Shergul is Director of Digital Business at leading Serie A club AS Roma. A passionate football fan who has previously worked at Amazon, Stylefeeder and Time Inc. Here he talks about the lessons learned from taking social media from nothing to being one of the leading lights in the country. We were lucky enough to catch up with him and ask some questions;
UKSN – You’ve hit 100k fans on Twitter (well done by the way) and have been very active within social especially on Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. What were your goals when you set out and how have they evolved?
Shergul – We took over a non-existent situation last September. There was only a flash website with no eCommerce portal, no social media and no mobile apps or games. Our goals have been very aligned from the top down since day one: to bring AS Roma to fans around the world via digital thus growing the AS Roma brand. Social media seemed like a no brainer way to start the direct communication with fans and allow fans to connect with AS Roma on the platforms that had gained the most traction (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). Short term, we wanted to go from 0 to at least top 5 in Italy on those three platforms, metrics we achieved in a matter of weeks! In just 6 months we hit 1 million fans on Facebook, and like most clubs have only been slowed by Facebook’s new page “throttling” system. With Twitter we see the best percentage growth week over week, and we truly listen to fans: we changed our tone from being only corporate to have a more approachable feel. We retweet a lot and fans have truly embraced this.
UKSN – You were one of the first football clubs on Pinterest. Why did you decide that was the platform for the club and has it proved as successful as you hoped?
Shergul – Pinterest represented a calculated play for us to participate in a growing community of shoppers, with different demographics (primarily female). Part of being a global brand is leveraging the great name of Roma and the colors and logos, so being present on the largest shopping community site made sense with an eye towards eCommerce and globalization. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have thousands of fans passing links to your products around either. It was a calculated move suggested by one of our close collaborators in the social media space. Among other benefits, it was a great PR move to be the first football club out on Pinterest. As we have started to catch up to clubs who were literally ten years ahead of us (Liverpool FC, for instance, has had a Head of Digital for 11 years…we are in year one) it was nice for once to not just play catch up but to lead the pack. Expect a lot more of that.
(Shergul with AS Roma legend Franseco Totti)
UKSN – Recently we have seen AC Milan hosting their first Google Plus Hangout and have passed 200k fans on the platform. Is this a platform you are looking at?
Shergul – Absolutely. We have not launched on Google + only due to a matter of branding and consistency of message between G+ and Facebook. We are eager to find a tool that auto updates both platforms for free. In the meantime, we have run three or four major live events via YouTube’s streaming capabilities. Most astonishing was having 33,000 fans watch a team presentation at the Stadio Olimpico and the average time on site was half an hour!
UKSN – You recently launched ‘AS Roma Music’ with players playlists displayed on your website and available on iTunes. How did that come about?
Shergul – We have been very adamant about being fan-centric. I’m a diehard football fan as are the other social media team members. Fans love to feel connected to the team, the players and bringing fans closer to players is one of the missions we have set out for ourselves. Learning new tidbits about a player is always fun for a fan, and music connects people around the globe. One day during the AS Roma US Tour, we pitched the idea of submitting a favorite songs playlist to the most passionate music fan on the team, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. He loved the idea of creating a playlist and volunteered to go first! Soon we had a frenzy where every player or manager or exec wanted to submit their playlist. For us it has many benefits. It creates anticipation and excitement. Gives fans reasons to come back to the website. And we link fans off to iTunes where they can download the full playlists – and thus we have an economic tie in as well.
UKSN – We hear a lot about players getting into trouble on Twitter in the UK with things they have said. Has this been the case at all in Italy?
Shergul – Not…yet. Here’s why: It’s still very new. When we decided to start on Twitter last October, outside of maybe one other front office person and two to three players…no one was on Twitter. This was a pattern throughout Rome and Italy. Our players that used Twitter were all foreigners, from Spain or Latin America. Twitter had already “bloomed” in places like Spain, Argentina and Brazil. Certainly England and the U.S. as well. But for Italy, Twitter was and is a new phenomenon. When we launched, we firmly believe we helped to bring on tens of thousands of new people onto Twitter for the first time. And if we believe the network effect (a journalist joins to follow our tweets and his or her fans start to join Twitter) then Twitter probably netted hundreds of thousands of new members due to our activity. Getting back to the original question, there have certainly been “oops” moments on Twitter. Execs and players from our club tweeting about other teams and players which has caused a media stir. Off hand comments that get quoted in blogs. Without speaking for other Serie A clubs, but when we look at our club, we’re mainly hoping for a lot more participation from players. We offer our support and help to players, and have helped players such as Bojan Krkic (now with AC Milan) grow his fan base tremendously. As more players are active, surely more problems will arise, but with the right guidance this can be minimized.
UKSN – What is your advice to anyone looking to start a social media strategy for their sports club?
Shergul – There are some key decisions to be made early on. Do you have multiple Facebook accounts and Twitter handles for each sector or language? We chose the hub approach to centralize fans in one area, sacrificing more personalization. Do you artificially pump up fans, likes or followers? We certainly do not. We know for 100% certainty that fellow Serie A clubs AND top teams that writers rave about have bought cheap likes or follows. In our strategy, we want true fans that won’t clog up our channels with SPAM and will react and take action when we have a new fantasy game, mobile app, eCommerce product or ticket offer. Artificial, purchased traffic will not be active and will disappoint sponsors who think they are buying into a club with X thousand or million fans, when the reality is many if not most are just artificial fans.
Thanks Shergul! If you have any questions just leave them in the comments section below and we’ll get them answered…