What government can learn from sport and social media

Cast your mind back to before the internet. How did organisations build an audience? Quality products and services? A trendy image? Clever marketing? Word of mouth? Or, maybe an audience grew from something as simple as a physical location.

While the internet offers another way to reach an audience, transcend geography and potentially build a loyal following for brands and organisations, for sporting teams with existing fans, the challenge wasn’t building the audience, it was keeping it.

The problem

It’s definitely slightly counter-intuitive to see a large pre-existing audience as a problem, but bear with us. When you have an already extensive and demanding audience, keeping all of them engaged and entertained is definitely more difficult.

Pre-internet, AFL fans were pretty much born into their team colours. Nowadays, anyone with access to the internet can get insight into a team that might appeal on a personal level; even more so than the team whose jersey they’ve owned since day 1.

Now it’s easy to jump ship to another team; people are used to getting what they want and when they want it (and that includes premiership flags). Loyalty is critical.

Listening to Tom Nickson, the Head of Digital for the Western Bulldogs AFL team (est. 1877), there is a lot we can take away from the sporting industry’s approach.

As retaining fans became a challenge for the AFL, Tom realised it was the role of his digital team to keep people around.

The new approach

The very first step is simple but difficult: build a team capable of handling the sheer size of the audience.

At the Western Bulldogs, this meant assembling a unit of a similar size and structure to the AFL team they’re marketing. Two video producers, a digital marketing coordinator, a social media and digital coordinator, an editorial manager AND a graphic design team means the marketing team has almost as many players as the Doggies themselves.

Though it didn’t happen overnight, having a team to support creative endeavours is critical. One look at the Bulldogs’ Facebook page shows the role that the whole team plays in fan engagement and maintaining that relationship.

Marketing is a 365-day commitment, but can be challenging for teams who have a big portion of the year when the team doesn’t play. For the Bulldogs, a proactive approach helped mitigate the effect this could have on fan engagement.

That’s how you create content to keep your audience intact – and following all year round.

Through building such a strong narrative that fans are invested in, the Bulldogs (or any team; sporting or otherwise) can find their audience and keep them engaged. A fan is much more than a consumer, but a consumer nonetheless – they bus tickets, merchandise and travel to games – it’s important to keep them interested.

Thinking about your audience as a fanbase helps foster a mindset that they need to be engaged 24/7, 365, not just for new products. The point of this approach is to nurture the relationship between the club and fans, and ultimately cultivate a sense of loyalty.


So the main takeaway? Focus on engaging your audience after building it reinforces the following. For sports teams, public sector organisations and brands alike, the challenge isn’t just in gaining followers, it’s giving them a reason to stick around.

Read more about AFL and their marketing strategy here.

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