fine tune and try and improve them.”
There are also plenty of highly successful, sports-related campaigns which he and his team have no prior knowledge of. One of these was Sport England’s “This Girl Can” initiative last year.
“I’d love to claim credit for This Girl Can, but I can’t!” Trickett says. “We had no influence on how the campaign worked, but we’re obviously delighted for the part Twitter played in such a great initiative.
“It happens quite a lot, actually. Another example from the sporting world was the ‘put out your bat’ campaign following the tragic death of Aussie cricketer Phil Hughes. That really caught people’s imagination.”
SET YOUR GOALS
Trickett’s advice for clubs and companies looking to successfully engage an audience on Twitter is to have a clear plan and a set of goals. “The key – however big or small you are – is to have a coherent strategy when it comes to what you want to actually achieve by using Twitter.
“How you arrive at that strategy – whether it’s through your own work or through external consultants – is up to you, but the key is to arrive at that place. Once you know what you’re setting out to do, you can begin measuring it and figuring out whether you’re heading in the right direction.
“And don’t forget that those who work in the sports industry often have access to places and environments that fans can only dream of. So spread it!”