Op-Ed: Why community management is more important than ever

15 Sep 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Fi McCrindle, Community Manager at LiveWire Sport, highly commended Agency of the Year at this year’s Sport Industry Awards, discusses how an uplift in your community management, can have positive implications in your wider social strategy... 

I joined the team at LiveWire Sport as their first dedicated Community Manager in 2019, seconded to their account with the Premier League. Two years later, I’m now one of three full-time Community Managers at the agency, as the need for comment monitoring and engaging directly with online audiences continues to increase.

My role focuses on shaping the community management strategy for the Premier League’s social accounts. Effective community management can take many forms, but on the Premier League accounts, we break this down to three key areas:
●    Finding new and creative ways to drive conversation on our own accounts
●    Comment seeding across club posts, player posts and other relevant posts
●    Pro-actively engaging our audience in comment sections during campaigns and around the big conversations that go beyond what happens on the pitch

Driving Conversation

Testing new ways of driving conversation is crucial. No one is above trying new things. Most recently, this has come in the form of ‘reply to’ questions, such as ‘Reply with a flag and we’ll respond with that nation’s top goalscorer’, giving Twitter users the opportunity to receive a reply with specific stats or insight. We then work through the replies, responding with the requested stats as well as photos or videos to help tell the story of that key Premier League moment. This this format puts the Premier League’s audience at the centre of the conversation while also driving a large volume of replies, sometimes over 30,000 on a single tweet (that’s a lot of community management!) 

Comment Seeding

An oldie but a goodie, and another seemingly simple tactic, comment seeding is a straightforward – but often overlooked – part of proactive community management. In short, it’s a social media strategy that sees you engage with trending content or content from relevant and influential accounts. The aim of this is to give your profile greater exposure and attract new potential followers.

On the Premier League and Fantasy Premier League accounts, we seed comments on our own posts, on club posts and on player posts. We try to make any comments we share unique, helping the account stand out and showcasing the type of content social media users can expect from the Premier League accounts. It isn’t a new technique and it might sound simplistic, but replies are a key tactic in driving 1-2-1 interactions. Doing it strategically means that we go beyond simply creating conversation points and instead users are part of the conversation, engaging and celebrating with us as they experience emotional sporting moments. 

For example, when Liverpool won the Premier League title in 2019/20, our comment seeding (below) drove an additional 66,000 engagements on Twitter alone. If you’re interested in comment seeding, that’s something I talk about in a lot more detail here.

Proactive engagement

This is where times have changed, in my view, for the better. The dark side of social media communities has been widely publicised in recent years, with an increased focus on community management becoming a necessity for many, beyond a best practice metric that it may have been in the past. For me, that points towards the bigger conversations that we’re having on and offline. 

Over the last few years, the sport industry has doubled-down on efforts to take ownership of conversations around racism, homophobia and mental health. As part of this, purpose-led content has become more and more prominent. As we engage with these topics on a deeper level, we also have a duty to stand up for the values we talk about in our content throughout our wider social media approach. It's fair to say that it’s traditionally unusual for rights holders to be having 1-2-1 interactions with users, but it allows us to be transparent and encourage conversation. This is the thinking at the heart of our community management strategy for campaigns like Rainbow Laces. 

As a gay woman working in football, being a part of a campaign as important, far-reaching and necessary as Rainbow Laces is a privilege, but it also comes with its challenges. Something as trivial as changing the Premier League profile picture to a rainbow version of the logo results in more than 25,000+ comments every year, many of which are negative and homophobic. 

To counter this, we spend a lot of time during the campaign reporting and removing comments, thanking our audience for their support and responding to questions from those who want to know more about what the Premier League are doing in this space. We use various community management techniques like ‘top comments’ to influence the tone of our comment sections. Commenting on our own posts and asking users to ‘Drop a [rainbow flag emoji] to show their support’, sees comment sections flooded with positivity. Social media algorithms serve high-performing replies at the top of comment sections, so interacting with these messages of support literally boosts positive conversation. The impact of these techniques can’t be underestimated when met head-on with homophobia. 

This increased need for community management stems from this shift in the narrative online, offline and right across the sporting world. Taking ownership of the replies in this way is another way that sport can continue to be a vehicle for positive change and it’s something we’ll see more and more of in the next few years.