Social Influencer Series | AS Roma Head of Digital, Paul Rogers
The first time I met Paul Rogers, we were tracking a global conversation on social media around the retirement of Italian soccer legend, Francesco Totti. In seven days there were over two million interactions across fifty-eight countries worldwide. While 44% of the conversation was happening in Italy, 56% of the conversation was circling the globe. Talk about a "connected world", but that is the phenomenon of AS Roma and the award-winning social strategy they are driving is creating a global brand.
Paul Rogers is Head of Digital Media at AS Roma, one of the world’s most famous football clubs. Paul is based in Boston, where the Italian club’s ownership is headquartered, and is responsible for the club’s content activities across all digital and social platforms. Prior to joining Roma in January 2015, Paul spent 14 years working for Liverpool Football Club and one of the most iconic sporting brands in the world. He was responsible for developing and leading the club’s international media strategy – helping the club to communicate with over 25 million followers in 18 different languages every day.
I caught up recently with Paul Rogers, after AS Roma was nominated for the "Best Use of Content on a Social Platform" and "Best Sports Content Marketing Campaign" in the 2017 Drum Content Awards.
Here's is a snapshot of what he had to say:
You have built one of the most dynamic and passionate followings in all of sports on social media. What was the tipping point for you when you realized that the changing world of social was where you needed to put your focus?
I’m not sure there has ever been one moment that acted as a tipping point. Instead, I think it’s just been a gradual evolution of how people – and fans – have changed their online habits and the way they choose to consume content. When that happens, you either adapt your strategy or you no longer reach your own audience. It’s a bit like the record companies; when people started to stream music and share digital files, they tried to fight the consumers and, in some cases, even sue them because they didn’t want their very lucrative business model that had always served them so well disrupted. That approach was basically a disaster for the record industry and provided a massive opportunity for the likes of Apple, and later Spotify, two companies who put the consumer first, to exploit.
I remember when social media, as we know it now, first started. I was Head of Content at Liverpool FC and we, like Roma, were one of the first clubs to really embrace the new trends and social platforms. When I was at Liverpool, Roma were actually the first club to launch on Pinterest, for example, and then Liverpool became the second. For Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and Twitter, we were certainly one of the first – if not the first - on some of those platforms.
However, I think I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also slightly conscious that we shouldn’t just go ‘all in’ on social media and just disregard everything else we were doing with our own platforms.
In the back of my mind, I always thought that we needed to be careful because it’s like building a big new house on someone else’s land. What happens if a particular social platform disappears or, worse, completely changes the rules further down the line? My thinking, eight or nine years ago, was that it’s their platform and they could do whatever they like with it in the future to maximize their profits and their value – regardless of how that affected the brands who were basically enjoying free rent on their platforms.
Looking back, I actually think it’s played out much as I thought it would. The likes of Facebook convinced sports teams to migrate their fan bases onto their platforms. We, sports teams, basically provided free advertising for Facebook and incentives for our fans to join the social platforms. Then once we’d driven millions of fans to those platforms, the social networks told us that our rivals now had even fans on their platforms so we needed to work even harder to get more fans to sign up to Facebook.
Then, once our millions of fans were on the social networks, we were told we needed to provide more content to engage these very fans. Then we were told that rather than post links for our fans to visit our owned platforms or consume content elsewhere, we needed to post all our content on their platforms natively so fans wouldn’t need to leave the social network.
Then we were informed that we needed to make the content visual and video-centric and exclusive and live or short-form or long-form or 360. Then finally, we were all told that the algorithm had now changed, so now we’re going to need to pay if we want to actually reach more than 5% of your own fans.
I’ve got to hold my hands up and say it’s been an absolutely genius strategy by the social networks. It’s their platform, we’re just the tenants. If I had been working for a social network, I would have done exactly the same.
Now, having said all that, we are where we are and now it’s a case of adapt or die. We all use social networks because, more often than not, they offer a more rewarding experience than most websites. The consumers have made their choice and they’ve chosen social networks and you can either try and fight that and force fans to do something else because it suits your old business model – like the record companies tried and failed – or you can embrace it, work with the social networks and take on the challenge.
I think we’ve embraced social media and ultimately, we’ve found that the same rules apply regardless of the platform – content is either great or it’s not. If it’s great, it will do well. If it’s just average, it won’t resonate with fans and it won’t be seen.
That’s fair and it makes sense because now attention and time is the only currency that really matters. There’s so much content out there competing for our attention that people simply don’t have time to devote to things that are average. Even being good is not enough anymore – you have to be great.
It’s hard to be great all the time – and we’re certainly not great all the time – but that’s the challenge we face and ultimately, it’s great news for the consumer because brands have to up their game and work harder to deliver a better experience for the consumer.
So many brands and organizations want to drive traffic back to a website. How do you distinguish your efforts in social vs your efforts to drive web traffic?
I think that’s the old way of doing things and something we have been working hard to address over the last couple of years. We worked with Omnigon, our digital partner, to launch a new official website in December 2015 because our old website was no longer fit for purpose in the age of social media. We believed then – and we believe now - that there is still a place for a club website in the digital space. It allows us to create a richer and deeper content offering for fans and allows us to control the experience so that fans can find all the content in one place.
The website has been a real success. We’ve more than doubled page impressions, unique visitors and time spent on site since launching and earlier this year the site was actually awarded ‘Best in Class’ status at the Interactive Media Awards.
