Social media is the real winner at Euro 2008

Euro 2008 is turning into a cracking tournament. After a slow start, the competition has seen a number of entertaining, close games, with a few upsets along the way. And, as a football junkie, I’ve been getting most of my analysis from blogs, not traditional media.

I’ve managed to catch most games – or at least the highlights – at some point, so match reports aren’t so much of an issue. But for punditry, I’ve barely logged only the sites of traditional media, bar the Guardian (partly because I can’t live without their excellent daily rumour mill).

Even up to the start of Euro 2008, the majority of my online reading was fans forums, BBC Sport online and the Guardian. I’ve barely touched the BBC online for football news, and the Guardian isn’t always first in my reading list.

My netvibes page shows some (but not all) of the blogs I subscribe to, and it’s given plenty of analysis and comments that wouldn’t always be found in newspapers or online for traditional media.

One interesting aspect is many of the blogs deliberately set themselves apart from the rest of the media, and there’s plenty of digs at the way both broadcasters and journalists cover games: the lapsing into cliche, focusing on the big four or the star players, trumpeting the same lines.

Yet these blogs also know their audience, possibly because the writer is part of that audience anyway. Having the pieces stacked up in RSS feeds also makes it easier to skim over the articles I’m not so keen on but, to be honest, there’s very little of that. Pick of the bunch are 200 Per Cent, Soccerlens (yes, I know I write for them), and When Saturday Comes‘ daily post.

But it’s not just blogs that have changed the way I’ve been getting my football fix online. There have been some excellent football-centric Twitter feeds, giving live updates or little snippets of information. Add into this Tweets from non-football specific Twitterers I follow, and there’s a real sense of being part of an ongoing event. It adds that little bit extra – especially when, like me, you’re still in the office for the 5pm kick-offs.

But traditional media isn’t completely left behind – BBC journalist Paul Fletcher has a Twitter feed with plenty of interesting titbits to somebody who has access to areas the rest of us don’t. It’s exactly the kind of thing that shows the value of Twitter to journalists, but is also an opportunity missed. Why? Because, although Fletcheuro2008 has 188 followers, he’s not following anybody, and part of the joys (and respect) in Twitter is the conversational part with other users. Plus the feed isn’t publicised particularly well – I found it after clicking on the (admitedly excellent) You Are The Ref feature on the BBC site.

Nonetheless, it shows that Twitter is getting acceptance from companies like the BBC and is a great example of how engaging with these tools can enhance coverage just that little bit further.

I’ve always maintained that if you want to test new ways of using social media, then sports fans are among the best to test it on – they’re an audience that already has an appetite for the topic and are willing to engage. In some respects, a lot of sports-based social media stuff is a more sophisticated extension of a post-match 5Live phone-in.

Yet it always shows how covering football online has changed and gives indicators as to where it could go. Next season I’ll be following – and engaging – with football in a completely different way that before and that may not necessarily includes well-known media brands.

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