Talent Acquisition

How a Premier League Football Team Kicks Goals on Social Media

How do you create amazing content to engage a global audience that’s full of completely unique individuals, with different interests, ages and locations? Each and every brand and company will have its own set of challenges… but as they say, with challenge comes opportunity!

Take Arsenal Football Club; an English professional football (soccer) club based in North London, that plays in the Premier League, aka the best level of English football. With over 50 million followers on social media, their editor has his work cut out for him! How do they it? How does the team bring their online presence to life for such a diverse audience? I’ve spoken to Chris Harris of Arsenal to get the full score. Have a listen on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

Tell us about Arsenal F.C. and what you do there, please?

Arsenal Football Club is a Premier League club. We go back to 1886 and are currently under Arsène Wenger, who is just past his 20 years in charge. It’s a very historical, a very successful club, a very traditional club in the English Premier League. I run the editorial team and I look after Arsenal’s digital content so the website, anything you see on social media, would be my remix.

Tell us about your social and digital strategy

I suppose the overarching strategy, it’s a pretty traditional model that to reach, to engage and to monetize within that it’s video first, it’s mobile first, more and more. But I suppose as well as that, I should point out we have a multi-platform approach. We deliver content where our fans are, that could be across any social media channels. But we have a digital membership as well. We have a unique content proposition on our owned channels,, ArsenalPlayer. We show our highlights, our live press conferences, our live match day shows, big events as well, exclusive interviews. But we have to understand that we can build up that number but at the same time you’ve got to have a strategy for every single churn that will going to where the fans are.

You have to be present everywhere and you have to have a different strategy. We’re very sort of fond of segmentation, we need to make sure our fans can consume the content they want where they want it. And I think, well one thing that’s changed in recent times, a lot of your listeners will know that we have eight million on Twitter, we’re approaching the same number on Instagram, getting towards 40 million on Facebook, but that is vanity figures. It’s becoming to me less and less important, it’s more now of how engaged those fans are.

Who is your typical follower and what is their behavior?

It’s very hard to describe a typical follower, because we have such a global fan-base and a fan-base that stands generations as well. I mean, what appeals to a 40 year old in London may not appeal to a 14 year old in Jakarta for example. We want to provoke an emotional response to the content we make and if someone’s watching our Arsenal Nation chat show on YouTube, or if they’re sharing footage of Mesut Ozil giving his shirt to a young fan after a recent win over Chelsea, or whether we’re speaking to a fan in their language using the right tone, if we’re making a Diwali video for our Indian fans for example. The pride that comes, I think, from fans sharing a moment, whether it’s with their own club, or their own country, that’s the kind of thing when we think of a typical follower. That’s how they engage with us.

What campaigns are you most proud of?

I think, just going back over this year, I think I really like what we’ve done with our summer signings. The way we announced our signings on Twitter and beyond. You may know that and your listeners may know this that Arsenal have a big army of fans on social media, some of them quite angry, some of them less so, and the impatience of waiting for signings were just at peak when the transfer window is up and running. And we had a player, Granit Xhaka, you would have heard of, we announced him this year in a very different way, where we re-tweeted fans who had grown, shall we say, impatient about the lack of an announcement. And they’d seen pictures of the signing being leaked that’s in all sorts of things and every other media establishment, but we hadn’t had the official word from the club, of course. So when we announced it, rather than just a straight announcement, we re-tweeted some of those fans and we made them part of the story. And when we put the first official pictures up, we made a point of saying that this is your second look at our first summer signing. I think that’s just a bit more self-deprecating, a bit more humor and just enjoying what our fans provide us in terms of material on social media. I think that’s been a shift for us this year, the tone of voice is just gone, it’s a bit different, it’s a bit more humanized now. I think we are much more in touch with our fans. I mean, we will always act like a club, but I think we think like fans a bit more now.

How do you interact with Arsenal’s players on social?

Well, as you’d expect, some of them are more active than others. Players like Mesut Ozil have huge numbers of followers, millions in his own rights. And we work with him, his representatives and maybe things that we work together on the maybe ways that we help him grow awareness of certain campaigns. Per Mertesacker is a good example, when he was named as captain in the summer we’ve just gone through, we worked with him to announce it over our Twitter channel. So we work hard with the players. Some are very, very proactive, others less so, but and I think that’s going to become more and more prevalent. I think players are taking more control over their own brands.

How big is the team and are you always on stand-by?

It’s a big team, yeah. When I go back, I’ve been here 14 years unbelievably, and the media landscape has changed just completely transformed since then. There used to be a website, there used to be four or five of us in an office and now it’s a team of journalists, an editorial team, a big design team. We have a huge production team, I’m inspired by them every day at some of the stuff they’ve turned around. On a match day itself, we used to have maybe one or two people working and the guy doing the reports he would hold up a handycam and do the interview afterwards himself, while asking the questions. So it was very much of one or two-man show. Now it’s about 20 people on a match day and that’s just editorial and production.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisharris1975.

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By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.