There is no doubt that non-league football is changing both on and off. One of the biggest ways is how we follow the progress of our local club. Gone are the days of waiting for results in the local paper or toggling Ceefax page 328. We live in a world of instant updates and ‘sharable content’ from even the smallest of grassroots teams. The invention of social media means an incident on the football pitch at any level has the potential to reach millions of people within minutes.
Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and especially Twitter can have a real tangible effect on the reputation and fan base of a non-league club. It’s something which some clubs are utilising a lot better than others. This week Chichester City were given a bye in the FA Cup and prize money of £36,000. Within minutes the club tweeted that they would use some of the money to ‘make a donation towards the continuation of Bury FC’. Within the evening, their tweet had gone viral, reaching hundreds of thousands of people, bringing with it a priceless amount of goodwill. In a previous generation, it’s easy to see how the gesture would have been confined to programme notes and an article in the local paper.
You could be forgiven for thinking that 'follows' and 'likes' don’t equate to actual tangible fans through the turnstile, but you’d be wrong. ‘Hashtag United’ are a club who began life as an esports team and social media movement. Last season they entered non-league football. They won promotion to Step 5 at their first attempt and currently sit top of the Essex Senior League with the highest average attendance in the league.
It astonishes me that some clubs more or less ignore social media. Some will only sporadically post a full-time result perhaps a few hours after the game has finished. With clunky, non-mobile friendly league websites, Twitter is increasingly the go-to platform to get results. It also gives fans the chance to follow live updates from games keeping them in touch with matches they can’t be at. Being able to support your club remotely really matters; it increases your emotional investment in the side which in turn makes you more likely to go to games, order merchandise and buy season tickets.
Some local clubs have fully embraced the humour and charm of the non-league match update. A prime example being Winslow United who earlier this season tweeted; “Goal! 7-1! No clue who scored as yet again I’m looking for footballs. Rest of the committee must be busy”. Honest tweets with a bit of humour are shared hundreds of times and increase the clubs reputation.
I fully understand that in a grassroots world, where clubs are run on volunteers scratching around to field a competitive team, keeping up the social media account is a lower priority. But you can’t expect the casual local fan to come through your turn-style if they don’t know when games are on and they’re not able to follow the fortunes of their local club from afar. Harnessing social media has a big part to play in increasing the support and status of a club, which ultimately breeds success on the field too.