x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Manchester United, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo: a masterclass on how Twitter can play a good game

Of the eight sporting spikes this year, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon was the only one that was not football related.

Manchester United's Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic (R) blocks a shot from Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match in March. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU
Manchester United's Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic (R) blocks a shot from Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match in March. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

The biggest global spike of 2013 on Twitter was when Real Madrid knocked Manchester United out of the 2012-13 Champions League. Although “tweeters” welcoming in the New Year and Mumford & Sons closing out the Glastonbury music festival in England were also among the 10 biggest Twitter spikes of this year, the rest were all sports-related.

Of those eight sporting spikes, the Scotsman Andy Murray winning Wimbledon this year was the only one that was not football related, illustrating the potential offered by the medium to clubs, the media and also players.

With more than 20 million followers, Cristiano Ronaldo is the sports star with the most Twitter followers – more than Real Madrid or his Portugal national team.

“Big players generally have more followers than clubs as people do better on Twitter than things. That’s why we’ve encouraged Premier League clubs to use individual players’ Twitter handles,” says Lewis Wiltshire, the head of Twitter in the United Kingdom, where 80 per cent of users access the platform on mobile devices, the highest penetration for mobile devices in the world.

Effective use of hashtags is one of the key areas to increasing Twitter followings says Mr Wiltshire, who spent 11 years with the BBC on their digital operations.

He explains: “You need intuitive tags. The right hashtag is like fishing, as you are casting your rod into a whooshing stream. Too many hashtags put people off. You need to balance it carefully or it will look like code to the uninitiated. My advice is one or two hashtags per tweet to make it discoverable but readable.”

Twitter grew out of San Francisco, but less than a quarter of those users are now in the United States. The platform has 230 million active users around the world.

Twitter has rapidly become the world’s social media outlet of choice – providing what users have to say can be said in 140 characters or less.

There are now 500 million tweets a day with 60 per cent of Twitter users active. The remainder use the platform to monitor others. “Users are under no obligation to reply to everything, but it’s good to reply to some,” adds Mr Wiltshire. “There’s a global conversation and it’s good to be part of it. You see some celebrities who are not following anyone but have 20 million followers. That just looks like they are not interested.”

Other pointers for users looking to increase their following include breaking your own news, owning your area, promoting your handle off Twitter and embedding photos and moving pictures.

Last January, Twitter launched Vine, an app allowing users to take six-second video clips on their phone and embed them in tweets.

In the US, sports franchises are starting to use the app to announce their team line-ups by showing short videos of the shirts of players selected.

The recent sacking of Tottenham Hotspur manager André Villas-Boas in England was announced on Twitter and Mr Wiltshire expects more announcements direct from clubs, putting the onus on the media to use their own content – from breaking news to big-name columnists – more effectively.

This can be particularly effective, he says, through question and answer sessions with columnists or celebrities taking over accounts as guests. When David Beckham took to the Twittersphere for a guest Q&A session, he attracted 18,000 questions in an hour.

As the platform develops, Twitter has introduced innovations, such as the blue tick on their handles of well-known people to indicate that the profile is not a fake.

The Tweet Deck was produced so that users can filter tweets into related feeds, while Ads.twitter.com was developed to provide analytics for advertisers and media organisations to show what part of the world that their Twitter traffic is coming from.

For sports clubs, Mr Wiltshire says that an off-Twitter strategy is essential.

He splits club Twitter followers into three areas: those already following their club on the platform, people on Twitter who do not follow that particular sport and a third more valuable category. “There are people that like Chelsea but are not on Twitter,” says Mr Wiltshire. “Those people won’t go on Twitter because they love Twitter, but they might because they love Chelsea.

“Clubs have to give those people a reason to go on Twitter.”

* Mr Wiltshire was giving a masterclass on effective use of Twitter for the UK Sports Journalists Association