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A social media career in the Premier League

My social media career – from Waterford to the Premier League

Eoin Doyle talks about his career managing social media for Sheffield United, what skills he uses and what advice he would have for anyone interested in careers in digital and social media.
Knowledge of how/why people engage with specific content and where they engage with that content is key.

'My current role is digital and social media manager with Sheffield United Football Club (SUFC). This role came about due to the results that were achieved in the championship season. Across all social media channels our audience (followers) grew by over 100% and our engagement rates doubled and, in some instances, tripled in comparison to other seasons. Following on from my original job at Bramall Lane (digital fan engagement executive), the role gives me a lot of freedom in terms of moulding the digital landscape and social media aspects of SUFC. It can include anything from shooting and editing videos, writing editorials, taking photos and liaising with photographers and videographers to ensure our output is on brand and shows our brand in the correct light. The digital aspect of my role again incorporates various sections of SUFC. One of our more recent projects is the implementation of a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. This has been put in place to capitalise on the sheer size of data that we will gather as we enter the Premier League for the first time since 2007.'

Eoin’s transition from managing the social media of a championship club to one at Premier League level has been as seamless as the team’s adaptation (they currently sit 13th in the table), as Sheffield United have the highest social media engagement rates per capita of any club in the premier league.

'The role is very, very busy. Take three weeks in July for example. I was on a pre-season tour in Portugal for eight days, with four pre-season friendlies, I conducted interviews for two new social media specific roles, I launched our new kits and organised content for five new signings, and I also maintained our social media sites so that we could continue to meet our organisational targets. Taking the signings as an example: Phil Jagielka, who previously played for SUFC between 2000–2007, returned to the club. This was a unique opportunity for me to tell an emotive story about his return and create an overwhelming sense of nostalgia in our fans, engaging wider football fans with United, and Jagielka’s story. The 30-second video is now our most engaged piece of media across our channels, reaching a massive 7,000,000 views.

During pre-season, I usually film and take photos of the players at their 10.00 am training. Afterwards, I scale the pictures to find ones that show emotion (smiling, shock, etc) and any little clips such as a decent goal, demonstration of skill or save that can be distributed for short form content on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I would then go into a bigger edit for longer-form content. This usually goes on our YouTube and Facebook. This edit tends to be between five and ten minutes and aims to give fans a behind-the-scenes insight into training and how the players interact with one another. Time sensitivity is an issue here as ideally it all goes out on the same day as it happens. A lot of content in football is time sensitive: this allows us to give a better real-time picture of what’s happening either at Bramall Lane or at an away game.'

The skills needed to succeed

'The main skills are versatility and a willingness to learn constantly. I didn’t have the skills required at the start to do what I am doing now in my role but having the willingness to learn allowed me to identify best practices in the sports media world and find ways of implementing them at Bramall Lane. Versatility is vital. Try to be as multifaceted as possible – be someone who isn’t afraid to take on any task. Job roles are very fluid in the sports business/media world; you could be filming one hour and the next building email campaigns. While this isn’t the case across the board, as you go down the leagues and into leagues that don’t have high revenue streams, you’ll find people have a vast number of duties that can be somewhat irrelevant to their original job role. Video editing/photography is something I’ve had to teach myself over time; I am by no means a specialist, but I’ve developed my skills enough to generate football content that gets great engagement. I want to give fans an insight into how the players are on a daily basis and how they interact as normal people: content that shows this always goes down well.

Short-form writing is another skill that is important within the social media industry. Being able to find the correct tone at the correct time with effective content is a necessity in football. Luckily for me, SUFC have won most of their games since I began which means I can have a positive, jubilant and humorous tone across our channels. That tone tends to be very short and concise. Some of our most engaging posts have fewer than 15 characters.'

One of Sheffield United’s most successful posts of the season is 11 seconds long and contains just 11 words. The trickery of Enda Stevens helped to generate over 2,500 likes and nearly 80,000 views.

Sage advice and how to catch a break

'Experience is everything! Get as much experience as possible throughout university, even if it’s a day, a week, a midterm, a summer or ideally a placement year. My year’s placement at Huddersfield Town was effectively what got me the job at Sheffield United. My BA (Hons) in international business at Waterford Institute of Technology enabled me to utilise the third year as a placement year. I emailed every club in the EFL Championship and Huddersfield took a chance on me. It was an incredible year as they also got promoted to the Premier League that year and the hands-on experience I received and what it meant for my CV was brilliant.

