On late Sunday night, May 3, I was very sleepy but suddenly found some facts that made me feel fresh again. I was shocked as I reviewed in social media analytics and found: Indonesia’s top 5 clubs on Instagram statistically have had a slowing number of follower growth at least -43% in the last 30 days compared to the previous month.

It has been nearly two months since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Indonesia, and much of the country has been under strict restrictions on movement.

When COVID-19 started, football stopped, we get a significant impact. Suspended football matches and competition are a major hit. No games mean no ticket sales (which important revenue). Therefore the club is struggling to fulfill their obligations towards the players they contract with. They also have to maintain their business with sponsors and work very hard to preserve communication with the fans.

The club that deteriorated the growth of new followers was Bali United. In the past 30 days, Bali United only got around 3,100 followers. In percentage -240% worse than the previous 30-day period. On the other hand, Persija Jakarta got a better percentage of -43%.

Persija’s Instagram insight as per 3 May.

In an unprecedented moment like this, there are two strategies you can pursue right now. First, be passive, play defense, and stick to the content plan you created before. Second, play offensively, control the narrative, and push more content.

I’m personally choosing the second one. Keeping our social media posting and driving my brand forward in our control. And things with the Indonesia football clubs have fought in maintaining their digital activities, I think, are on the right path. They on average uploaded 2-3 posts per day. It’s an ideal posting number for the brands.

Personal brands win

At first, I was confused when I found our social media performance dropping because the number of posts is well maintained, while the other data mentioned the rising of digital activity during the pandemic.

This is a strange situation that is happening globally. Research from GlobalWebIndex revealed that people around the world have spent more time on their digital devices during the COVID-19 outbreak. As many as 76% of internet users, aged between 16 and 64 years old, said they spend more time using their smartphones in the past few weeks compared to their pre-coronavirus crisis.

Device usage increases.

Beyond device usage, data also reveals people’s digital behavior changes dramatically. About 47% of people said that they used social media longer than on the days before the outbreak.

However, I kindly need to remind you that some of these ‘new habits’ happened because of the increases in free time. There will probably rechange the habit once the level of activity returns to the level before Coronavirus hits; people return to work, be able to socialize with friends and family in the physical world.

Although I mentioned an increase in social media activity, the slowdown in growth occurred on several social media accounts – related to football – can not be avoided. Clubs, sports media, leagues, and sports brands got slower growth at this time.

Different things happened to the footballers. A recent study was conducted on the social media performance of football athletes during the coronavirus pandemic. The study, which was initiated by Redtorch, showed that footballers became a group that had high growth during Covid-19. Footballers are getting the growth of followers as much as 6% on social media, bigger than clubs, media, leagues, and sports brands.

This phenomenon is caused by more footballers being active in social media to share their moment and to connect with the fans. They also have more free time to interact directly with their fans. Thus, more productive in producing content. As a percentage, they are 15% more productive in producing video content than before the Covid-19 crisis. An 82% increase in video views of their content also occurred at this time.

High engagement rates are also shared by football players. They have the highest average level of engagement on Instagram. Players have the highest engagement rate (3.9%) than clubs (2,5%), media (3,2%), leagues (2,6%), and sports brands (0,9%). Then the question is, what content is produced, and what distinguishes it?

The answer is the intimacy of the players with their fans. Before COVID-19, they usually upload content about training and match. During this pandemic, we’ve been shown a more human side of a footballer. They upload activities while staying at home with family, making funny videos, home-workout, doing challenges, cooking food, supporting health campaigns, playing console games, etc.

How do brands fit in?

You know, some people might call this period a hard time. It’s true, this is truly a crisis. Many sectors have been heavily impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic and the sports industry has arguably seen as many high-profile disruptions, cancelations, and suspensions as any other.

But believe, there is always an opportunity behind a crisis. Instead of grumbling or cursing at the situation, it would be better if brands investing, increasing demand for consumption, and meeting the needs of people with authentic content.

With spare time, self-isolation, and social distancing in everyone’s future (athletes included), this break from sporting events offers the opportunity for viral content, fun challenge, fundraising, and socializing online with some of the footballers.

In the current situation, footballers are also content creators. They create more lifestyle content. They can make your brand more relevant to the fans; with their sense of humor, humanity, and generosity in a sympathetic tone to the current situation. And this moment, when fans have been missing football, it could be a potential thing for brands. If you don’t believe it, look at what Cesc Fabregas did with Puma below.

If you are interested in the Indonesia market, I will tell you that Indonesia has a great fact of football enthusiasts. According to Nielsen Sports (2017), 77% of the Indonesian population is fond of football. This is a great fact for marketers. On the other side, as 79% of the 175 million internet users in Indonesia are Instagram users.

We all know that Instagram is one of the most suitable platforms for marketing. I think the football industry, especially in Indonesia, is something that the brand must watch these days. Football players as influencer marketing are also taking part in this industry. The brand needs football players who can “pass” their products to their target audience.

So what we can learn? The right partnership between football players and brands can have an immediate effect now and maintain something special in the future. Use this time to invest in building your brand. Online media consumption, especially video, has increased dramatically during the lockdown.

Take advantage of this trend and address the needs of people for original content. Footballers are community gatekeepers. Use them to grow or maintain your share of voice in a way that is sympathetic to the current situation, growing into something special.

However, in the end, whatever content will be created together, we all must remain collectively responsible for complying with government protocols, guidelines, and provisions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Nothing can be excluded. Human health and safety are still more important than football.

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