Social media are having an increasingly greater impact on footballers’ lives. More and more, footballers are working with specialised agencies to manage their social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). The question whether a professional agency is useful for a footballer depends on different elements. In this article we provide a brief background regarding the increasing importance of social media. We also go into the role and the usefulness of social media agencies in more detail.

Importance of social media in football

The increasing importance of social media in football has two main reasons. In the short term social media have become the perfect means of communication for footballers and their fans. Media channels such as Twitter or Facebook connect very closely to the world of footballers and they allow fans to follow their idols and communicate directly with them. It also allows footballers to involve their fans in their successes, disappointments and (not so) everyday concerns.

And it is this fan participation with their idols which immediately brings us to the second reason for the growing impact of social media in football. The more (engaged) followers, the more interesting footballers become for their clubs and any sponsors. It goes without saying that a player with 1 million followers is a lot more interesting for a sponsor than a player with 10,000 followers. Social media are a tool to increase a footballer’s commercial value.

Social media agencies

Over the last three or so years, the number of agencies that manage social media for footballers has grown explosively. Often it concerns smaller companies with a couple of employees at most who take care of the communication on Twitter, Facebook and other social media on behalf of the footballer. However, the range of services is not restricted to social media but often comprises all the player’s communication to the outside world. Building a website, reaching commercial deals or even contacts with the press are also these agencies’ responsibility.

Because it is a relatively new business, new companies are emerging all the time. The sector is clearly experiencing some growing pains which often makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. The quality of many agencies is still open to improvement and this is the reason why footballers should first and foremost ask themselves why they would want a social media agency to intervene.

Why, as a footballer, would I want to work with a social media agency?

In practice we have concluded that footballers work with a social media agency for the following reasons:

  1. Time efficiency: communication with fans costs time and energy. For footballers this is the main reason to outsource the management of their social media to an agency;
  2. Personal branding: not only does it look good to be able to say you work with an agency for your social media, this agency can also provide an added value to the player’s image and so-called personal branding. Footballers nowadays are a signboard, a role model for many young footballers. The better the communication and the marketing, the better the footballer’s image.
  3. Financial: some players want to increase their commercial value by having more engaged followers and to improve their image toward the outside world. For these players it is about the extra income that can be generated through social media. Obviously, a footballer’s commercial value is directly proportional to the number of engaged followers of his accounts.
  4. Monitoring: increasingly, a footballer’s image is created by online media. Sometimes this even happens without the footballer’s knowledge/ability to monitor it (such as ghost accounts). This is why it is important to work with a professional and independent partner because it allows the content that is spread in the footballer’s name to be monitored.

How do I choose a social media agency?

If the footballer’s principal aim is time efficiency and image building, the agency’s references are often decisive. This concerns non-financial actions which chiefly require creativity. The existing references can already provide a clear insight which means personal feeling (and price) will be the determining factor.

However, if the financial aspect also plays a key role, the choice is more difficult. In this case the required competencies are totally different. Creativity and day-to-day follow-up are no longer sufficient. Using a communication and business plan, based on data and statistics, an agency should be able to assess the impact of a commercial deal. To measure is to know.

And this offers opportunities in this explosively growing market. As long as these agencies are unable to describe or measure a player’s digital value, you are in the dark. An increase in value cannot be assessed if there is no benchmark. The communication and business plan must allow social media agencies to compare and optimise commercial deals.

In addition, the financial aspect is only relevant for a player when the player is at the level of the national team or is a top player in one of the big competitions. Players not at this level should downsize their expectations in terms of financial or commercial added value.

What are the main issues in case of collaboration?

The legal and contractual framework of a footballer’s image rights is a major issue. Many footballers have given their clubs, the national team and their sponsors permission to use their image rights. They are also paid a fee for this. Naturally, it is important for a social media agency to know of any agreements reached with clubs and sponsors.

Some social media agencies tend to ignore these agreements. On behalf of footballers they retweet actions of companies that are direct competitors of the sponsors who pay money to use the footballer’s image. A step further is the practical example when a social media agency proposes a sponsor deal to a competitor of the existing club sponsor or the national team, without asking permission. Particularly when a player’s commercial value is high, this may result in damage claims.

It is also important to assess how much time and energy can be expected of the footballer in the context of the collaboration. If a player has to spend a couple of hours every week answering questions of fans or taking part in events, a player may find this (too) tiring. Reaching good agreements is important. Ideally, the social media agency troubles the player as little as possible.

A description of the social media agency’s precise services is also relevant. An agency that simply makes a website and posts a number of profiles on social media without further follow-up is not ideal. It has to be clear what the social media agency does and does not do.

What is the agent’s role in all of this? He can act as a go-between to reach commercial or financial deals between player-social media agency-sponsors, etc. He can also watch over the overview/planning. And finally, it is important he watches over the time and energy a footballer needs to invest and he must help to balance the costs/benefits.

For (potential) top players for whom the growth of their commercial value is also important, they must heed the following:

  • How does the agency see the player as a brand in the future?
  • What does the footballer’s current social media profile look like and what should it look like in the future?
  • What are the player’s long-term plans after his career?
  • What return on investment does the social media agency have in mind?
  • What is the player’s current commercial value?
  • What commercial value do we want to achieve in the future?
  • What is the agency’s business plan (communication and media plan, contacts with press and sponsors, charity, etc.) regarding the player’s brand?
  • Which milestones need to be achieved for this?
  • How do these milestones have an impact on the player’s financial value?

A professional social media agency that is familiar with (i) data and statistics and (ii) the impact of social media on this data and statistics has answers to the aforementioned questions.

One must not forget that building a profile and brand in social media by the player needs time. It is also important the agency is given enough time to achieve this. Trust in the agency is therefore essential.

Conclusion

Social media are becoming increasingly important. The number of agencies that want to provide support to players is growing at the same time. It is crucial that the player makes an assessment for himself as to what his needs and expectations are. Based on the created framework he can choose for an agency that draws up a bespoke communication and/or business plan. One has to be vigilant though if the commercial factor and generating a digital added value are determining elements. Many agencies are called but few are chosen.

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