For the past five years or so I’ve been involved in the GrandOldTeam community for fans of Everton football club. From its humble beginnings it’s grown to be arguably the largest Everton community on the web, with a very active discussion forum plus a 100k plus community on Facebook and a sizable Twitter following.
With fans flocking to the site from around the world to discuss the team they love, you’d think that the club would be bending over themselves to tap into that community. At a basic level they should be signing us up to act as quasi-affiliates that can promote their wares to an incredibly large audience. If they really got social they’d be using the community as a sounding board to find out what fans were thinking and how they can be better served (other than of course providing a winning team).
A lack of love for the community
Sadly though, not only do they not seem willing or able to do that, they seem to go out of their way to make things tough for the community. When I built the Facebook page for instance, there was no official presence at the time, so the Page grew rapidly as fans looked for a place to talk Everton whilst on Facebook. When the club joined the network and built their own Page they tried to get us banned and shutdown, suggesting we were passing ourselves off as an official Page.
In the interim the community has been told it can’t provide match updates for televised games, and any use of the official club logo on the site, either in the design or even in members avatars was strictly forbidden. Whether intentional or not, it created a sense that the club saw the community as an enemy that was not to be trusted, despite the community being largely positive about the club themselves.
How to turn a community against you
Of course many of these faux pas were done behind the scenes, and were mainly annoying for the staff at GrandOldTeam. Last week however a mistake emerged that was very much in the public domain. For years a community member had been travelling the country to report on the Everton youth team. His weekly reports were posted onto the site and were generally one of the best features of the site as it gave fans an insight into the next big thing rolling off of the club production line.
Except he’s recently been banned from attending games, with an insinuation that his talking to players on Twitter was inappropriate behaviour. Suffice to say that it’s dangerous to form an opinion based upon one side of the story, but the reaction from the community was predictably hostile. In their eyes this was a case of the club attacking one of their own and they rallied around their comrade and riled against the club.
You’ll note the language used here. Any successful community is forged by the shared identity that binds members together. It forms an in-group that sticks together. Nine times out of ten the out-group is someone like Liverpool, our arch rivals, but now the out-group was the club itself. Commercially it’s not going to have been a smart move, as thousands have now decided to boycott official commercial outlets this Christmas.
The antithesis of the People’s Club
In terms of fostering the relationship with fans however, it’s been a pretty poor show from the self styled People’s Club. As regular readers of this blog will know, I fundamentally believe in the power of social media to change how organisations operate. To shift from make and sell to sense and respond. Nowhere is this more evident than at a football club, as clubs have thousands of people that will run over hot coals in order to make their club better. This is evident at GrandOldTeam, where volunteers from around the world put hours of work in each week to provide a facility for fans of their club.
Sadly, not only are the club not tapping into that latent energy and enthusiasm, they’re actively turning that energy against them. Such a shame.