Manchester United Marketing Case Study

When you continue down both pages on Facebook you’ll see this trend continue. Clearly, Cristiano Ronaldo is getting more engagement than Manchester United on Facebook. Again, it seems that Richard Arnold’s claims don’t quite add up. Where this leaves the world’s major religions is up for debate but I’m going out on a limb and saying that Richard Arnold was wrong.

What Can We Learn from Manchester United’s Social Media Marketing?

Despite Richard Arnold’s claims, there is no doubt that Manchester United do get a large amount of social engagement. But, the question is, despite the astronomical followings that the worlds’ major sports teams have, how we apply what they do to our own campaigns? The majority of us won’t have anywhere near the budgets that the major sports teams have but there are some things we can learn. Now, clearly becoming England’s most successful football team goes a long way to build and encourage engagement but for those of you who don’t know football, for the last 3 years or so Manchester United have not been performing anywhere even close to their level of the past 25 years. The double edged sword of sports marketing means on one hand that you already have an incredibly loyal and bought-in fan base to utilise; but your marketing is also inextricably linked to your sporting success. With a global product like the Premier League, many newer fans may be much more likely to switch to a rival club. To ensure that doesn’t happen you run campaigns like this…


Another quick bit of background, Paul Pogba is a French player that Manchester United had in their youth academy. Despite being very highly rated they decided to sell him to Juventus of Turin, Italy in 2012 for somewhere in the region of £800k, not even small change in the football world. Well it turns out that the young Frenchman did have talent after all, quite a lot of it as it happens. The summer of 2016 rolls around and after weeks of media speculation, Paul Pogba moves to Manchester United and their bank balance is suddenly in the region of £90m lighter. What do you do when you break the world transfer record for a player? Your social media team goes into overdrive and #POGBACK is born (and you also quietly gloss over the fact you’re on the wrong end of a 13,650% price increase)

That tweet above is United’s most successful ever in terms of reach and engagement, and everything about it was planned. But it wasn’t the first in the campaign. That honour belongs to this one:

Again for those that don’t know, this was to announce that Pogba had been given permission to have a medical with United. In the world of football transfers this means that the deal is all but done and the buying club has their doctors look over the player to make sure they’re not buying a crock. It’s quite rare for transfers to fall through at this stage but it’s worth pointing out that nothing was yet concrete. The marketing department was already in full swing by this point though. Pogba had been in Manchester having his photos taken for all the marketing collateral to be used on the site, in videos and on social media. Everything was building up to this point. The traditional media is of course vital to all sporting organisations but social is now arguably at the front. That tweet was published at 3pm UK time and for very good reason. People in Asia (a core market for Manchester United and the Premier League in general) would still be awake; people in Europe would be mid-way through their day and people in the Americas (N. America in particular is a major emerging market) would just be waking up. Simply put, it showcased their content in front of the widest possible audience and it paid off. So while the overwhelming majority of us can’t rely on our clients breaking world transfer records to form the basis of our social campaigns, we can adopt the same approach. Most of this is Social Media 101 but it’s amazing how many brands and business still don’t follow these rules.

Timing is key

With the above example, #POGBACK is an example of an extremely well executed, multi-channel marketing campaign and a lot of that is down to timing as well as building up anticipation. But how does #POGBACK translate into something you can use? Well, the same approach could work for a product launch. Often, when a company releases a new product, details or images are “leaked” beforehand giving the audience a sneak preview of the product. The same happened with the #POGBACK campaign. Grime artist (and Manchester United fan) Stormzy & Adidas “leaked” a video of him performing wearing a Manchester United shirt with Pogba dancing in the background. At the end of the video we see Pogba wearing the same shirt with his name on the back, therefore leaving viewers to assume that he’s already signed for Manchester United and likely jumping to their preferred social media profile and shouting about it. The video was subsequently deleted, adding to the hype, but not before eager fans had screenshotted and shared the video. The video had done it’s job. It had created the necessary buzz and excitement, as if there needed to be any! If you have a new product due to launch, can you “leak” information about it beforehand? Do you have the budget to create a video or perhaps some images alluding to the fact that a new product is coming? Perhaps you could take the Apple approach and drip feed information about your new product slowly over a period of time? Either concept can be a great way to get people to create content about your company or product and start the conversation online. Among the excitement built by leaks or drip fed information comes content created in blogs and forums with people questioning what is happening and what features the new product will have etc. This concept, done through your social channels when leading up to a product launch can help to build excitement and anticipation among your audience and hopefully in turn, more sales. I’m amazed when we see brands who still don’t know their social media audiences. At the very least, any social media manager should know what days and what times their audience is most active. There are a number of social media monitoring tools that will be able to do this.

5 tools to help you with social analytics

We should be delving deeper though, we should know not only what sort of content our audiences like, but when they like it. It may be the case that long form content like blog posts etc. performs better in the early evenings as people commute home from work. Does video content work best when people are on their lunchbreaks?

Know what your audience wants (and then mix it up to see if it works).

You may know which content performs best and you should absolutely keep things ticking over and provide your audience with what they want. This will keep your audience engaged; you’ll keep getting the traffic and engagement and everything will be hunky dory. BUT, you should also never be afraid to experiment. We’re advocates of allowing some experimental budget for your social campaigns. You can keep your regular content coming and at the same time try new things. You’ll soon work out what else works and what doesn’t. In many ways (depending on your clients/who’s social media accounts that you manage) even if you find that in your experimenting, you go too far and end up with a dreaded #socialmediafail, it might just be the exposure that your brand/product needed! *Note this isn’t something we’d advise for everyone! Essentially, the only way that you’ll stumble upon something you never expected is to try something new.

