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Manchester United has only been active on Twitter and Sina Weibo for one month, and Google + for less than a week. 

But with MUFC website traffic, in the last month of the 2012/2013 soccer season, at 67m page views, it's obvious there's plenty to work with here.

Along with a well-established Facebook page, MUFC has a foolproof and rather well executed strategy, best summed-up by the first G+ post.

Here you'll find a steady stream of iconic imagery, behind-the-scenes access, in-depth analysis and succinct storytelling about our club's rich history.

With Facebook adding many opportunities for MUFC to harvest email addresses from competitions and the like, and G+ a promising prospect for the same, there’s much to be cheerful about. Growing a big sports brand on social media is the equivalent of hitting a cow’s backside with a banjo.

In the words of Richard Arnold, Group Managing Director,

Connecting with our fans is a key part of the Club's strategy...Every month there are over 5m Manchester United related social media posts and the level of engagement we have with our fans via social media is amongst the highest of all top global brands.

Take a look at my review of these platforms below. It's worth noting that Manchester United have also recently launched its own Instagram account, and this fits well with the focus on imagery (which leaps the language barrier), though I haven't covered it here.

(N.B. although I'm crowbarring this in, Manchester United has always had marketing savvy, with former keeper Edwin Van der Sar now CMO at Ajax).

Twitter

Both Manchester United’s Twitter and Sina Weibo accounts were created as recently as July 10th 2013. That makes the club a definite laggard as far as Twitter is concerned, although there are already plans for foreign language accounts to follow.

However, despite only a month’s activity, the account already has over 700,000 followers, which shows just how powerful the brand is. 

Here’s the first MUFC tweet:

Of course, many of the club’s players have been using Twitter for years, notably Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney. Manchester United has mostly benefited from its players’ activity, with fewer PR gaffes than some other English Premier League clubs (see Ashley Cole as the archetypal FA-baiting soccer player).

The new @ManUtd account has been utilising the players’ fanbase with Twitter Q&A’s; an #askrio (Rio Ferdinand) in the first week helping to raise the profile of the account by virtue of Rio’s 4.5m followers. 

At the moment, the account is an active broadcaster, with around 10 tweets per day (gaining 1k to 3k retweets each). However, the account isn’t replying to any of its followers.

Content

The account is big on imagery, and takes a very creative approach to content. Within the first handful of tweets, new manager and old players were celebrated/canonised by artwork on the account.

On day, two, Vines were being added from the Far East tour. Ok, Michael Carrick pulling a wheely suitcase isn’t going to go viral, but it’s a good start. Fixture updates, links to news and live blogs, and even infographics all go into the mix.

Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo, though well-established in the Far East, is not used by many Western soccer teams. Manchester United’s presence on Sina Weibo is a good indicator of its continued focus on the Far East.

High profile player acquisitions continue (Shinji Kagawa picking up the mantle of Park Ji-Sung) and this year’s pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia included Bangkok, Brisbane, Yokohama, Osaka and Hong Kong.

The extent of commercial interests in the Far East is made clear by partners in the region, which number over 30.

As The Guardian puts it, in their recent season preview: 

This [tour] has so far taken in 34 'partners' who include Yanmar, the official diesel engine partner, Mister Potato (official savoury snack), TM (official integrated telecommunications partner of Manchester United in Malaysia), and Kansai Paint (the official paint partner).

So, to Sina Weibo. First, I had to sign-up. Thanks to Google Translate in my Chrome browser, this wasn’t particularly difficult. I’d advise you to try it out. Being interested in the Chinese market, I was quite interested to see the service advocating I stick to the truth because ‘using real avatar, friends find you more easily’.

Much like Twitter, in one month, Manchester United's Sina Weibo page has accumulated almost 800,000 fans. Each post gets lots of comments and shares, hitting over 100 in a few hours. 

Here’s the first post, which has already garnered 1,500 comments and nearly 4,000 shares. Funnily enough, things aren’t much different in the Far East, where the first comment comes from a fan of small club Liverpool, saying how much they hate MUFC.

Content

 

Needless to say, there’s some Chinese content I can’t read, but Google translate shows me the posts to the MUFC wall are very similar to the Twitter posts. Here’s a good example ahead of the recent Charity Shield, complete with ‘a small pea’ (little pea).

Facebook

With 34.5m Facebook likes, MUFC dwarfs pretty much all brands on Facebook. It’s only celebrities such as Rhianna (75m) that beat these kind of figures.

Barcelona is the top sports team in terms of likes, with around 44m. Again, MUFC posts here around 10 times a day, and doesn’t really engage with its fans, likely because there’s a problem with scale. 

