The field behind the screen : social capital and the social media communications of a football club brand

Fenton, A ORCID: 2018, The field behind the screen : social capital and the social media communications of a football club brand , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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Football is an incredibly popular sport around the world. It boasts hundreds of millions of networked fans interacting with their favourite clubs through social media channels and content. This study aimed to discover how social media is used by fans and the role of social capital relating to Digital Marketing. It uses the buyer persona spring with social capital theory in order to better understand channels, content and data. Football clubs are wrestling with questions around the use and maximisation of online communications and this study provides both practical and academic contributions in this important area. It presents a literature review, drawing upon the established disciplines of Information Systems and Marketing to contribute to the evolving discipline of Digital Marketing.

This interpretive study used social capital as a theoretical framework and lens on the data, with authors such as Putnam (2001) and Lin (1999) being key. Salford City Football Club (SCFC) was used as a vehicle for this research. During the period of study, social media was playing a critical role in their evolution from an unknown non-league football club to becoming better known around the world. The study used a blended methods approach as part of a netnography. Ethnography is the study of people, and netnography is a well established framework for conducting ethnography online (Kozinets, 2015). The qualitative methods of interview, participant observation and social network analysis (SNA) were blended for the primary data collection. Two years of participant observation were blended with insights from SNA visualisations and 33 semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants. The findings were further tested by utilising primary and secondary data from other clubs to make them more generalisable. This blended methods approach also provides a methodological contribution.

This thesis found that clubs should identify, segment and engage their fans wherever they are in the world. They should consider the development and cultivation of social capital through online interaction, content and encouragement of fan led content and groups. Social capital can be developed and grown online, which concurred with the findings of Lin (1999) and Bauernschuster et al. (2014). Clubs should interact with fans and also engage with weakly connected lurker fans through appropriate social media channels and content. If these groups are not engaged online, social media communications risk being drowned out. This is due to the social media algorithms, which are designed to deliver relevant and emotive content to fans. Social capital was therefore found to be a key enabler for football clubs to engage fans through social media channels and content in order to strengthen their brands.

The thesis presents a pyramid model, which highlights the synergy between types of social capital, types of fan and types of Internet user. The research provides implications for other organisations with social media followers, and highlights the key role of lurker fans as real people who have great value to brands. Lurkers can be engaged directly by football clubs, increasing their connection to a club and also enhancing the partnerships and sponsorship potential of brands. This study created new insights into online behaviour within sports fan social media communities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Schools: Schools > Salford Business School > Salford Business School Research Centre
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Depositing User: Dr Alex Fenton
Date Deposited: 22 May 2018 12:44
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2022 14:17

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