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Social media the rugby way: or Come On You Quins

DO YOU RUGBY? Alexandre Estanislau via Compfight

I’ve been thinking a lot about social customer relationship management lately – and what better example of a business that really needs to turn customers into fans and advocates than a sports team?

I’m a new rugby fan. Being American, my only experience of the game was random exposure to university rugby club members in the bars of Knoxville.  They did not always conduct themselves as gentlemen.  However, since starting my son in rugby, I’m developing a love for the game and decided to choose a premiership team as well as a local club. So, after doing some research on stadium distance, I picked Harlequins based solely on ease of travel to home games.  I didn’t even know they are the reigning Aviva Premiership Champions.

The initiation

The Quins social strategy has a couple of key elements for turning a casual customer (like me) into a fan. My first game was a trial effort: was it easy to get to, was it a good atmosphere, and frankly could I be engaged in the action for 80+ minutes?

To buy tickets I didn’t have to register on the site, but I could choose tickets more easily if I did. So they easily collected a significant amount of my personal data. Not only that but the process encouraged me to register my son as well, as I was taking him with me. Now they know quite a bit about me including the age of my child.

In advance of the game I received some emails about my ticket order. But they missed a trick in not linking me directly to their Twitter account and Facebook page. Sometimes these are included in emails, sometimes not.

My first match was a great experience if not a great game (Harlequins pumelled London Welsh 40-3). I had some minor trouble getting into the stadium, but was helpfully directed to another ticket gate before I joined a lengthy queue. The next day I received an apology by email about the experience. A really nice touch!

I’ve continued to get emails at just the right frequency. Not so much that I want to unsubscribe, not so few that I feel forgotten. I’ve since been to another game as a result of a direct email to me and brought two people with me.  Post game I immediately got another email thanking me for my support and asking me about my experience at the stadium. My son even got an email asking him to join in a rugby training camp. He’s a year too young, but because I’m involved at a local club, I forwarded it on to an appropriate age group which then reached 35 more families.

But I want more. And I have a lot of catching up to do.

1) I don’t know that much about rugby, really.

2) I need a rapid induction into the traditions and culture of the Quins.

And a better social presence would help me get closer.

Sports and social: a natural partnership

People love their teams. They love the experience and even the ups and downs.  There’s nothing more bonding to fans than a losing season.  But teams need to make money. Social media can be a big part of getting fans to stadiums, buying stuff and ensuring sponsors get bang for their buck.

And it’s not like widget selling where you have to work hard to come up with content.  Sporting teams already have great content.  Video highlights, player interviews. Player pictures. Words of wisdom from the coach.  Fans eat that stuff up.  And fans like to see other fans having a great time at games, at the bar afterward, wearing team colours and shaving insignia into their hair and dressing their toddlers as mini-players.  Premiership rugby teams are already pretty good at sharing team content, but none of them are particularly cracking at being a node for fan created content. (London Wasps come pretty close with consistent retweeting of fan pics).

Great content is already there for the taking and the sharing.  And I’d love to get closer to my new team and my fellow fans through social media.

Social networks:

The Quins have a pretty good presence on social media. But although they’re near the top of the premiership table, they’re decidedly mid-ranking when it comes to social media.

Followership of rugby premiership clubs at 8 Oct 2012



Of course, numbers certainly don’t tell the whole story.  But Leicester Tigers at the top of the table have a really nice interactive style on Twitter with lots of retweeting of fans and some relatively decent coverage of games.  Their Facebook page is far and away the most popular in the Premiership and just about every post drips with fan comments by the dozen.  Plus they actually interact with fans on the page. They’ve got the tone pretty much right.

The Exeter Chiefs, though sitting in the bottom third, definitely deserve an honourable mention for their approach to Twitter. They even use a super fan to cover home games online which I thought was so good I put it in my case example blog.

And although I’ve stacked the teams up against each other, in this case it’s really not a competition. Great engagement by one club is good for rugby overall.


