The influence of social media is limitless. These platforms empower football clubs with the ability to reach millions of fans and make meaningful interactions with their followers.

These clubs prioritise the engagement with fans on social media in the form of content creation, whilst they also possess the capability of promoting their brand on a global scale. Consequently, a growth in followers on social media, equates to a rise in a club’s target audience, which in turn, increases their commercial potential – a vital factor in these Covid times. 

As teams in the English Football League look to recover from the disastrous financial state that this pandemic has left them in, a higher emphasis has been placed on social media objectives and the subsequent commercial rewards that typically follows. 

Clubs in the EFL saw a 12.1% increase on Instagram over the last six months – a figure nearly four times higher than the growth on Twitter (3.2%) and over five times higher than Facebook (2.2%). Interestingly, League Two clubs saw the biggest growth on Instagram, rising 17.5% compared to League One (10.2%) and Championship (8.7%) sides. 

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(Figure 1: Rise of Instagram Followings Amongst EFL Clubs)

 

Perhaps the reason why League Two teams saw such a dramatic rise compared to their superiors was because of the lower initial figures that they possess. When collected in May 2021, clubs in League Two averaged 40,525 followers compared to League One’s (69,804) and the Championship’s (204,950).

Facebook proved to be the slowest rising platform in all three divisions, and in fact, 23.6% of clubs had seen a decrease in followers on the platform. However, Facebook still sees the highest average of followers in both the Championship (426,076) and League One (188,262), whilst Twitter remains the most popular platform amongst League Two clubs (76,424).

In the Championship, Wycombe Wanderers saw good progress on each social platform. The Chairboys were the fastest growing second tier club on Facebook (6.4%) and ranked third in the context of Twitter (6.2%) and Instagram (15.5%). 

(Figure 2: Wycombe Wanderers’ Social Media Surge)

 

Wycombe’s rise to the Championship has been a well-documented story over the last few years, and the social presence of striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, has certainly helped the club in that respect, but their strategy on all three platforms is evident. Additionally, the Buckinghamshire club ranked 24th in both their Twitter (89,488) and Facebook (35,445) followings, but 13th in the Instagram rankings (102,000). Remarkably enough, Wycombe were one of two clubs whose Instagram following bettered their Twitter and Facebook figures.

Cheltenham Town were another club who experienced brilliant growth on all three platforms. In comparison to their League Two counterparts, The Robins have seen a 6.3% growth on Twitter – the third highest percentage rise in the fourth tier, whilst their Instagram following has risen monumentally in the last six months, with the club seeing a 33.3% rise – a number that is only bettered by Crawley Town (58.3%) in the entire EFL, albeit The Reds’ Instagram account was in its infancy when data was first collected. Cheltenham have also gained an extra 3.6% of followers on Facebook – a total that equates to the sixth biggest rise in the division. 

(Figure 3: Rise of Cheltenham Town’s Social Media Platforms)

 

The Robins’ media and communications manager, Richard Joyce, has highlighted that the ongoing pandemic has helped the club in continuing to grow their online audience: “We’ve had to do more on the media side of things because of Covid and there being no fans in the stadium.

“But because we are doing more and we are the primary link to Saturday’s action, we are benefitting on all social platforms massively.”

Richard, who is the only employee in the club’s media department, is typically helped out by a number of sports journalism students from the University of Gloucestershire. The students usually undertake different roles around the club, from programme features to a preview show they host each match day. 

With social media coverage normally left to Richard, he was pleased to learn that Cheltenham ranked very highly in their social growth compared to the fourth tier counterparts. He was particularly proud of the club’s growth on Instagram, and outlined just how important the platform is for the club: “We’ve put a lot more into Instagram this season than we have ever done before.

 

“Before our Instagram stories were quite rough and rigid, but now they are all designed with social templates that are specific to Instagram.

“It is typically quite a young audience but it is very reactive. Some of the content we put out last week regarding promotion was liked by thousands, which for us, is a massive achievement. 

“When I first started we had 8,000 followers and now we are approaching 27,000 – we really have seen unbelievable growth.”

One important advancement in the world of social media and sport is the rise of TikTok. A high number of clubs have seen a monumental rise on the platform, with a few clubs seeing more TikTok followers than on any other platform. Whilst, the scope may look limitless at the moment, there still remains questions over its sustainability, however, when done correctly, it has the potential to transform a club’s media landscape. 

Admitting that the club are yet to explore the fast-rising platform, Richard believes that this summer may be the correct time to investigate further: “We don’t use TikTok at the moment. We have had a little discussion about it, but we were at a point where we just wanted to focus on what we were currently doing.

“We will probably have another conversation about it in the summer, but again it will probably come down to resources.” 

Whilst where a club ranks in these social media followings may not be of use to a lot of people, for others, and particularly the clubs themselves, this could be rather telling. Knowing the audience and seeing the existing landscape could potentially help these clubs in planning their content for the future. 

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