Many football clubs (and businesses in other industries as well) often do not know how to approach social media and use it for communicating with their supporters, business partners, and other stakeholders. Marketers are often confronted with the task to explain why, where, when, and how to use social media in a business setting — and not to forget, who should use it.
While watching The Karate Kid — the classic 80’s movie — I realized that Mr Miyagi was giving phenomenal life lessons to Daniel, his prodigy. These could also be applied to communication and, especially, to social media. Just a handful of Google searches later, I found a few blog posts that had selected the most valuable learnings from The Karate Kid. Check out this post by Frank Strong, which inspired me most. I took the liberty to apply them to the social media activities of Aston Villa FC. Of course, the following could be applied to any football club or athlete.
1. “Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape.”
One of the major lessons in The Karate Kid is the understanding of how important commitment is in anything we do. The same is true for social media. In the words of Mr Miyagi, with some alteration, ‘Either you [social media] do “yes” or [social media] do “no.” You [social media] do “guess so,” squish just like grape.’ Mr Miyagi underlines the importance of any kind of commitment, which I hereby apply to social media activities. Singh et al. (2008:289) pick up that thought in regard to blogs and explain that ‘because social media is dynamic and the intent of social media is to be an interactive tool, not managing it properly defeats the purpose, and sends a mixed message to the customer. After soliciting feedback a marketer will need to provide a timely response to demonstrate that the blog or another social media platform is being used as a two-way communication vehicle. Requesting feedback and then not acting on it will certainly create a negative perception of the company.’
In the case of Aston Villa FC and social media, it can be observed that the club uses the most popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. In addition, it can be assessed that the management of the channels and its content is in order. However, interactions with stakeholders on the above-mentioned platforms do virtually not happen, except for a few retweets. There is room for improvement in regard to committing to ‘social’ media and not simply the Internet media.
2. “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.”
In this scene, Mr Miyagi tells Daniel to wash a handful of old cars using what initially seems like an odd technique. The Karate master subliminally points to the essence of repetition and stamina. Kietzmann et al. (2011:244) ‘argue that differences in the frequency and content of a conversation [on social media] can have major implications for how [brands] monitor and make sense of conversations. Also, they continue with the example that to make sense of the short, speedy, and numerous conversations hosted by sites such as Twitter, firms need tools and capabilities that allow them to connect the dots.’ Let’s highlight capabilities in this instance. Repetition made Daniel great at waxing on and waxing off, and the same is true for any social media manager. Picking up from point 1, where Mr Miyagi taught us the importance of commitment, we need to understand the essence of repetition and continuity.
Looking at Aston Villa FC on Instagram, it is pleasant to observe continuity in the form and mood of their photos. The social media manager always uses the same filter, which gives a nice flow to the photo gallery. Furthermore, there is basically no interruption from publishing photos. The club publishes during matches, trainings, on and off the pitch. Nonetheless, it needs to be mentioned that Aston Villa started the account only 2 months ago and it still needs to prove its concept. Nonetheless, it looks promising, because repetition has been proven to pay of on social media.
3. “Don’t forget to breathe, very important.”
In the movie, Daniel struggles to keep up with all the training, techniques, attitude, changes and whatnot, which overwhelms him at times to the point of almost giving up. The same is true on social media. New trends, platforms and behaviors come and go at a rapid pace. That is why keeping up with trends is essential. Asur et al. (2011:434) assess that “Social media is growing at an explosive rate, with millions of people all over the world generating and sharing content on a scale barely imaginable a few years ago. This widespread generation and consumption of content has created an extremely competitive online environment where different types of content vie with each other for the scarce attention of the user community.” In order to be on top of that, Mr Miyagi reminds us to breathe. Every now and then, marketers need to step back from it all and assess their brands’ situation objectively; and they need to do the same with new trends and social media possibilities.
Aston Villa FC seem to do that. The club does not seem to rush into following every possible social media trend, and when they start on a new platform — like Instagram, as mentioned above — they seem to follow a clear pattern. That can be a strategic move or simply lack of resources that makes them a bit slower at implementing new digital channels.
4. “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”
Mr Miyagi’s message here is quite straight-forward: Balance is key. In social media we can relate that to a balanced social media framework, including networks and content. Newman et al. (2013:61) write that “Once your organization identifies its message, it must then determine which medium it wants to emphasize as part of its marketing push. Although Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and perhaps even Google+ or Ustream are sure to be a part of any social media push, it is important for an organization to prioritize allocating its resources to make the biggest impact from a marketing standpoint. … [i]n most cases, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the most important sites in any campaign. Indeed, while the medium has changed, the basic marketing tenet of tailoring your message to your audience still holds true.”
