There are lessons all around us as communications people. Here's one from cricket where social media is used not just to arrange practice amongst friends but to keep players past and present in touch through a cricket team's exploits.
by Mat Danks
This is the story of how the most quintessentially English and old fashioned of pastimes took on a new lease of life with a tiny bit of digital communications magic dust.
About four years ago, myself and Comms2point0 lynchpin Dan Slee were founding members of what he dubbed ‘Jiminy Cricket Nets’ each Thursday at a small gymnasium in the deepest darkest Black Country.
Basically, the idea was for cricketers both lapsed - Dan - and novice - me - to have a bit of a bat and a bowl in surroundings where we wouldn’t make fools of ourselves.
At first nets was organised via Twitter a weekly tweet to see who was available. But as things grew we now used Facebook PM to more than a dozen people as a weekly reminder and a check on numbers. After the practice we can then follow-up with some top-level analysis. It was a way of creating a bit of a community without thinking about it too much.
Not only is the Thursday night session still going strong, it led to several of us signing up to play for a long-established team called Walsall Health Cricket Club.
As the name suggests, the club was set up by a band of workers in and around the Manor Hospital in Walsall more than two decades ago to play friendly cricket matches on a Sunday.
Although time has evolved the club and characters have come and gone, like a soap opera, some of the originals are still around.
Like most friendly cricket sides, our outfit is a mixed bag. There are the young, natural cricketers; the older, natural cricketers who are knocking and whose bodies quite do what their brains want, and the try-hards - which I fall firmly into - who just play for the love and hope to contribute in some small way to the performance.
At the start of this season – my third with the club – I volunteered to create www.walsallhealthcc.com as our digital home, with the aim of binding the disparate elements of the club.
Many sports clubs have websites and use social media, but there have been some pretty impressive benefits from this one.
As someone who works in communications, setting up the website using the basic Wordpress platform wasn’t difficult. And doing match reports every week, as someone who spent many a happy hour covering local football as a journalist back in the day, is pretty much second nature.
But why go to the trouble in the first place? Well, in some ways the challenges we face are unique to cricket.
First, many of the original players – the ‘legends’ as our website describes them – are retired, some have moved away and might only play once or twice a year.
The site has provided them with a way of keeping up-to-date, getting a real feel for what is going on, sharing our victories or defeats, even if they’ve retired and now live overseas.
Second, it means folk who play on an irregular basis can still feel part of the club.
Anybody who has played cricket will understand the commitment required in terms of time. While football is a couple of hours away and darts just an evening a week, cricket eats into the weekend and it takes a tolerant partner to agree to lose their other half for up to ten hours on a rare Sunday.
Those who aren’t fortunate enough to have an understanding partner – or who have other sporting commitments – can still keep in touch.
And, thirdly, it means wives, girlfriends, pals, mums, dads, aunts and uncles – wherever in the world they might be – can get a feel and empathy for what is happening, an understanding of what is going on after they wave goodbye on aSunday lunchtime.
The results have been amazing.
Stats-wise, each match report is getting over 300 views - about 10% of them overseas. But it’s the feedback from the players and friends of the club that have been most satisfying. It means we can relive our triumphs and defeats, share our glories with families and reinforce the already brilliant team spirit at the club.
For anyone considering doing similar, there are three golden rules I’ve applied:
- Be family friendly – you want mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who have emigrated to the North Pole to be comfortable reading this stuff.
- Context is everything – the new guy who in his first ever game takes a couple of catches on his debut is as important as the natural sportsman who gets a five-fer. Although he gets his share of glory too!
- Big up the opposition – it’s friendly cricket, you don’t want to be upsetting teams you play regularly.
Matt Danks is Director at Danks Cockburn Communications.
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