Social Media at the Asian Cup: The Inside View
The AFC Asian Cup kicked off last Friday with a big crowd in Melbourne and the Socceroos setting a great vibe for the tournament, beating Kuwait 4-1. I arrived in Sydney on Sunday afternoon after the opening weekend and (after a false start when I left my laptop on the plane disembarking in Sydney – luckily I got it back the following day) I was ready to get involved and meet the Asian Cup digital communications and social media teams. My research on the Asian Cup is part of my PhD project exploring the use of social media in sport, in an effort to understand how a social media team operates at a large scale, international event.
On Monday I arrived in the head office of the AFC Local Organising Committee, and met the digital communications team who were responsible for social media content in the lead up to the competition, and chiefly, running the website and dealing with any kind of communications issues throughout the competition. I learnt that the social media team was based out of the stadium and that I would be able to meet them at the Socceroos v Oman game the following night.
I started off my first day with a chat to Alison Hill, the General Manager of Government Relations and Communications, who gave me the run down on what they have been working on in the lead up to the tournament and explaining the how it all works within the organisation. We had a really good conversation and I learnt a lot about the efforts they had made to promote the tournament, which was relatively unknown in Australians, on their digital platforms. I spent the first two days of the tournament with her team, learning how they manage to keep the website updated throughout each match day, and attending the Socceroos v Oman game with them at Stadium Australia to see them work in real time.
At the game I was introduced to Kapil Chettri, who is the team leader of the social media team, and he invited me to spend the next few days working alongside the socials team to find out what they do and how they do it. The team is based out of the Stadium Australia media centre; live blogging, live tweeting, posting on Facebook and Instagram and spreading Asian Cup news across platforms in six different languages (English, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean). There are eight team members based in Sydney, as well as a number off-site, and interns who go about “news gathering” on the ground at each stadium (I got to do a bit of this as well).
Although I am only four days into my observation period, there have been some interesting issues that have emerged. Firstly, there is the balancing act between being fast and being accurate, satisfying the needs of both the domestic and international audience, as well as keeping all stakeholders happy. In the Asian Cup, like many large scale sporting events, anything can happen or can change at a moment’s notice and the team function in a very reactive way to accommodate this fast-paced environment.
Another interesting observation I have made is in regards to the importance of having a well-drilled team that can act effectively on their own initiative. Though it seems chaotic in the build-up to a match and throughout, each member of the social media team knows what they are doing, and are able to carry out their tasks with little explicit direction from the team leader. Though the content of what is posted on social media changes day-to-day, the team follow an implied structure when posting content – with certain posts required in the build-up to a game (e.g. the match schedule for the day, posts about each host city, match highlights from the previous round and players to look out for), the live tweets (ensuring that images are added to as many posts as possible and providing stats visualisations, half time and full time updates with graphics) and post-game (highlights videos and man of the match). Kapil states that their only explicit strategy is to “tell a story,” and that it is then up to each individual team member to do this with the content that they post.
I will continue to explore these issues and more as the competition progresses. Below are some photos of me in action!