It’s 5pm, Manchester United have just lost 2-0 in one of the most one-sided Manchester derbies ever. A tweet appears from Bruno Fernandes. Expecting the usual, “Disappointed with the result, we go again next week” robotics, this time it was something quite different. But not in a good way. His social media team posted “Goooood vibes 🔴⚪️💫” with a photo of Gabriel Martinelli celebrating with his Arsenal teammates.
In a world where football players have never been more physically distant from fans, they should look at their social media as a chance to be authentic and to connect with the people who support them most. Why have a presence online if you’re not going to control it yourself?
It’s hard to single out Bruno Fernandes as the majority of players will leave it to their social media teams, while offering minimal to zero input. At Manchester United, they don’t even have to monitor them at all, the club does all that for them.
Phil Lynch, CEO of Media at Manchester United, said in a recent podcast: “We pull twice a day social media fan sentiment graphs for every single one of our players and we have certain thresholds that alert us when we see fan sentiment go one way or another.”
He added: “When that happens we then begin to work with the player and his team individually to try counteract that narrative.”
Salford City’s media manager Will Moorcroft was frustrated by Lynch’s comments as it reflected badly on clubs who try to give power to their players.
Moorcroft said: “I’m very against what Phil Lynch has said. Control is the wrong way to go about it. Somebody is on social media to show their personality and to give an insight into their lives.”
He also touched on the kind of media support they offer to the players at Salford City, adding: “I don’t think it’s right when players are told what picture to post and have their posts copy-written. As a club we have never done that but we’d never turn an eye if a player came to us and asked us for advice on how to get a message across or to help them.”
Salford City co-owner and former Manchester United player Gary Neville is just as passionate about individuality on social media. Speaking at Health Assured’s #NoSubstituteForTalking event, Neville said: “I’ve got a big problem with this at the moment because I think in creating independent thinking leaders you have to allow them to take responsibility for their own words.”
He added: “I’m not saying they shouldn’t get support or advice but they should definitely be building their own personality and character.”
Former Chelsea player Michael Duberry, joined Neville at the event which was hosted at UA92. The university set up by the Class of 92. The campus is based merely 500 metres from where Duberry and Neville battled it out in the 90s at Old Trafford.
But, today they were together, battling for something more important than three-points on a Saturday afternoon.
Duberry said: “There’s now a huge gulf between fans and players due to the growth of the Premier League. Your social media is chance for people to see who you are.”
Duberry, who won three major trophies at Chelsea, went onto discuss further how players could benefit from being authentic online.
“The more you can see your heroes being themselves on social media than the image that the club want them to have, the better.”
Hearing both Neville and Duberry talk on the issue was fascinating, both players grew up in a time where they didn’t have the pressure of social media but still understand the benefit of being authentic.
It’s interesting to hear not only what ex-players and people within the game think but also outside of the game.
I spoke to social media and personal branding expert, Megan Stolz, on why she thinks being authentic online could benefit players and the clubs.
She said: “It would create a genuine relationship between fans and themselves. It would also help create a community feel around the club.”
Stolz, who helps some of the country’s most inspirational business leaders with personal branding, also said:
“Having an authentic online presence is a much clearer indicator of who the footballer is as a person than they would ever be able to get across in post-match press interviews.”