Embrace your fan-base

Football clubs have long been keen to get the local community on their side. Understandable when every fortnight during a season anything from 25,000 to 70,000 fans will descend on the area for 90mins of entertainment, or not if you’re a QPR fan. Clubs will go out of their way to ensure that locals feel that the football team benefits the local community and will want to bask in the glory that any success story can be generated by this.

This is in stark contrast to the reluctance by some football clubs to embrace online communities to the full. More often than not there are thriving unofficial communities in place long before any official presence gets rolled out. These unofficial communities, like a large majority, have visible House Rules to help set the overall tone. Beyond that, fans enjoy a level of freedom to post whatever they want about all things club related. This provides the fans with a greater sense of collectiveness that unites them beyond the match day experience. It would not be unreasonable to expect a club to realise that this is a great way of reaching out to the wider fan-base. As long as there are no legal worries, there is no reason why official and unofficial communities cannot run alongside one other and provide fans with areas to discuss how well the team is doing, or other club-related issues.

It’s astonishing therefore to read that a long standing Everton fan, and member of Grand Old Team has been barred from reporting on Everton’s youth team, not the first team - the youth team, initially for being from the unofficial page, but when pressed further Everton insinuated that it was down to ‘inappropriate contact’ with academy players on Twitter. A look at GOT will show straight away what a well designed site it is, and the forum alone is very busy with each thread enjoying plenty of interaction. The thread discussing this story has been viewed almost 25,000 times and those choosing to post a reply are unanimously in support of the fan and vociferous in their shame of how the club, that prides itself on being known as The Peoples’ Club, has treated the fan.

This appears to be a massive own goal by the club, especially when on the pitch the team is enjoying its best start to the season in years. Attempts by GOT to reach an agreement or compromise have fallen on deaf ears. Each ignored request simply generates more negativity on their page and risks an ‘us and them’ feeling where instead they could be working together to resolve this.

Contrast this then to how Manchester United dealt with fans posting on its official forums when news about Wayne Rooney’s off field activities were all across the papers, and even trickier, when Ryan Giggs was named under parliamentary privilege in relation to a gagging order row. Rather than ‘gagging’ the community, Manchester United allowed the fans to comment expressing their feelings as long as the comments were not abusive, were relevant to the story and did not mention other names that were being mentioned in rumour elsewhere. A guidance note was posted to the forums explaining the approach and requesting politely that all fans adhered to the request. Refreshingly all fans acknowledged this request and appreciated the freedom given to them to post about these big off field stories. In short, Manchester United treated their online community with respect, and allowed the community to repay that faith by posting sensibly. They avoided any unnecessary alienation of their fans or risking generating negativity amongst them; negativity that could ultimately be far reaching.

Frank has been a Community Manager for Tempero for 5yrs, working on clients such as Arsenal, Manchester Utd and most recently the 2012 Olympics. With an active interest in most sports he is also a lifelong fan of Fulham FC, which some feel contradicts his Glass Half Full approach to life.