Harnessing Social Media for your Club

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Holly Schulz played youth soccer at club and high school. She studied database administration in Jacksonville, FL and is a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist. She has worked for Rush Soccer for three years, managing their social media, travel and awards programs.

There are a lot of competing social platforms out there at the moment. How do you choose which ones to focus on?

I start with the popular ones that everyone has heard of – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At the beginning it was a mad dash to claim the unique addresses for the club and set up profiles, and then from there I had to figure out who was on which platform from our membership. Facebook is where the parents go, Instagram is for the kids. Then the smaller platforms like Vine I jump in to make sure we have a space, then if it becomes more popular we will build it at that time. If we’re not getting a lot of engagement for the time we’re putting in, we will cut back the effort we put into it. We use LinkedIn too, mostly for professional networking and business activity. We’re on Pinterest too but haven’t used it much because it is more of a shopping network at the moment.

Do you do all of the posting manually or are any set up automatically or to take information from each other?

I discourage posting from one to the other. Each post needs to be tailored to the audience who will see it and to be unique. I use Buffer and IFTTT if I have a busy schedule for the day. For Twitter I will fill up the buffer with posts that are then distributed later. For IFTTT if someone tags us in a video on Instagram it will post to Twitter automatically. So there are a couple of automated processes but for the most part I prefer the manual approach. If I see a Facebook link on my Twitter I assume that the poster was lazy about it so I tend to ignore those links. Since I do it, I assume other people do too.

What are your goals for social media?

Firstly it is community engagement. As a soccer club we want to be fun, active and energetic, and that takes open communication from everybody. We don’t push information on people so much – it is called social media because it should be a social experience rather than just selling things. We will occasionally use it to talk about an article or pushing something for our partners, but mostly it is about engaging the community in conversation. We post pictures of the weekend’s winners and encourage people to like it so that they get recognition. On the national side I try to get the clubs doing what I’m doing on a local level. We don’t target recruiting players at that level – it would be more useful for local clubs to use it in that way (say, if they have a tournament they want to promote with paid advertising). Our brand recognition gets us enough recognition anyway so we don’t really try to recruit clubs.

How do you schedule messages?

My timeline is platform-specific. We post 1-3 times per day maximum on Facebook and there might be a day with no posts in between others. Mostly I track how much engagement we are getting from the analytics to that we can give the customers what they want when they want it. I had a pretty full Google Calendar that we follow for scheduling specific days. Mondays are our #RushForParents day, where we post articles on Facebook to help parents be a better sport parent. Other days have different themes and the calendar lays out which platform is best for each and in which format. All of our member clubs can subscribe to the calendar and use a similar approach for their own social media. We also have a page of general guidelines that covers the best times to post, how often to do each one each day.

So when are the best times in the day for you to post?

Most of our international clubs are charity projects in countries where people don’t have regular access to the internet. I’m not worried about the international audience too much – beyond clubs in Canada and Mexico who are in the same time zones as us. I target American time zones and look at the analytics to see which time on which days have been most effective for us in the past. If we have a specific article that is going out on the web at a set time, we will coordinate social media around that also.

Do you have specific formatting rules for posts?

It can be difficult because the algorithms the platforms use are always changing, but we have guidelines for people to follow. There is a good length and maximum number of characters that posts should have, how many hashtags can be included, and including pictures with them. On Facebook the best practice is a link with a picture and 1-2 hashtags and a little bit of text. People like visuals so we try to include them, but if everyone is posting pictures we might go the other way to stand out at times.

What targets do you have for engagement? Which posts are most engaging?

I don’t remember what our most recent percentages are, but I am more interested in the time to post messages as the critical factor. Our membership has been all over the place with engagement recently so I have been trying to find out what the element is that throws everything off – time, content or something else. It used to be that asking questions got a lot of response, but that is not always the case now. The best posts have a unique picture and link – like uniform announcements that are going to go viral. The content sells more than the post type in most cases. This can make it hard to work out which formatting factors are most important.

Do you have policies for coaches and staff regarding use of social media with their players? How much does this affect your role?

Enforcing policies like that are nearly impossible from our position. Our clubs are democratic so they have their own rules and regulations. If someone messed up we could cut them out of the organization but we don’t set rules that they have to follow. There are guidelines we recommend and we make that available to members, and we will remind people of them from time to time. We can’t control what people are doing with their personal accounts as that is public domain.

How did you get into the role of digital brand manager and what does it involve?

I got into the role really by creating the position. We’re a non-profit company so we need to have flexibility with our job descriptions. I have other roles that I developed first and once those took off I was able to have other people take over, freeing up my time for new projects. Regarding social media it really came from the realization that we had such a great community for it, and yet our clubs are all around the world and at times there can be a disconnect between them, which it could help address.  Our goal is to be a global organization that is one family or soccer club. I brought the idea to the company and they thought it was a good idea. I run the national organization’s social media and help Colorado Rush with theirs. We put the emphasis on the other clubs to run their own as they understand their communities best and can personalize the message for their audience. My role with them is to continue to encourage them to use social media and to keep the conversations going.

There are not many full time IT specialists in youth soccer. Do you think that is changing?

I hope it does. The industry is constantly changing and the more the soccer world realizes that this is the way the world is going, the more the youth game will benefit. Part of my role is to help clubs to train their existing staff, rather than thinking they need to go out and hire specific IT staff. If we can show them that it is worth their time and investment then their club will benefit.

How do you get evaluated in your position? Do people understand what you are doing?

Yes, a little bit. The big boss understands that it is important and an essential part of life now – he gets excited about the results we get from it.  As for how I am evaluated it would be on engagement and growth of the community. Ultimately social media is only 20% of what I do so it is more of a fun project part of my job description before I can get more time to really grow it.

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