Resources to help with social media experiments

  1. Go buy the book “Oversubscribed” by Daniel Priestly.

Though this book doesn’t specifically cover social media, Daniel has an interesting take on why businesses should dedicate a significant amount of their budget to marketing experiments.

  1. Create a Trello board dedicated to potential social experiments

Allow all members of your team to submit ideas to your Trello board. Give your staff only one requirement – all experiment ideas must have a hypothesis so that you know what you’re going to be measuring against and why.

  1. Try The Bullseye Framework described by Brian Balfour.

This is a simple framework that will help you prioritise all your ideas and potential social media experiments.

Make sure you measure it.

Social media measurement & reporting can be tricky as you need to know what matters to you and your business, only then can you truly evaluate whether your campaign has been a success or not. Many people, even now, still simply look at the figures for reach and retweets etc. and assume they’ve done a good job. You need to define beforehand what you will consider as success. In the #POGBACK campaign, clearly the goal was simply as much exposure and interaction as possible (which is made clear by this video). But what about you, if you’re trying to get people so sign up to your service, or download an app and all you get is a load of re-tweets, is that good?

2 ways to improve your social media reporting

  1. Have a clear measurement plan.

When it comes to measurement planning, consider the frameworks outlined in by Google in their Analytics Academy Series to help you stay focused on your primary goals for a campaign. Try not to waste your time curating data from multiple platforms and trying to combine all of the data in Excel. A number of the social analytics tools noted above feature in-built reporting. Consider also: Falcon, Talkwaker and Quintly. I think one of the reasons that Manchester United said they were getting engagement on a par with celebrities & major religions is that they set themselves some very clear benchmarks that they wanted to hit and were able to measure and analyse the data in such a way as to find out what they wanted to. Robust measurement will help you learn as much as you can from your campaign and also help you immeasurably (see what I did there) when it comes to reporting on campaigns to clients and/or senior management. So are Manchester United getting engagement that’s bigger than most celebrities and religion? No. Obviously not. But they’re not doing bad that’s for sure. Perhaps you want to be as big as religion, or up there with Justin Bieber and Cristiano Ronaldo? If you’re looking for help growing your social following and engagement, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch using the form below:

About us

Our environmental journey began in 2000 when we built The Trafford Training Centre at Carrington. The site is an environmentally sensitive area so we decided to go all-out and demonstrate best practice in terms of sustainability.

Right now, we're one of the only football clubs to hold so many eco-standards, including:

  • Carbon Reduction Commitment 2011: joint first place along with 22 other organisations for their energy management and carbon reductions
  • ISO14001: for establishing an environmental management system 
  • The Carbon Trust Standard for Energy Efficiency and Carbon Reduction 
  • ISO20121: for Event Sustainability Management recently awarded prior to staging  Olympics Football events at Old Trafford
  • Green Tourism Business Scheme: their Gold Standard for environmental best practice was recently awarded to the Manchester United Museum & Tour Centre and the Red Café

About the ground

Old Trafford needs no introduction. It’s the second biggest stadium in the country, with a whopping capacity of 75,811 people. Our weekday home is the extensive training ground, The Trafford Training Centre – with its 14 football pitches, MUTV studio, training and rehabilitation areas, sports facilities, a restaurant, conference rooms, offices and classrooms and is currently in the process of further developments.

Environmental initiatives

We have two main environmental awareness initiatives. The ‘Reds Go Green’ focuses on waste efficiency and recycling. This initiative is promoted by the Education Team in the Manchester United Museum, delivering lessons on sustainability to a number of local schools and covers areas such as best practice, waste management and recycling.

‘United to Switch Off and Save’ is our energy efficiency programme that encourages members of staff to act as energy champions and promote energy efficient practices at work. This campaign is strongly supported by the Energy Management team using their Building Energy Management Systems to manage the computer based control systems.

We also work in partnership with WRAP, on a project to encourage our suppliers to adopt environmental practices on resource efficiency. The previous very successful supply chain programme with Envirowise engaged over 70 of our suppliers over a five year period who between them saved over £500,000 in the process.

Environmental features:

  • Rainwater at Old Trafford is recycled and used for pitch irrigation and maintenance.
  • No waste materials are sent to landfill as any products that can’t be recycled are sent to a local Waste to Energy plant managed by our waste contractors Viridor. Waste food is also sent for composting.
  • We created a nature reserve at Carrington, which we maintain with Cheshire Wildlife Trust. It has grassland and ponds both important habitats for wildlife; red admiral butterflies, meadow pipits and grey partridges have all made their home there. Two lagoons are also used as part of the waste water treatment system.
  • The training centre also features a lagoon with reed bed technology, where dirty water is cleaned and recycled in order to provide water for the pitches. A borehole was also introduced to assist with water self-sufficiency.
  • A wide range of products are sent for re-use or recycled including glass, plastics, cans, green waste from our pitches, wood, surplus event materials like carpets and signage boards, office stationery and marketing materials. Printed publications are now produced from sustainable sources. Old IT equipment and printer cartridges are recycled or re-used and donated for charitable purposes.
  • One of our most successful eco-programmes was the Nike ‘ReUSE-A-Shoe’ initiative which recycled worn out trainers into premium sports surfaces. These were then used in all weather conditions for a variety of sports including football, tennis, basketball and running tracks.
  • We were awarded the first Gold Standard Award in the Trafford area by the Keep Britain Tidy Group.

What next?

‘It’s all about maintenance and moving things on with continuous improvement,’ says Keith McIntosh, the club’s Health, Safety and Environment Manager. ‘We have good commitment and leadership from the top – and the support of our staff. The professional approach demonstrated by some of our key staff is outstanding.

The Theatre of Dreams needs no introduction. The club's big environmental achievements have been realised here and at their training ground in Carrington.

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