Twitter and football make for a powder keg combination and are rarely out of the news. Wayne Rooney has recently been crowned Britain's most popular (and the world's 6th most popular) athlete on Twitter, after breaking through the 10 million followers barrier - a modern day Roger Bannister if you will. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand, QPR defender and member of Greg Dyke's FA commission (also widely touted as a social media role-model for other footballers), has been hit with a misconduct charge relating to an off-the-cuff response he sent to a critical tweet.
But is Twitter the be all and end all when it comes to British football and social media - after all there are lots of other platforms out there? We decided to investigate football's relationship with social media more generally in SocialLife5*, our regular social tracker.
First of all, we established that over a third (36%) of UK social media users consider themselves to be football 'fans', a similar number (38%) have no interest in football whatsoever and the remainder fall somewhere in between these two extremes. 72% of those who are interested in football support a specific team and it will come as no surprise that Man Utd (11%), Liverpool (10%) and Arsenal (7%) have the largest fan-bases.
Overall, 59% of supporters follow their team on a social media platform. Whereas football news stories typically originate on Twitter, it is actually Facebook where football fans are most likely to engage with their team: 44% follow on Facebook, 23% on Twitter, 12% on YouTube, 5% on Google+ and 3% on Instagram.
Vine - the popular video sharing service owned by Twitter, that has been criticised by The Premier League for hosting unofficial clips of football action, uploaded instantly by fans at matches - is one up-and-coming platform that football clubs have been slow to utilise, registering less than 1% engagement overall.
Of course, many football fans have a blind allegiance to their club, but what do they actually think about the quality of social engagement that is being delivered on these platforms. In fact, football as an industry performs strongly on our '1= awful, 10 = brilliant' sociability scale, with an average of 7.9 out of 10. This compares very favourably with other service providers like Airlines (8.0), Supermarkets (7.8), Banks (7.8), Mobile Networks (7.5), Utilities (7.1) and ISPs (6.9). Manchester City tops the sociability league table among clubs with large fan-bases, with a score of 8.9 - just ahead of Arsenal (8.5) - whereas long-suffering Newcastle Utd (6.6) and Leeds Utd (6.8) supporters are least enamoured.
Interestingly, only 24% of football fans follow individual footballers on social media - compared with 59% who follow their team. Our research confirms that Rooney is the most followed British footballer across all social media, just ahead of Steven Gerrard, outspoken Joey Barton and aforementioned Rio Ferdinand. However, all of these English stars are surpassed by Cristiano Ronaldo who leads the way in the UK as well as globally. Other international stars in the UK top 10 are (Super) Mario Balotelli, Lionel Messi and Mesut Özil, all of whom outperform up-and-coming English stars such as Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge.
Whilst Twitter is an obvious hunting ground for sports journalists looking for the latest incendiary comment, our research clearly demonstrates that football clubs are generally making great use of social platforms - Facebook in particular - to create a positive dialogue with their fan bases.
*SocialLife5 surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3,300 UK social media users aged 11+ in September 2014. For further details, please contact Lee Langford at firstname.lastname@example.org