Today was an exciting day for me – I was one of a small group of bloggers invited to cover a training session of the Carlton Football Club (the ‘Blues’) – the football team I support.
For those of you outside of Australia – the Carlton Football Club (CFC) is an Australian Rules Football team based in Melbourne Australia. Aussie Rules Football (or AFL or ‘footy’ as we call it) is an amazing game – the biggest professional football code in Australia. It’s difficult to describe but it is a fast paced and spectacular game that people in Melbourne and many other parts of Australia follow religiously – particularly at this time of year as we’ve just started our final series – our Grand Final (think Aussie Superbowl) is in just a few weeks time.
Learn more about AFL on the official AFL site, Wikipedia, or check out this video to get some visuals of the game being played and this one of a video of one of the most spectacular marks of the year.
Today was the last training session for the Blues before our finals appearance tomorrow so it was a big event for Blues Supporters and the club were keen to bring in a group of bloggers to cover the day. I’ve included a few pics of training in this post.
One of the cool things about the Carlton Football Club in the last 12-18 months is the way that they’ve been reaching out to their supporters via social media – this blogger outreach day is just one example of it.
I first noticed their increased focus upon social media 18 months ago when they started ramping up their use of Facebook, Twitter and when I was invited to a small gathering of Blues supporters who were active on Social Media. At that gathering the club listened to supporters about how they’d like to see the club engaging online. Since then there have been a variety of other such meetings as well as larger scale social media meetups for Blues supporters (last week there was one for 200 supporters).
The last year has seen a growing number of players on Twitter and having their own Facebook pages, an increased use of Video from within the club and some creative use of media to allow supporters to get a peak at the inner sanctum of the club (such as their Blue and Answer videos where fans submit questions to players for them to answer on video).
While they are by no means the only sporting club to be using social media it is exciting to see them embracing it and throwing resources and energy into the field.
While at training today I took the opportunity to speak with Carlton FC’s recently appointed social media coordinator Luca Gonano who answered a few of my questions about how they are using social media. I thought it might be of interest to others around the world looking at similar initiatives (whether in sporting clubs or other organisations).
Can you tell me a little about the reasons behind CFCs increased push into Social Media in 2011?
The Club was keen to develop its relationship with supporters and build the membership base, so it was decided last year that social media was a vital ingredient in the communications mix. We employed the services of Deloitte Digital who worked with Carlton to develop a social media strategy, working closely with Fan Development and Communications. Part of the strategy included the creation of a new role, Social Media Co-ordinator, which I was lucky enough to be offered in April this year. The strategy has provided the plan for the development of our social media presence and in the last year Carlton’s numbers on Facebook have increased by 50,000 (currently have 91,000 fans) and Twitter by 10,000 (currently 15,000 followers). This has been achieved without advertising or match-day gimmicks, it has been built around engagement with the supporters. The Carlton Football Club’s social media numbers are now third overall in the AFL and we are growing faster than any other team.
Could you briefly outline the main push in 2011 in terms of Social Media? What worked best?
It might sound simple, but making our supporters feel a part of the club. We’ve made a conscious effort to keep our fans informed with all the happenings at the club and I think we’ve gone a long way in bridging the gap between fans and players. It’s no secret that supporters want to feel as if they ‘know’ the players. Thankfully for us we’ve got a group of young, enthusiastic players who have been very receptive to being a part of our social media plans and have become more interactive with the Carlton supporters. We’ve set-up fan pages on Facebook for four of our more popular players and run competitions through the players and It’s worked both-ways. Players learn just how much the Navy Blue jumper means to our fans, and the supporters find out the human side of our players. It has also reduced the number of fake player accounts on Facebook.
How did the Social Media meetup go in the last week or so?
The Carlton Social was a great success. We wanted to say thank you to a few of our Facebook/Twitter followers for helping us grow as quickly as we have in 2011, so we invited them to the Club to thank them in person. The 200 who attended were taken on a tour of Visy Park by Carlton legends Syd Jackson and Geoff Southby, treated to supper and given vouchers to spend at the Carlton Shop. The only thing we asked of our guests was to fill out a brief survey to find out what they like and what they don’t like about our social media. We were able to gather some fantastic feedback and we’re already acting upon some of the suggestions. We had over 1000 apply to be part of the night, and we’re planning bringing each of them through the Club at some stage in the off-season. It was an opportunity to say thank you with the bonus of providing Carlton with important feedback to ensure we continue to develop our social media platforms for our supporters.
What is your hope for inviting bloggers along to training tomorrow?
The Club has enjoyed its best season in 10 years and our supporters are hungry for success. Everyone at Carlton is aware that we’ve come from a very dark place over the last decade and our supporters have stuck with us through the bad times. The bloggers that we’ve organised to cover the finals for us each have their own stories about being a Carlton supporter. We’re hoping that they are able to portray the energy around the club from a fan’s perspective and that supporters all across the world, who are following their blogging can relate to their emotions. We want everyone who supports Carlton to feel like they’re a part of the push for our 17th flag. Having bloggers from outside the club involved helps to open the club up to supporters.
As much as you can – what are the plans for 2012 shaping up like with your Social Media strategy?
We’ve got some really exciting things planned for 2012. We are currently renovating a space in the Richard Pratt Stand that will become the “Bruce Doull Social Hub”, a place where bloggers/tweeters/facebookers can get together and communicate online about the happenings around the club. We’re also working really closely with Fan Development to devise a social media outlet for those who are new to AFL. Finally, we’re looking to recruit a group of bloggers for the entire 2012 to cover club events, training sessions and matches. We’re really excited with the direction that we’re heading in.
Today’s Training: Blogger Outreach
To recap on today – we spent most of the time with Luca. We were given a tour of the club facilities, training areas, pools, locker room, board room etc. We were given access to the on field press conference with coach Brett Ratten and then allowed to watch and photograph training from the sidelines (right up close). We were also given a bit of insight into some of the clubs plans for social media in 2013 and asked for input into what we heard.
All in all it was a fun and insightful morning – partly in being able to get up close to players and coaching staff, partly because it is an exciting time for the club with tomorrows big game and partly to see and hear about CFC’s social media strategy going forward (and to be a part of shaping that).