The desire to grab and hold the attention of young fans, fans who you hope will go on to be lifelong supporters, has been around for as long as, well… spectators. But is TikTok now the best method to attract those Gen Z fans?
TikTok, as a platform, is world-class at marketing.
Its recent campaign: ‘Don’t make ads, make TikToks’ is genius — big audience coupled with low production costs equals marketing nirvana. Since its first lip-syncing iteration Musical.ly was absorbed into the platform in 2017 it has exploded in popularity.
Like Snapchat and Vine before it, TikTok gives creators a platform and, with those massive numbers (currently 800 million monthly active users) it gives brands, teams and athletes a huge potential audience. Plus, with the highest social follower engagement rates for a platform it not only has massive potential reach, but its algorithm hooks users in and keeps them there.
That potential audience is big. It’s big enough to throw reason, rationale, fear and strategy out of the window and plunge headlong onto the platform. And here’s the potential trap.
TikTok also has its detractors voicing concern over privacy and online stalking — recently Amazon employees were ordered to remove the app from their mobiles for security reasons (although five hours later the decision was reversed). The US’s suspicions are based on TikTok’s Chinese ownership and the growing tension between the two over tech and trade.
However… those numbers. That potential audience is big. It’s big enough to throw reason, rationale, fear and strategy out of the window and plunge headlong onto the platform. And here’s the potential trap. The danger is assuming that every player or federation will reach those numbers. As anyone who has ever launched and run a social account knows, it takes planning, preparation and a whole load of time to nurture, grow and community manage a new account. Once you have that in place, and only then, you start to see the benefits unfold.
When Red Bull Racing launched its social platforms, we took the decision to hold off from launching a Facebook Page, not because we couldn’t see the potential or potential audience, but because I wanted to ensure the right content was being created and published for that demographic and audience. We had a Twitter account doing really innovative things, we had a great podcast and YouTube was hosting the video content (some high-end track simulations, some low-end guerrilla content), so what would Facebook offer? Or Google+? Or Foursquare (ask your dad, it wasn’t the roaring success I’d hoped for).
When we did launch, we ensured the content differed from every other platform, but kept the social media tone we had developed for the team. At that time, more than a long and distant decade ago, before we became world champions, Red Bull Racing were more known for parties, massive motorhomes and its slightly tongue-in-cheek tone — we had to become quite good at videos of Sebastian Vettel playing keepie-up with his trainer or reporting on the C level celebs we’d spied in the Paddock. And the strategy paid off — we became the fastest growing F1 Facebook Page.
Our Google+ account did not fare so well.
With TikTok, the audience’s potential worth is self-evident. In the same way football clubs have outreach programmes for schools to hook in fans for life, the platform and content is going to ensure potential new Gen-Zs, Gen Alphas and young-at-heart millennials are going to be interested. Back in 2018 Inter Milan’s president Steven Zhang saw the potential the app could bring. He said the club wanted to “win, entertain, inspire and connect people through football” and part of that was its early adoption of TikTok.
Liverpool FC were another early adopter, as the first EPL club to hitch themselves to the TikTok wagon in May of 2019. And, as Liverpool FC fans, new and old, see their team in its new-found, re-discovered glory, connecting with them on their level where that audience consumes content is vital.
Is there a finite number of social platforms any one team or sportsperson can maintain without dropping the metaphorical social ball?
The key is, of course, to ensure your output is relevant to team, brand and consumer. It also gives opportunity to find some excellent content from clubs might not be global brands — a sort of social levelling of the playing field. You only have to follow Derry City FC’s account to see how clubs in the League of Ireland Premier Division can make a great impact with great content.
The trick now will be to maintain TikTok as a major platform and not become another Foursquare fad — is there a finite number of social platforms any one team or sportsperson can maintain without dropping the metaphorical social ball?
For further reading, check out the official TikTok sports account recommendations.
Covid has been the mother of invention for a few clubs over lockdown. One of the most creative features has come from Leeds United FC in the UK. Rather than cram in the spectators conference call-style on the screen, they’ve filmed families in their own homes watching the games and recorded their reactions like Gogglebox (a UK TV invention which shouldn’t work, but somehow does).
Check out the Shackletons, Singhs and Warringtons’ home support. The other great piece of recreating live experiences at home comes courtesy of the Leicester City fan who decided to let off a blue smoke flare at home… not sure it’s going to create the atmosphere he intended, but top marks for dedication.
The Digital Cafe is written by David Granger, former Global Head of Editorial Content at Red Bull Media House and current Head of Global Content at PMI.