Thoughts on the design aside, what followed for the club serves as an important reminder for communicators and community managers about the importance and power of connecting with and acknowledging your community offline.
One of the most noticeable changes to the jersey was the switch of logo to the Liver Bird that adorned the jersey back in the club’s glory days of the 70s and 80s – omitting the twin flames of the previous logo which represent the memorial that burns in honour of those 96 fans that lost their lives in the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 – one of the darkest days in the club’s history.
These flames and the number 96 have been moved to the back of the jersey for next season’s kit.
While the club promoted and followed buzz surrounding the jersey among the online community using the #LFCkit hashtag, it was the reaction of the families of the Hillsborough disaster that sparked anger offline, and threatened to envelop the club in a PR disaster.
It was claimed in this BBC piece that while the Hillsborough Family Support Group were consulted about the proposed changes to the jersey, no individual family members of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough were consulted, and neither were members of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign – who claimed the actions of the club to be “insensitive, divisive and deplorable.”
Although the club moved promptly and with transparency to defend its consultation process and reinforce its respect for the 96 who lost their lives and their families, the incident highlighted an important lesson for communicators.
That is, in a world of increased connectivity where we are all networked, it is just as important to pay attention to, and consult the community offline, as well as online.
In a panel discussion at Blogworld New York 2011, Gary Vaynerchuk called on brands and attendees to wholeheartedly embrace the feedback and voice of the online community. After all, if someone is saying something about you, wouldn’t you like to know, and wouldn’t you like the opportunity to address their concerns?
While I agree one hundred percent, this example serves as a reminder that brands need to remember and acknowledge that their communities exist in real life (IRL), as well as virtually.
Moreover, there are some scenarios in which consultation IRL is the appropriate way to communicate – and that failing to do so threatens to damage the reputation of the organisation in the domain of traditional and social media, with each potentially feeding the other.
Yes, brands and organisations now have the gift of community that comes with utilising the plethora of social and connected platforms available, but these communities and methods of communicating should not be at the expense of in-person communication and the maintenance and consultation of a physical community IRL.
Communities exist offline and online.
What do you think?
How do you balance connecting your community virtually and IRL? Are there any other case studies you feel add to this area and are worth acknowledging?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.