Perhaps because Facebook is a richer and more mature platform than Twitter, or perhaps because MUFC sees more of its audience there, it definitely engages more on Facebook. 

For example, there is currently a competition running, with the chance to win a season ticket. With a form embedded in Facebook, including an opt-out for MUFC commercial partners, one can see how a large database to market to will soon be grown.

There’s another live competition run with DHL, to win a piece of Old Trafford turf, and so the account is obviously also used to meet some sponsor requirements. Proving the club’s clout on social media will be directly linked to sponsor revenue, so one can see the argument for maximising as many platforms as possible. 

It’s strange that the club hasn’t yet joined Pinterest, but that may come soon.

Again, the Starting Striker feature/poll on Facebook is another great way of getting the audience to identify itself, this time by giving its opinion on the starting line-up of the team.

 

Finally, there’s an email newsletter and an additional 2013 Tour newsletter sign-up page, giving five or six places where MUFC can harvest email addresses. 

As a nice addition, the timeline is used well by MUFC to display the history of the club, from late 19th Century to present day.

Again, there’s no explicit commerce on this page

Google +

On Google + it’s decidedly more difficult to spot the official Manchester United page (below is just a snippet). Although the account is verified, Google would be better served to make this more noticeable rather than the small greyed tick that currently resides.

Once one has found the page, this is what you find… 

Here, since August 8th, Manchester United have made a great start. In their words:

Welcome to Manchester United on Google+. Here you'll find a steady stream of iconic imagery, behind-the-scenes access, in-depth analysis and succinct storytelling about our club's rich history.

Here’s one of the first posts, with a vine added.

 

Currently with over 40,000 followers, the account has a surprisingly high amount of interaction from fans, possibly because they are proud to be early adopters and it therefore has a slightly more personal feel.

The content is very similar to the other networks – pics and stats etc, without the competitions that Facebook offers. Although there’s the promise of competitions and news etc, so one would expect the G+ platform to begin to align with Facebook.

Yet more vines, which is a nice touch, and they certainly stand out on G+.

 

The link to the Manchester United website is quite prominent on the G+ page, and one expects this to eventually become a good source of traffic, either via the G+ page, or via improved visibility in SERPs and mobile SERPs, due to plus ones, rich snippets and content box positioning that G+ brings.

Conclusion

In general, sports seems to be what social media was made for. Manchester United can use all of these platforms, barely engaging, aside from Q&As, and sending out lots of insider photos, branded pics and vines, news and player profiles, and steadily build their brand wherever they care to. 

In many ways, there’s a lesson here for marketers that have a less emotive/borderline religious product to shift. MUFC knows that all these platforms don’t necessarily have to cross-promote, and the Twitter account, for example, doesn’t have to be relentlessly selling bed linen or footballs.

Give the audience what it wants, and commercial success becomes ever more likely. In those terms, soccer clubs have been ‘content marketing’ for years. 

Of course, most of Manchester United’s success in the brand sphere comes from success on the pitch, with highly marketable stars, such as David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. As to where the next one comes from, the transfer window is still open.

Back on social media, I can’t help but think G+ has the capacity to outgrow Twitter, in terms of data capture, though it’ll be a long while before Facebook is supplanted for all things fan-based.

Check out our other posts that take a similar look at other brands including Red BullCadburyMicrosoftWalmart and Nike... 

Ben Davis

Published 13 August, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (21)

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Dan

Clearly a Man United fan created this post. There are many more clubs who have been using these platforms a lot better, by having weekly quiz's and account abroad to engage with their foreign fans.

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Dan

For transparency's sake, I am indeed a Manchester United fan, although I have more LFC players in my fantasy team than MUFC players.

These accounts are fairly new, but I think they've made a good start, and the Facebook page isn't over done. In general I think the lighter touch works and they should be applauded for posting regularly on all relevant networks.

about 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

In Ben's defence, he is actually from Manchester;)

about 3 years ago

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Sean Walsh

I'd say this was a fairly big gaff from the guys at United: http://digital-football.com/featured/manchester-united-accidentally-announce-moyes-as-new-manager-on-facebook/

That being said, glad to see they finally on board and using the channel and some of the content has been pretty good from them. BUT, they are a long way behind the Barcelona's or Manchester City's of the world in terms of innovation, content and engagement. Followers doesn't always equate to good Social Media after all.

Really interesting article though - cheers.

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Sean

Yes, I'd forgotten about that reveal. I think Manchester United isn't that far behind - the content and posting frequency roughly equate. City do seem to be using hangouts and a slightly larger range of tactics for engagement on G+.

