NOT JUST A HASHTAG: THE FA WALES AND THE EMBODIMENT OF #TOGETHERSTRONGER

Image Credit: FA Wales

Every football organisation aims to create an engaging creative campaign for business objectives, such as selling Champions League ticket packages or increasing Supporters Club membership uptake. But do these campaigns really engage with the fans, or are they simply a box ticking exercise by the organisations? Do the corporate bigwigs really believe in what they are pushing to the fans and practise what they preach?

With the devastation of Wales dropping out of the Euro Qualifying Campaign at the final hurdle and heartbreak over the resignation of Chris Coleman as manager of the national team, we decided to look at fan reaction to the news and FA Wales social media content to discover how the FAW portrayed themselves and were perceived by the fans after the campaign was over.

The FAW posted an official statement announcing Coleman’s resignation on Twitter on 17th November, then followed this up two days later with a video dedicated to him. A touching montage of his time as manager, it was described on Twitter as “a lovely farewell tribute”. The FAW’s communications regarding the resignation were tagged with #DiolchChris (“Thanks Chris”).

We used the powerful combination of social media listening and semiotics to analyse the video and fan reaction to it. Did the FAW mirror or, perhaps, influence fan sentiment and conversation? If so, how?

FAN LOVE FOR COOKIE

To kick off, we wanted to discover how fans reacted to Coleman’s departure, so we powered up Brandwatch. Restricting our search to Wales and looking at mentions featuring terms relating to Welsh football, the chart below shows a clear spike in conversation on 17th November, tailing off around 21st November.

We then refined our search to look for references to Chris Coleman in particular. These also spiked on the 17th, demonstrating that news of his resignation drove this rise in conversation:

To look more closely at the content of the conversation, the topic cloud below gives an overview of the themes present in the dataset. This shows some emotional reactions, including #DiolchChris (Thanks Chris) and “Absolutely gutted”.

In order to gather more insights from the data, we looked at Twitter posts in more detail. We discovered that fan opinion of Coleman’s resignation was almost unanimous. Almost all fans were sad to see him go, frequently expressing this with emotionally intense language:

thanks for the memories you gave us at the euros

Coleman has taken Welsh football to another level and took us all on a crazy journey dreaming the impossible dream. We got the best summer of any of our lives last year and what you achieved will never be forgotten

Getting totes emotional reading posts from @FAWales players saying #DiolchChris to cookie

What you’ve done for Welsh football will stay in my heart always

Thanks for the best summer ever

Guided Wales through our greatest ever time as a nation, thank you will never be enough!

A smaller proportion of fans were more critical, but even they were broadly supportive of Coleman himself. A number criticised the FAW for letting him go and others expressed puzzlement that he should leave Wales to manage Sunderland:

Chris Coleman has taken the joke too far, be a hell of a hangover when he wakes up in the morning & realises what he’s done

Gutted but also baffled as to why he’d leave for Sunderland?! He can do better than that

The overall unity of fan opinion is extremely surprising. Previous football research we have conducted showed deep division among football fan communities. This united fanbase could have been created around Coleman himself and his successes with the team, but does the FAW foster this unity among fans? If so, how is this leveraged to encourage a supportive community in Welsh football?

A TOUCHING VIDEO TRIBUTE

In order to answer this question, we used semiotics to analyse some of the FAW’s communications, in particular a video montage posted in tribute to Coleman. This expertly tapped into the emotions experienced by fans after his departure and was well received on Twitter:

Awesome video, he’s a legend

Great video which sums up how committed Coleman was to the Welsh national team, as well as to grassroots football

It elicited some extremely strong reactions from fans, with some reduced to tears:

Haven’t been feeling too bad about it until I saw that video, safe to say it hit me hard

I can’t believe I just cried at this Chris Coleman montage

I just cried!

But why was this video so effective? Fan reaction tells us that it was a tearjerker but what specific signs created this reaction in fans? And, although this video was a tribute to Coleman, what story does it tell about the FAW itself? We used semiotics to find out.

SEMIOTICS EXPLAINED

Semiotics is a methodology that can help us to understand the communication of meaning. It involves the study of signs – in semiotics, a ‘sign’ is defined as anything which can carry meaning. This can be anything, including but not limited to words, phrases, images, logos, fonts, colours and gestures. A semiotic analysis interrogates these signs, interpreting them within their cultural context. It can provide powerful insights for brands and organisations, allowing the effective communication of brand values to the public in a culturally meaningful way.