Aston Villa FC clearly focuses on the platforms mentioned above. Again, it might be a strategic decision or simply lack of resources. Also, the club pushes out content appropriate for the respective platforms: Photo series on Instagram, short and actuality-driven tweets, stories on Facebook etc. From my professional experience as a marketer, I can attest that brands need to be where there audience is. They should not try to impose a communication channel upon their audience, because they most probably will not want to embrace anyway. Therefore, the channels chosen by Aston Villa might as well be the most appropriate ones. It would be a different case, if the club would want to reach, for instance, fans in China. China uses Renren, Weibo, and YouKo instead of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And this is where the question of strategic decision and resources allocation pops up again. Bottom line here: Balance of channels and content is key. And by the way, Aston Villa FC launched their official Chinese Weibo and YouKu channels in 2013 (avfc.co.uk)
5. “Now use head for something other than target.”
Frank Strong (2010) describes in his blog post, “It’s a social norm: social media tends to reject commercialization. If the only thing you Tweet, bookmark, or post is your own content, you might wind up doing more harm than good. It’s better to engage in the conversation, earn the trust of your community and offer content for the purpose of value rather than sales.”
Aston Villa FC shares relevant content and does not use social media only for commercialization. In this regard, the club does a very good job. However, there is room for improvement when it comes to interaction with fans or other stakeholders. Sometimes their Twitter channel retweets some tweets, but that’s it. I have not found any Twitter Q&A’s by Aston Villa, which could create a good level of engagement. Also, engagement on Facebook is basically non-existent. Even though the club often asks a question at the end of a Facebook post and many people give an answer, Aston Villa never (at least I have not seen it) picks up at least a couple of answers and does something with them. A collective thank you note could be a great start. In point 1 we mentioned Singh et al. (2008), who pointed out that ‘requesting feedback and then not acting on it will certainly create a negative perception of the company.’ It applies here as well.
6. “JCPenney $3.98. You like?”
It is common knowledge that the rank, experience and level of expertise in karate is portrayed by the color of the belt worn by a karate practitioner. In the movie, Daniel asks Mr Miyagi what kind of belt he has. His answer, “JCPenney $3.98. You like?”. This shows that a KPI (key performance index) does not necessarily have to be measured in absolute numbers, but needs to be assessed in relative terms.
Tia Fischer (2009) writes in the Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management that “Measuring the impact of online advertising used to be relatively easy. It was all about analytics: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Cost per Clicks,” and she continues by discussing that quantitative measuring in social media will not provide depth of engagement with users or sentiments of their reactions.
For a football club like Aston Villa FC this means that it does not need to look at the numbers and be satisfied seeing an increasing number of followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. It is more important to take a deep dive into the quality of the comments left on the Facebook page or replies given on Twitter and assess what they mean and what sentiments they radiate. In addition, an analysis of what came after the user interaction would be beneficial to understand the behaviour of the engaged audience.
7. “Don’t know. First time.”
A fabulous scene in Karate Kid is when Mr Miyagi chops off the top of three beer bottles and Daniel ecstatically asks how he’d done that. Mr Miyagi’s answers, “Don’t know. First time.” The learning here is very simple: Just try. In the years since the intrusion of the Web 2.0 the tenor has generally been negative among a certain group of marketers on trying new tools. I usually attributed this kind resistance to their lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, since social media is a rather young form of marketing, schools and universities did not have enough time to established and teach useful courses for aspiring or established marketers. Hence, there was not much knowledge in-house at companies, or in our case, at clubs until recent years.
Observing social media activities of Aston Villa FC, we can see the club sporadically trying new formats, like Instagram, as mentioned above. I would like the club to try videos on Instagram, and definitely Vine videos on Twitter. That can be done with the same smartphone or camera that takes the pictures for said platforms. Also, infographics could be a great addition to building pre-matchday suspense and giving post-match reviews. (Un)Fortunately, there is a first time for anything, and even if a marketer does not know how something works, the easiest way to find out is to spend 30 minutes on Google or YouTube to get an idea and then simply jump into the cold water and try not to drown. And let me assure you that nobody drowned so far while trying new things on social media. Some drank a bit more water, but they all survived in the end. And the educational experience they made was worthwhile every time.