However, we’ve achieved this success by adopting a social-first strategy.
What that means is that we have stopped this outdated practice of simply driving fans to the website for no reason other than to increase website page impressions. We had to sit down and ask ourselves some tough questions: Why do we have a website? What is the actual purpose of the website? Why do we feel the need to constantly try and drive fans off social media, where they are happy, to go to our website? If it was just to increase page impressions then that’s not putting the fan first or delivering a great fan experience.
We changed how we operated on social media and tried to really put the fans first at all times – what that means in this context is delivering content natively on social media if it can be consumed on social rather than trying to force people to visit a website for no reason.
We have enough great content on our website – content that’s really suited to being on a website - and we will use social media to direct fans to come and consume it. But what we won’t do is just put something on our website that would be more suited to being on social media just to increase page impressions because in the end, fans know when they are being tricked or when someone is wasting their time for ulterior motives. As consumers ourselves, we don’t like click-bait social posts, so if we don’t like them, we shouldn’t be trying to force them on our own followers.
Great article proclaiming that AS Roma revels in being the weirdest football club on social media. How do you create that personality on social media? What is the goal?
It was The Drum that first used that term ‘weird’ when writing about what we were doing on social media in the summer with transfer announcements and it was probably the perfect description of that campaign. We set out to do something very unconventional with the transfer announcement campaign.
Every summer, football clubs announce new signings, so across Europe and the wider world, there’s probably thousands of player announcements being released and we wanted to be different and make people sit up and take notice.
We also wanted to inject some fun back into football because everything is so serious these days. Most of the conversation on social media around football transfers involve net spend, financial fair play, illegal approaches, greedy agents, a lack of loyalty, release clauses and a whole host of other legal and financial terms. It’s like you almost need to be an accountant or a lawyer to understand what clubs are doing in this modern age of football.
We wanted to make people laugh and demonstrate that we don’t take ourselves too seriously as a lot of clubs can become very pretentious when it comes to player announcements. So we decided to include goats in trees, kidnappings, typing monkeys, icebergs, fidget spinners, slime and singing lions in our videos. As the summer went on, we made our videos stranger and stranger and the feedback was great – not just from our own fans, but also from fans of other clubs.
e set out to entertain people and by the end, people just wanted Roma to sign new players so they could see a new announcement video. Club’s unveiling of their video announcements became an event in themselves and all across football, these videos were becoming a new genre.
The Daily Mirror, one of the biggest newspapers in England, ran a countdown of the Top 20 player announcement videos of the summer and Roma occupied four out of the Top 5 places and 25% of the list in total. We’re an Italian club and that’s an English newspaper, so we definitely created a buzz.
At the end of the day, to use a football cliché, it was just us having some fun with fans during the off-season and I think there were a lot of supporters from other clubs around the world who came away having enjoyed our approach to social media. We’re not going to persuade an Arsenal or Bayern Munich fan to switch clubs but if some of them decide that Roma are their favourite Italian club, that’s no bad thing.
You are an Italian Football Club with an international fan base. How do you engage with fans worldwide AND localize the content?
We’re an Italian football club with a global fan base and a global outlook. We’re proudly Italian and even more proud to represent the city of Rome. People travel from all over the world to visit Rome – it’s one of the most magical cities in the world and people fall in love with it as soon as they come. We want them to fall in love with Roma too and experience the intense passion that the fans in Rome feel for their local club.
Every day we use content to engage with our fans – both the local fans who live and breathe the club and also fans from much further afield who have taken Roma to their heart. We do that by localizing content rather than simply translating it. What works in Rome, doesn’t necessarily work in New York or London and we also find that just because something is very popular in Jakarta, it may not work as well in Cairo. We have set up very localized social media accounts and teams in different territories and by using local people, we can better tailor our content for the intended audience. As with everything though, it all comes down to entertaining content. No amount of localization can transform bad content into good content.
What are the biggest trends you are seeing in social media?
Video is everything – but audio is making a comeback! It could be VR, AR, 360, live, whatever, but this new generation doesn’t really want to read – I know, because my daughters treat books like kryptonite and I’m not sure they even know what a newspaper is. They want to consume visual content and they want it live and on-demand, snackable and in depth, unfiltered and epic.
They want great stories that move them, stories that resonate with them personally and stories that entertain them and empower them. It’s about the user – it’s not about the brand. What does sharing this piece of content say about me? What does interacting with this brand on social media tell my peers? It used to be about the brand but now it’s about the individual. The best brands –Coca-Cola, Emirates, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify – they understood it was all about the consumer a long time ago. We have a lot to learn from them.
Celebratory Cocktail when AS Roma's wins? “I’m more of a beer drinker – so I’ll say Sierra Nevada.”
Biggest moment for you in social? “Whenever any of my hip-hop heroes from the late 80s engage with my tweets. I’m a big music fan, so I still find it incredible you can directly engage with people you grew up listening to like Chuck D, Eric B and Masta Ace.”
Go to social channel for the club? “Instagram probably performs best for engagement.”
Go to social channel for you? “Twitter. Every day something on there will make me laugh, smile or think.”
Inspirational #Hashtag? #BlackLivesMatter
About the interviewer:
Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East and Central. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally.
e: firstname.lastname@example.org or t: @markkeaney2pt0