Semiotics can therefore be of great value in any creative communications, including graphic design, creative campaigns, brand identity, and brand communications in all mediums from print to video and beyond.

This video from the FAW offers an excellent case study. The following analysis will show how it effectively communicates values such as togetherness to football fans, while also engaging with their emotions about Coleman’s resignation.

The FAW supports Welsh culture

Signs relating to Wales are used in the video, including the national flag and an image of the word “Cymru”. Welsh language is used to thank Chris (“Diolch Chris”). There are also quotations from Coleman demonstrating his commitment to Welsh football as a whole and his personal attachment to the national anthem:

Welsh football is in a good position and it’s moving forward and this is fantastic and what it’s all about

Standing there singing the national anthem is something that is indescribable

These signs demonstrate a commitment to Welsh football and support for Welsh culture. This shows an understanding of the importance of Welsh culture and identity on the part of the FAW.

The FAW is warm and human, rather than detached and corporate

Image Credit: FA Wales

The phrase “Diolch Chris” frames the video – it is shown at the end of the montage and is also present as a hashtag in tweets promoting the video and announcing his departure. Welsh for ‘Thanks Chris’, it is the antithesis of a detached, corporate statement, but is instead warm, friendly, intimate and heartfelt. It portrays Welsh football as a supportive community and suggests that the FAW is human and sincere, rather than impersonal.

This is reinforced by images in the video itself. Coleman is seen wearing a suit several times, alongside other images of FAW officials, but the fact that we also see him smiling, laughing, joking and celebrating Welsh successes like a fan, humanises him. It signals that someone in a corporate, leadership role can be warm, human and engaged with fans. By extension, this humanises the FAW as an organisation.

Welsh football, supported by the FAW, is #TogetherStronger

Image Credit: FA Wales

Discussing Coleman’s resignation, one fan stated:

Sad to see #Cookie leave, he has done so much to restore our belief in the National Team #TogetherStronger could have been just a #saying a #hashtag but he made us all believe in this

The same could be said here of the FAW. By using signs that code “togetherness” in this video, the FAW subtly portray themselves as genuinely supporting the principle of #TogetherStronger. It is portrayed as being not just a hashtag but a fundamental value of the organisation.

There are many signs of togetherness throughout this video, including Coleman:

  • Interacting with young football fans
  • Verbally asserting his support for grassroots football (“They love it the kids don’t they…fantastic”)
  • Signing autographs and taking selfies
  • Explicitly thanking fans for their support (“Hope you’re coming to France with us and you bring us some good luck”)
  • Watching players train, presenting him as a solid support for the team
  • Celebrating with the team, showing the rapport that exists between them

These signs code community with fans (including young fans), the team and other officials. The presence of people from all of these groups in the video suggests that they are all part of the same team working together for the good of Welsh football. One of the most powerful indicators of togetherness is at the end of the video. Coleman is leaving the stadium to the cheers of the crowd and raises his hand to clasp that of a fan. In the context of this video and the #TogetherStronger messaging, this is a strong signal of togetherness and community, as well as being a direct (physical) connection between the fans and the leadership of the game. This signals that the upper echelons of the sport are literally within reach of fans.

This video tells the story of #TogetherStronger; it is not just restricted to a hashtag, but is here made into a fundamental part of their communications. #TogetherStronger is used by fans and the FAW alike on socials, but the FAW take it further, ensuring that its underlying meaning is rigorously understood and clearly communicated in ways beyond the hashtag itself. The FAW is therefore portrayed as being genuinely supportive of the principle of #TogetherStronger and committed to building a strong community for the good of Welsh football.

By providing a thorough understanding of the meaning of a brand (and brand hashtag) and how that meaning can be communicated to an audience in other ways, semiotics can help provide a solid social media strategy for hashtags and beyond, ensuring meaningful communication that will have cultural and emotional resonance for your audience.

For a bespoke analysis of your brand communications on social media, contact us @DI_insights.

This research was powered by our pals at Brandwatch.

 

© Disruptive Insight 2015.