A new football season is nearly upon us, and for my club Ross County it’s been a summer of some change. The usual ebb and flow of players has seen some leave, some new faces appear and some return but perhaps the more exciting changes have come off-the-field – at the behest of our innovative chairman.
The club has taken big strides so far this summer with the overall aim of improving the overall fan experience, which is to be commended. Roy McGregor talked in a very interesting interview with the Sunday Mail about extending the free buses to away games programme that were popular at the end of last season as well as making the matchday experience as a whole more comprehensive. We’ve seen Peter Swanson, a former chairman of the club, return as Director of Operations, a new Director of Stakeholder (fan) Liaison appointed at the club, in the shape of former police superintendent David O’Connor and a new Supporter and Customer liaison officer. On Wednesday there’ll also be a meeting to create a formal Ross County Supporters’ Club, which is something I’ve often thought would be a great idea. Seeing the club changing and adapting over the years is fantastic.
Perhaps what will be the most noticeable change though is that the club has begun to create official social media accounts. The fact that it’s taken this long for Ross County to get serious about their social media and internet efforts in general, though, is not only a little embarrassing for the club and the fans who try to shake off the “technologically slow” jibes of fans from the Lowlands but is also a disservice to a widespread fanbase who are perhaps the least centred around their club’s hometown of any in Scotland. Ross County has made considerable efforts in other areas of capitalising on the fact that it is the club of Easter Ross, and more so of the North Highlands in general, through their initiatives such as fan buses and bringing community coaching to even the most far-flung places within its catchment. It’s not done the same with engaging fans online until now.
Before this summer, the only real outlet for any online Ross County activity has been the fan pages on Facebook and Twitter and the OverTheBridge forum. The real growth of these pages was during our famous Scottish Cup run in 2010, when those in charge were well connected with the club and provided up-to-date information about tickets etc. to the masses. As good as they have been, for the most part they rely on hearsay and second-hand reporting now, which isn’t enough in fast moving times. The social media accounts were run by one dedicated fan who is based in the south of England. Inevitably though, one person can’t be expected to keep up such a high level of service on their own with no official backing, so it’s little surprise that the account fell away a little as time went by. Even though we are in the Premiership, we still get a lot of our news about players signing/leaving, matches being rescheduled and other club info from other sites or news outlets. This lack of information also leaves the club open to rumours and misinformation. Transfer windows are always rife with stories that turn out to be untrue, but it has been even harder for Ross County fans when there are no official avenues for the club to confirm or deny rumours.
With the summer change though, there has been movement online from the club. The website has been completely revamped and is much cleaner, sleeker and easier to navigate. We also now have an official Twitter account @RCFCStaggies and an account for the upcoming supporters’ club @RCFCsc. These have already been pretty active even though it’s only pre-season and it’s great to see news from the club appearing in my Twitter feed.
Having the social media accounts is one thing, but running them is another; and I’m still not fully convinced as to whether they’ll provide the service that fans need. Having both the main website (even if it is vastly improved) and the main Twitter account under the “Staggies Together” title doesn’t make it seem any more official or professional than what we had before, just that it is updated more often, and even that remains to be seen as the results of our three pre-season friendlies so far haven’t been published on the site. It’s still early days, and the season hasn’t started, so there is still time to improve – but it’s not been a perfect start.
There is still no official Facebook account, despite that being the most popular social network for fans of the club. I’ve even less confidence in the Ross County Supporters Club Twitter account, whose tweets are littered with poor grammar and misspellings which, although providing good content, don’t paint our fans in the best light. I don’t doubt the dedication and effort of the people behind these accounts and sites for a second, and I thank them for it, but there’s still a ways to go before it is quite at the level of professionalism that comes from other clubs in the Premiership.
We are a small club with a small staff and limited budget, but I know that for the small investment of time it would take that there can be some great benefits beyond just fan engagement from social media. By having a stronger social media presence the club can promote their community coaching, the Staggie Lotto, the club shop and the games themselves even more, and bring in some extra revenue by doing so. It’s become incumbent on clubs to get involved with their fans online, but the club needs to realise that they can go above and beyond the basic level and get much more out of it.
While I applaud the club’s efforts at bringing themselves into the modern age, the transition hasn’t been perfect so far. There’s still room for improvement, and plenty of existing resources that they could use to bring that about. By taking over the old Facebook page, a new Twitter account (perhaps by contacting Twitter to acquire either @RossCounty or @RossCountyFC, which are both inactive) and a site that is updated regularly then the club would be on a firmer ground. If they were to be more ambitious, they could integrate the existing OverTheBridge forum onto their site, provide match reports and previews as the Jailender has done for the past few seasons, and maybe even incorporate the fantastic work done by The Staggie Archive.
Ross County have a fresh new look online for the new season and I’m hoping for good results both on and off the park for the club. With a few more signings in both, I’m confident that it will be a good one.