Being able to show that you’ve gained knowledge in the business world of sport not only shows your willingness to work in the sector, it also shows how passionate you are about making it your career. Other advice I would suggest is to work hard in your degree to get the best possible result you can achieve, network with people in the industry at every possible opportunity and be willing to travel to find the role that suits you. Opportunities are limited but if it’s the industry you want to work in don’t be afraid to look abroad for opportunities.'

Tips and tricks of the trade

'Knowledge of how/why people engage with specific content and where they engage with that content was key. Social media in 2019 is all about making it easy for your target audience to engage with your output. All our graphical content is done in four sizes: 1600 x 900, 1080 x 1080, 1080 x 1920 and 1080 x 1350. We also put videos into this size if we have the time. There are little hacks that mean your content is engaged with more. Square video does better on Facebook, 1080 x 1350 is the optimum size for Instagram content, and we post out our major stories on Twitter using square news cards – one of the main factors being that they all mean your content takes up more space on a mobile phone screen.'

The interview

'My interview process began with an initial interview with the head of marketing and head of HR. As it was competency-based I drew on lot of experience at Huddersfield Town. The process also included a second interview, which was with the head of marketing and chief operating officer! This had two aspects: a formal presentation on how I would create a campaign that would increase attendances at Bramall Lane by 3,000 and an informal chat about the role.'

Be aware of your own online presence

'I’m fairly reserved in what I put up on my own accounts. My Twitter is more of a work account where I post SUFC-related information and my Instagram is private. In terms of advice, I would say be careful about what you post. In our recent recruitment process we checked all our final candidates’ social media accounts.'

The most exciting aspects of the job and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) influence

'The most exciting aspect has definitely been the club’s promotion to the Premier League. It really is a whole different animal: SUFC have gone from being broadcast mainly just in the UK to now potentially being live in all but three countries in the world. It’s created massive opportunities for us to capitalise on both the digital and social media sides of the business. Our new brand guidelines have allowed us to make SUFC’s image more minimalistic and modern. Over the course of the past few weeks we’ve seen a massive overhaul in Bramall Lane’s internal image. Sheffield United are a major part of the city’s culture and going to games is a weekly ritual for nearly 30,000 fans, so having the chance to bring SUFC’s brand in line with expectations has been and still is very exciting. The club’s 18/19 season ticket campaign was also great to be a part of. Believe it or not the inspiration came from my GAA background. Sheffield United have two locals as their manager and captain, which is rarely seen in top flight football and is quite similar to how it is at the top inter-county level at GAA. Both manager Chris Wilder and captain Billy Sharp have been involved with United all their lives, whether it be as ball boys, playing or just as fans, so using that sense of belonging we can create an emotive piece that allowed them to tell their stories and how much it meant to them.'

How the players use social media

'All of the players have their heads screwed on, so they are usually spot on in terms of what to do and not to do on social media. However, we do have a social media training session with them every pre-season. We largely encourage them to be themselves on social media. Among football players I think there is an unwritten law where they think they must use certain clichés when they post on their public accounts. During our training, we encourage them to not be afraid to engage with fans and to show more of their personality rather than posting clichés such as "Great to get the three points today" or "We go again". England’s use of social media during the 2018 World Cup was the case study we showed them in terms of best practice.'

What the future holds

'Sheffield United have been great for my career development as I've been able to put my stamp on certain aspects of the business, in particular social media and video. My aim this season is to be more strategic. The increase in marketing staff will, I hope, mean I can strategise in terms of the content we put out. I really want to increase our standards and lead from the front. The digital landscape is another area that I want to explore even further. The user journey that new and old fans go through is a huge chance to generate revenue for businesses in sport. Being able to implement practices and process within Sheffield United to capitalise on the overall fan journey online and in stadium is where I want my future to go. From the purchasing of tickets and the buying of shirts to the content they engage with, being able to create a profile of how fans interact with SUFC is a major aim of mine over the next year. As Sheffield United grows I hope to grow with it.'

This article first appeared in the gradireland directory 2020.

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