The digital age has brought about several new things into football. There’s a necessity now for clubs to brand smartly online, put out content for fans, drive and encourage sales of seasons books, merchandise and the like.
That’s very much the case in Scottish football, with most fans using social media as their go-to place now for information about their club. It’s become particularly relevant in recent times as fans are shutout of stadiums due to the health pandemic.
There’s been an even greater role of responsibility placed on media teams across the SPFL to provide entertainment and information for their fans. There’s a claim to be made for Motherwell being the most effective at that.
Their strategy is precise, hitting quality over quantity. They have full buy-in from the players, manager and all staff at the club, allowing fans access to content that really gets them behind the scenes at Fir Park. Initially as football went into cold storage, there was time to think about content during this period.
“It was only when it came to our shores that suddenly you have to think very fast on your feet,” Motherwell’s Head of Communications Grant Russell told NTOF. “We’ve had to put a lot of measures in place, mainly around the players and coaching staff, to now be able to play. Football is leading by example, I’d like to think.
“Lockdown was interesting because a lot of clubs, media organisations, people, tried to adapt very quickly and threw lots at the first few weeks. Everyone was throwing up archive footage and FIFA tournaments, and we did bits of that as well.
“Once we did the initial stay at home messages, we kind of took a step back as we had no idea how long this is going to go on for. If we threw everything at the first few weeks, what would it have been like in 2-3 months if we’d still had nothing?
“I took a step back from a strategical point of view to think about it more sensibly. We are a club that values quantity over quality, you can see it in our social media output. We tweet significantly less than a lot of clubs. We were more looking at the things that could make an impact on people. We had the archive day and Richard Tait’s home workouts.
“You ending up having two strands; you’re information/education and you’re in entertainment. We have a responsibility to elevate the local area to try and help people and we have the entertainment side of things.
“You also have a responsibility to staff. This was a very unusual situation. At Motherwell we are together six days a week and suddenly we are separated. It was a case of being ripped apart from each other so it was the mental side of things as well.”
Attention to detail
There’s a thought process behind every move Motherwell make online. How many tweets to put out, when are the peak content hours, when’s best to bring something new to fans. It’s a meticulous approach.
Over the summer, faced with social distancing restrictions, Russell and his team have still brought out engaging content. Signings have been taken to local landmarks for unveilings, billboards have been placed, Inside Motherwell has been launched. Russell explains the process.
The real Tony Watt, getting to know Harry Robinson and two games in a busy seven days.
This is the week in ML1.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) July 26, 2020
“We use data to see when our fans are online and when they engage with content,” he started. “There’s no point filling up your timeline between 1PM-6PM, especially on Twitter. It’s an absolute lottery which of the things I put out between 1-6 goes to the top of your algorithms.
“If I’ve got one good thing and four not-so-sexy things, you might get the not-so-sexy things. We want people to see the best content we’ve got. If we waste our time filling up the timeline, then we’re losing.
“We have very specific times of how we put things out. Sometimes we don’t put anything out at all. You have to have something to say. Engagement isn’t the barometer of everything, but it’s a decent guide.
Adding to our attacking options.
Introducing our latest summer signing Callum Lang.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) July 29, 2020
“Where there’s a will there’s a way. We are observing social distancing, wearing masks, tested constantly. One of the best things of Inside Motherwell is you probably don’t realise the hoops we’re jumping through to pull it off.
“It’s part of our mission statement that we represent this town. I know that can be cliched, but we mean it. We want to celebrate the area we come from so instead of a player standing at the side of a pitch holding a scarf, we’re putting them out in real Motherwell.
“We wanted it to be places people from Motherwell knew. We had Scott Fox down The Dutchie, Ricki Lamie at the Monkey Bridge, Callum Lang in North Motherwell. People maybe see it’s a player near where they live or grew up. I think there’s a wonderful symbolism to that, but we’ve been spotted most times!
As clubs move towards online service to get games in front of fans’ eyes, Motherwell have had to think about how they plan to do it. Clubs have taken different approaches as to how to bring a good live experience to their fanbase.
Some have gone for pre-match buildup shows with special guests, Aberdeen for example having former captain Graeme Shinnie on Red TV prior to their game with Rangers. For Motherwell though they have their own thoughts on how to bring the matchday experience to the small screen.
“We had a judgement call to make,” Russell said. “The money and resource we do have is put into delivering an everyday service in the level of stuff we do. When it comes to trying to have an all singing and all dancing live experience, that would mean diverting resources.
“Season ticket holders enjoy it for free and we have no idea how successful pay-per-view will be. We will improve the live-streaming service, it will be like you’re watching a live game on Sky.
“We’ll update the commentary team. We deliberated on whether we should have a half-hour show, half-time pundits, something after the game. The money you would need to put into that is significant. For us, we want to find the balance of people are coming onto watch the game primarily.
“The service will look and sound better. But in terms of a host and guest, we didn’t feel we could justify the resource and cost. We aren’t trying to short-change anyone, we would have to compromise in other areas. We run a tight ship. It’ll come on at 2:30PM, various bits of video content. We aren’t going to go down the road of a full production.
“The reasons being it would be money better spent elsewhere at the club. People could turn round and expect this and that, but we would like to think people would understand why we have done that.
“We will slightly enhance the matchday side of things on Twitter. And very soon, this month, there will be a, live data service on the website which will give you play-by-play updates on what’s going on.”
‘Take a step back’
It’s been strange times for all of us as we adapt our daily lives. We can’t do all the things we are used to, no live events, constantly on edge as we wait for the latest update on whether the pandemic is worsening or getting better.
For Russell and Motherwell, they too have been affected. From a media and communications standpoint, it was important to make sure to take some time away from it all.
“Take a step back,” Russell said. “I’ve did a lot of reading over the last few months on how fellow digital professionals, social media managers, handle this. We still have to be reactive, but more than ever, we feel the constant need to be across everything.
“The best way is to be rational about what your doing. You have to have a clear understanding of what your football club or brand stands for. Continue to find the best ways to tell that story.
“Be true to what’s going on, don’t deviate because the world and your world is changing around you, adjust. And take that step back.”