Thanks for reading!

about 3 years ago

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Ozan

Connecting with the fans... It's very important for the football clubs.

Have you seen the Fans United project of MANU and Turkish Airlines?

The goal was to help a few lucky fans experience Manchester United culture in its home, the city of Manchester. It was cool.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEsNdaDFxc4

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks, Ozan

about 3 years ago

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Tom Denning

Ben, fascinating post, particularly your look at Sina Weibo. It will be interesting to see how successful brands like Mufc are on this platform. More please!

about 3 years ago

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Shaun Harley, Senior Communications Manager at Homes and Communities Agency

It's telling that the club launched its Twitter account only once Fergie had left the building. He was clearly a master at cocooning his players, creating a 'siege mentality', treating press conferences with disdain and so forth. He occasionally railed against the growth of Twitter and other social media. In many respects, he was like the archetypal CEO who is wary of the openness of social media. I suspect that MUFC's global marketing team were the quickest to get over the news of his departure!

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Shaun

Great analogy and a kernel of truth, I'm sure.

about 3 years ago

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Tara

How is Liverpool, a premiership team, a 'small' club?

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Tara

Hands up, it's not. I was sort of jumping on the back of Alex Ferguson's comments that Manchester City are a small club (following their Carlos Tevez posters around Manchester focusing on the Manchester clubs' rivalry).

Competing teams like Liverpool (in a trophy-barren spell) are often defined more by their jealousy of the champions (MUFC had a similar spell during Mourinho's first spell in the Premier League), than they are by their own endeavours.

Long story short, I'm a Man Utd fan and couldn't resist.

about 3 years ago

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big daddy

"Competing teams like Liverpool (in a trophy-barren spell) are often defined more by their jealousy of the champions (MUFC had a similar spell during Mourinho's first spell in the Premier League), than they are by their own endeavours."

this is why man united fans sing about liverpool when they play the likes of stoke and villa? didnt think there was any need for that comment, especially as its a tad misleading.

"Manchester United has mostly benefited from its players’ activity, with fewer PR gaffes than some other English Premier League clubs (see Ashley Cole as the archetypal FA-baiting soccer player)."

rio ferdinand's 'choc-ice' tweet was probably the most expensive tweet in history!

as for 700k in a month being impressive for twitter, seem to remember balotelli getting 1m in less time. liverpool's social media strategy is a more interesting one, seperate twitter accounts, quizzes where fans can win signed shirts and the like and far more interaction that from what i've seen from the man united one.

about 3 years ago

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CuCo

As a marketer I am not surprised at all that Man U's social media took off in the short time it did, as they have a fan following all around the world in their millions!
So the question is, will Alex's and David Gill's philosophy prove right or wrong?

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@big daddy

Fair points! Although I still maintain Cole is the archetypal offender with his famous hashtag (#BUNCHOFTWATS).

It's interesting that (high profile) players gain followers so quickly. I was amazed to see David de Gea has over two million.

Good to see fans know they're ultimately going to get something more unique, and possibly more personal, from a player. Clubs like Manchester City and Roma, as Sean Walsh has pointed out (runs www.digital-football.com), are producing engaging content that counts as entertainment and can, to some extent, compete.

about 3 years ago

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big daddy

"It's interesting that (high profile) players gain followers so quickly. I was amazed to see David de Gea has over two million."

seems to depend on interaction with followers - ferdinand in large part will have as many as he has simply because he does seem to interact a lot with his followers

about 3 years ago

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Ged Carroll

Hi Ben,

Good to see that you are on Sina Weibo. Weibo tends to work best in Mainland China and to a lesser extend Hong Kong (which is a firmly Facebook city state) and Taiwan.

I noticed that Liverpool and Arsenal have both used Mig 33 to target Indonesia and Malaysia.

The platforms to watch out here would be WeChat / Weixin, LINE and KakaoTalk.

Best regards,

Ged

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Ged

Thanks Ged! Hope you're well. Might tap you up (to use a footballing phrase) for some future posts.

about 3 years ago

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Scic

With all due respect... Man Utd didn't need a strategy. They are one of the most recognised brands in the world so anything you point to in your post probably can't be replicated by an unknown company or business and achieve the same results.

In addition... a lot of fans have unfollowed as they feel it's mostly promotion - no exclusive news or transfer updates which is what fans want.

about 3 years ago

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Web Design Norwich

http://designspin.co.uk/web-design-norwich/

Wonderful post … very educational, I believe many people like me want such information.

Thanks again

about 3 years ago

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Rufus

Re: The Moyes reveal. Although clearly it was a muck-up, don't discount how useful it was for data capture, PR and followers. Not that you want to do this every day!

about 3 years ago

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