Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not a regular footballer. Every action of his creates a barrage of jokes. When Manchester United officially announced his arrival at Old Trafford on July 1, ‘It’s #ZlatanTime’ was among the worldwide trends on Twitter.
Like all unveilings, this one played by the rulebook. United’s social media went into a carefully-planned overdrive, simultaneously presenting the Swede’s arrival on Facebook, Twitter and Vine. It was followed by updates and photographs on a.) the new player holding up a jersey b.) the first interview with the club, and c.) the customary putting pen to the paper.
Things that earlier happened behind closed doors are now played out on live streams. Clubs have adopted a “fan first” approach. Kit launches, a chance to meet players, free shirt signings, competition entries… gilt-edged opportunities posted regularly on social media make fans feel more connected to whom they support.
Every club has a dedicated presence on Twitter and Facebook. Most fans now use social media to get their daily fix of club-related news. Individual footballers are more active on Instagram, sharing selfies, gym routines and meals as vignettes of their everyday lives.
Alex Coulson, director, public relations and social media at IMG Consulting, explained in a study: “Social media has opened up opportunities for rights-holders and brands to talk directly with fans, but even more so with younger audiences.”
But with good comes the bad. This level of engagement has given birth to a new ‘in-the-know (ITK)’ world on social media, where belief is temporarily suspended. When Lincoln Red Imps beat Celtic in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier, a Twitter troll (@WeahsCousin) decided to upload a list of fake facts about the Gibraltar club. It included points like the club has a average home crowd of 28, has never scored a goal against a professional club, and the squad couldn’t train on Tuesdays as a local metal detecting society used the pitch. Without any background check and believing in Twitter’s authenticity, Sky Sports ran the ‘facts’ and a presenter read it out on television.
Fans can also dissect players’ moves on social media. So, if a footballer unfollows his current employers on Twitter, it is immediately taken as confirmation of his move to another club. Social media also gives fans a platform to express their displeasure directly to the club and its players, and a growing number of players have complained of being abused.