Chris Wearmouth has been Communications Manager at Northampton Saints R.F.C for seven years. A veteran of sports communications, Chris has witnessed Northampton Saints move into the digital age and discusses the successes, failures and practices behind managing one of the UK’s most successful rugby clubs online presence.
1.How important are social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for engaging with the Saints fans?
In short, very important. We know that supporters are engaging with their social media sites more than the main website, so we have to make sure we utilise as many available channels as we can. You can see the importance with click through rates and the immediate impact a posting on social media outlet has on ticket sales and shop orders.
and if you were limited to just one social media channel, which one would you choose and why?
It’s a tough one because we use them for different things. Personally I still really like Facebook, even though the younger generation are still turning away from it. That’s because their parents are on Facebook, and at the end of the day it’s the parents who have the disposable income, not the kids! Also you get more on it in terms of pictures, video etc.
2.What do the Saints mainly use Social Media for? Listening, Word of mouth, Testing, Qualitative research…
Listening, Engaging, Selling – But not necessarily in that order!
3. A lot of the players are very active in Twitter, for example Ben Foden (Full Back and England International) has well over 130,000 followers. How far do you go in monitoring these accounts to protect the Saints brand? For example, QPR run classes for using social media and have regular interaction with their first team to provide guidance.
We give the players a few reminders and guidelines a couple of times a year, as do the Rugby Players Association and the RFU. Our players are pretty sensible to be fair. We do have a ‘listening’ twitter account set up specifically to follow all our players, plus other clubs and journalists.
4. Social media mediums are rapidly evolving with video taking prominence with Snapchat, Vine and now Instagram video. Have Saints planned on utilising these platforms?
More platforms mean more resource needed to manage them, and at the moment we don’t have that resource. So much as I may want to, it’s not going to happen right now.
5. Is there any sport in the world that has the edge in social media – not just in followers, but in producing quality content and campaigns that make the most of social media?
The NBA has put a massive amount of resource into their social media, as a league and as individual clubs. But it is the sports which are sponsored by Red Bull which has the massive edge as social media plays such a huge role in Red Bull’s own marketing strategy.
6. What do you think has been your best piece of social media or PR for Saints since you have been there?
We did a massive Movember push this year, spearheaded by our captain, Dylan Hartley. In all we raised nearly £50,000 in the month, which was far and away the most for any sports club in the UK and only beaten by some investment banks and Bloomberg UK in the national standings. We tied it in with some other charity stuff we did in the month and it will always stick in the memory.
7.What has been your favourite instance of fan interaction over social media and what has been your worst?
The worst first. Last season we were having a pretty average-to-rough time on the pitch, losing some big games at home by large margins. During this time our online forum (which we’ve now got rid of) turned extremely vitriolic and nasty. It could be easy to let it ride, but at the end of the day a forum on the club’s official website is reflective of that website as a whole, and the bitchiness of a handful of individuals took up a disproportionate amount of my time. The best is always when it snows – you always get loads of response when you ask for a snowman picture!
8. Time to get personal, who has the most boring Twitter account out of the Saints team and who has the best?
I wouldn’t say that anyone’s got the ‘worst’, per se – the guys either use Twitter well or they don’t use it much at all. But of the guys who do, Dylan’s is the most entertaining.
9. And finally, will we see the Saints as Premiership champions at the end of the season?
Hope so! We’ve got the talent there, and the drive, so anything’s possible!
Keep your eyes peeled for further insights into social media practice amongst the greatest sports teams in the UK and beyond, as we will be releasing further interviews with leading figures in the digital sports industry in the near future.
To see our interview with Morgan Andrew, Social Media Coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, click here.
To see our interview with Adam Hulme, Multi Media Officer for Queens Park Rangers F.C, click here.
To see our interview with Imogen Gaunt, Media and PR Manager for Harlequins R.F.C, click here.
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