With 672 million Tweets about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and over one billion fans reached, FIFA’s Twitter strategy certainly wasn’t an own goal. It was a veritable screamer. But there’s more to running the football governing body’s accounts than just posting up pictures of players and goals. With events going on all over the planet throughout the year, and numerous corporate initiatives to boot, FIFA’s social strategy continues even when the players’ 90 minutes are up.
We spoke to FIFA’s Social Media Manager, Alex Stone, about what it takes to tactically mastermind an award-winning social strategy for an event of the magnitude of the World Cup, how they plan to use Twitter in the future, and the peculiar story about their most successful social post. On top of this, we also dug into his strategy for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, which kicks off in June.
Social Media Tips Manager FIFA Case Study Interview Alex Stone
SocialBro: How is the social team set up at FIFA?
Alex Stone: “We currently have 10 Facebook pages, an Instagram account, a YouTube account, and a plethora of Twitter accounts. The core Twitter accounts include five main FIFA accounts for the main languages we use, five World Cup accounts for those languages, a media account, accounts for the president and secretary general, an account for everything we do on women’s football, and one for the world cup of the FIFA computer games. Most of our accounts are in my remit, but some are run by different departments who run those specific projects.
In an average day, what does running the social media accounts for FIFA entail?
“At the moment we have tournaments in New Zealand and Canada on the immediate horizon, so there’s a lot of final preparation for that. Although I’m currently working on other upcoming tournaments in Portugal, Russia, Jordan, Japan, Chile, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil, where I may need to speak to people in those countries on any given day. With all of those time zones in play, my day currently begins at about 7am and finishes around 11:30pm. I’m the only person working centrally at FIFA in Zurich on social media, but thankfully I have someone in to help with planning the Women’s World Cup and we have a plan to get three people working full time on social media by the end of the year.
I also try and respond to some of our fans to let them know that we’re interested in hearing from them or helping them, that Twitter isn’t just a one way communication channel. We can’t get back to absolutely everyone, but doing those simple things make a big difference. It keeps us in touch with the fans and helps us understand their mindset. I think this approach needs to be the norm at sporting organisations and we’re working towards it.”
FIFA is a global brand, regularly bringing a diverse mix of countries together. How do you provide a social presence for as large an audience as possible?
“Our social media accounts mirror our editorial set-up for FIFA.com, which caters to our five core languages of English, French, German, Arabic, and Spanish. Each language has one social media manager who I liaise with daily, although we have about 35 editors on the site and roughly three quarters of them also contribute to social media.
For the World Cup section we currently cover Russian too, which also has Russian social media editorial responsibilities. Where we have a large tournament that’s run in a country not currently served by a FIFA language we would look at augmenting our social content to include them as well, such as Portuguese for the World Cup in Brazil.”
What are the overall strategic goals of FIFA being on Twitter?
“We launched on Twitter just before the 2010 World Cup. Our idea was to build an audience, tell them about what FIFA did, and connect with fans. Fast forward to 2014, and when we analysed everything after that World Cup we realised we’d reached over a billion people on our various social channels.
That was the start of our next journey, where we realised the extent of the reach we had. The next stage of our social evolution is going to be working out how to engage with those people on a more regular basis. We want them to be interested in the other events we run, in Football as a whole, and of some of the less publicised aspects of what FIFA does. Our goal is to build a consistent presence with this content rather than just dipping their toes in every four years for the World Cup.”
What parts of FIFA are you working on creating a greater awareness of using Twitter?
“If you read the papers there may be times when you see negative representations about FIFA, but the truth is that we have people working hard on positive projects all over the globe and we want to get the word out about those things too. For example, people might see in the news that we made a lot of money from a TV deal and their story stops there. On Twitter we can spread the hugely uplifting stories of the projects that we’re spending that money on to benefit the sport and local communities.
In terms of creating your own brand narrative, how different is it now with Twitter compared to when you started working in football communications?
“When I started at the Football Association in 2000, we’d create amazing bits of content for some of our programmes and getting it out there could be a serious challenge. If I had social media at the time, the flexibility of content and the opportunity to share what I saw immediately to a large audience would obviously be incredible. We could share video footage of the England blind team doing skills that sighted players would struggle to do, while professional sighted players tried blind football for the day. The engagement, reach and awareness on a piece of content like that would be massive. At FIFA in 2015, I’m looking to use this platform in a way that I couldn’t back then and communicate the role that we are playing in using football to help better the world.
Another advantage would also be the access to journalists and publications, they’re all on Twitter and all looking for a good story. Trying to persuade them to come on a train ride with me to Hereford for the day to cover a story back in 2000 was a lot of work. Now you can engage them with great content on Twitter that’s already getting a reaction, this helps encourage them to pick up the story.”