Manchester United have become the first Premier League side to reach 100 million global followers on social media.
The Red Devils, recently valued as football’s first $1bn club brand, have passed the landmark number across 10 social networks despite being a relative newcomer to channels including Twitter (July 2013) & WeChat (April 2015).
Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 1.44 billion monthly active users, accounts for almost two thirds of United’s digital fan base.
United’s social media presence has grown more than 200% in the last two years, from 33m in May 2013, despite the team failing to win any major trophies in that period.
United’s presence across Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, the micro-blogging equivalents to Twitter in China, makes up almost 14% of the team’s global fan base.
Establishing a share of voice in the world’s most populous nation, which has the planet’s fastest growing economy is a key objective for European football clubs.
It is interesting to note that the European team with the highest average engagement rate on (both Sina and Tencent) Weibo posts is Bayern Munich. In the last 2 months of the 2014-15 season, the 10 most-engaged posts from any European club came from Bayern Munich.
President Xi’s nationwide football reform plan has ensured that the sport’s popularity will grow further in China ahead of the country’s ambition to host the 2030 World Cup.
In April 2015, United joined WeChat, China’s version of WhatsApp and its fastest growing social network with over 500 million active users.
With just 20,000 connections so far, this number can be expected to rise rapidly as Man Utd catch up with leading WeChat teams Liverpool, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.
It is worth noting that Man Utd currently have no official YouTube channel. This strategy is likely to be in order to avoid cannibalisation of their subscription-based TV channel MUTV, however it must be a consideration for the club’s commercial team.
Will United to follow in the footsteps of Ajax, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and PSG in launching a channel on YouKu (the Chinese equivalent to YouTube)?
Despite being the first English team to surpass 100m followers, Manchester United’s global fanbase still lags some way behind La Liga giants Barcelona (196m) and Real Madrid (145m).
This is perhaps unsurprising with 40% of Chinese fans picking their favoured European team thanks to big name players.
The on-pitch superiority of Barcelona, who have won four Champions League titles in the past decade, clearly echoes online as the Catalan giants are closing in on 200m global followers.
And with Chinese fans placing more emphasis on on-pitch success (26%) than a club’s history (16%) Louis van Gaal and his charges will be under pressure to perform next season.