As someone looking for work, I’m always having a look around for networking opportunities.  The Quins have started a series of  face-to-face networking events: Quins Means Business.  But to be honest, I’m probably not likely to pay the money to go unless I have a better feel for what happens at these events. My natural inclination was to look on LinkedIn to see if there was already a networking group and what kind of people were in it. Unfortunately there wasn’t one.

Other rugby clubs do have a LinkedIn presence, but few appear to be making good use. (It’s hard to do a comparison as some are private). Some clubs have fan-started groups – some of which are quite large like Leicester Tigers with 725 members and Northampton Saints with 456, but there doesn’t appear to be much interaction from the clubs themselves. Some teams seem to be using their LinkedIn group more as a marketing opportunity for corporate hospitality. It’s absolutely fine to slip that in, but for a LinkedIn group to work it needs to focus on mutual benefits to members – and those groups are unsurprisingly moribund.

Five tips for better social media in rugby

1. Find the rugby voice. As someone who comes from a sporting tradition of hate and rival fan baiting, I’ve been amazed by the convivial atmosphere at every level of rugby I’ve been exposed to so far. The friendliness among and between fans is something that should come through every social posting by clubs. Too many club postings feel a bit corporate.  That being said, rugby is a bit blokey and beery. Revel in it without hitting the gutter. A fine line to tread, I know.

2. Help your fans share their love of rugby.  There needs to be more shareable content, including video.  Clubs need to not miss an opportunity of helping people find their accounts; one club didn’t even have links on their main website.  Some clubs aren’t using YouTube to its full advantage.  Not enough clubs are celebrating their fans and their content.  And I’m not seeing enough celebration of community rugby, a shame since the hands-on reach of rugby across all levels of play is one of the great things about this sport.

3. Be helpful. Use social accounts to help your fans enjoy matches even if they can’t be there. Provide links to video and audio coverage of games. If there’s a customer service issue, respond.  The Quins shop was shut this weekend for stock taking. Yes, it was posted on Facebook, but when people complained there was no response from the club, which isn’t consistent with the Quins general approach to customer service. A perfect opportunity to direct people to the online shop.

4. Be open and responsive and follow social media conventions.  Several clubs aren’t following many other accounts on Twitter. One club follows none.  And although there is some retweeting of fans, there’s little visible interaction between club accounts and fans. When there is it’s a tweet which begins with an @reply most fans won’t see it. I’m also not seeing enough use of hashtags by clubs to help fans follow conversations about their teams.

5. Look outside the sport of rugby for best practice.  Look at who’s being lauded for their social media.  Although the approach of LA Kings hockey team is inappropriate for English rugby, similar outside-the-box thinking could go down well. Look at consumer brands like Cadburys or Innocent (maybe a bit too wacky) or my favourite: SunDrop, a regional soda brand which has a fanatical following.

And I know I’ve been a bit critical, but I really am doing this from a place of love.  Blokey, beery love.

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3 Responses

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  1. Richard Ayers says

    Hi Ingrid, thanks for the post – insightful and interesting.
    I agree that there’s a huge opportunity for clubs to get it right – and this is for all sports, not just rugby.
    The issue of ROI comes up all the time, and when clubs are run as very low/no-margin businesses, often the problem is that there just isn’t the personnel to help social thrive – or digital as a whole, sometimes.
    Naturally, I’m a believer in the value – which may be commercial, but may also be quantified in a whole bunch of other ways – but it’s always so important to measure and manage the numbers around all this.
    thanks again,

  2. IngridK says

    Yeah, good old ROI. Always raised for something new, rarely mentioned for older approaches. Value is a much better proposition: a case supported but not determined by numbers. I’m a big believer in measuring to supplement experienced decision making and support making adjustments.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. 10 design gaps in my life : Ingrid Koehler linked to this post on October 26, 2012

    […] Insufficient rugby information. As a new fan I’m hungry for more. I want push notifications. I want full premiership and international rugby schedules and results. […]

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