It may be the worst season for Manchester United, but the club saw its largest weekly Twitter fan growth with the $62 million signing of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata.
U.K. soccer team Manchester United (United) may have only scored a draw against Fulham yesterday, but the English club is still contending on Twitter.
After six months of mediocre performances, United has sunk to seventh place in the British "football" Premier League. Although one of the biggest U.K. clubs has been far behind its competitors on the field, some of its performances on Twitter made us feel compelled to take a closer look.
Mata Delivered in Real-Time
Notably, @ManUtd recently created a Twitter explosion with the $62 million signing of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata. Within hours, the original announcement that was posted on the social media site garnered more than 60,000 retweets and favorites, according to Twitter's U.K. blog.
Background: United was knocked out of the Capital One Cup because of David De Gea's failure to stop an easy goal from Sunderland. The fact that the club had only won five of 11 home league games coupled with the loss to Sunderland, put much pressure on United's manager David Moyes in the Cardiff game.
Days before the game, United announced the signing of Mata from Chelsea. The Mata deal is the club's most expensive transfer, as well as the biggest one of the January transfer window. To break the news, both Mata and United posted real-time tweets regarding the deal.
"The recent arrival of Juan Mata, with news of his medical/signing being on social media first, is bound to have taken a significant jump," says Daniel McLaren, founder of social media and sports website UK Sports Network.
Fans, Fans, Fans
McLaren points out that since the week of the Mata deal, United has added more than 80,000 new fans on Twitter, the biggest growth by a significant margin (Chelsea added 40,000).
After the stir on Twitter, Mata made his impressive debut just six minutes into the Cardiff game.
Ahead or Behind on Twitter?
With more than 500 million fans around the world, United makes a massive impact on social media no matter what they do. In order to interact with its huge fanbase, United provides a mixed content of feeds and videos, as well as pictures and infographics on Twitter.
Although United was relatively late to jump on the Twitter bandwagon (in July 2013), it already has 1.9 million followers.
"United does a very good job of connecting with fans by amplifying their players and matches in constantly updated, sharable multimedia formats," says Gavin Blawie, vice president and group director of digital at Team Epic, a company that creates personal relationships between brands and consumers.
According to Twitonomy, United's tweets average 24 new posts a day. The club also uses hashtags 80 percent of the time, which boosts their discoverability, as well as aggregation of comments across social platforms. In addition, United has accumulated more than 4,300 tweets since July 2013, and has earned millions of retweets.
Doing Well but Could it Do Better?
Despite doing a seemingly good job of riding the Twitter wave, McLaren, a die-hard United fan for 25 years, thinks that the club lags behind its U.K. peers on the social network. He points to Arsenal (another leading U.K. Premier League team) and notes that it has far more interaction with its players.
"United has by far the least tweets (4,300), compared to Arsenal (27,900), Chelsea (32,300), and Manchester City (48,500)," he tells ClickZ. "I'm surprised that United only has 1.9 million fans on Twitter."
When asked if joining Twitter late could be a reason for this, McLaren does not deny it could be a factor. But joining late is not the major reason why United has been slowing down on Twitter, he says.
"It took United only 71 days to break 1 million fans, but it has been much slower progress since," he says. "This could be through lack of transfers as much as anything else."
Meanwhile, McLaren points out that United's massive sponsorships restrict the club's social media innovation. "United is led by traditional marketing and PR, and is hampered by the number of sponsorships/rights it has signed," he says. "They will never be a revolutionary brand on digital platforms."
How It Can Improve
United has been using Twitter to link its MUTV programming and break team news. But given United's huge fan base, perhaps the club could run a better Twitter strategy.
The first thing United could do more of to boost engagement on Twitter is to @reply to its fans, as currently the club does not reply to anyone.
Blawie comments that United should call out its players via their Twitter handles in posts. "Particularly players like Wayne Rooney with his 8 million Twitter followers".
He shares three suggestions to help the club better interact with fans on Twitter:
McLaren believes the key to bridging the gap between players, teams, and fans is to provide content that is engaging, informative, or helpful. "If it doesn't tick any of those boxes, then it is being lost in the ether. A wasted opportunity," he says.
Yuyu Chen is a reporter at ClickZ. Her work has appeared in Local East Village, New York Daily News and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce website. Yuyu received her M.A. in Business and Economic Reporting from New York University in May, 2013.
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