Pre-Twitter If you wanted to know what a footballer felt about an unfair free kick, a harsh yellow card or even their thoughts on the latest player controversy you would have to read between the lines of the clichés they threw out during post match interviews or hope they went on a midweek rant at a tabloid journo.
The world’s favourite micro-blogging site has made life a lot easier. A quick search on Twitter can reveal the thoughts of certain players, on a whole range of topics. Ashley Cole is resting a lot, Andre Santos likes getting pumped for games and Joey Barton has become a new wave philosopher. In amongst all this we also get a controversy, be it sponsored tweets, racist comments or rants at the manager. But not it would seem, in Germany.
Bundesliga players say “Nein” to Twitter
A quick look for Bundesliga players gracing the Twitter-sphere with their presence and it quickly becomes apparent that there aren’t a lot. An initial search reveals only one @lewisholtby and a little group of Bayern Munich players hidden on the clubs official account.
After racking our brains as to why this could be (club fines, strict Bundesliga, online guidelines) one possible situation could simply be cultural differences. A couple of reasons for this could be that Bundesliga players just don’t use Twitter as they don’t see the need or they know the risks. It might be that Bundesliga players self regulate their use as they know that they could reveal too much about themselves, offend a journalist, fan, fellow player and that could lead to damaging their image. Of the players who do use Twitter, they either post infrequently and to a small amount of followers or they don’t post anything that could be constructed to be offensive.
Social media as a fact feature not a gossip gatherer
In an interview with Germany’s “Focus” magazine in 2011 the new head of media at Bayern Munich dismissed using Twitter as it was “Too tabloid” *. The Bundesliga club is more than happy to use Facebook though and when it does it present facts, figures and allows the players to put their opinions about the match online as well. It’s all very clear cut. In contrast Premier league players only tend to appear on Facebook when their club uses them as content on their page.
Breaking the wall
You could argue that the Bundesliga players are taking a professional line that means they don’t have to court controversy, on the other hand it leaves the player a little out of touch. The breakdown of the fan/footballer barrier has lead to new levels of fan engagement. Competitions, Q&A, follow backs and interaction between players and the social web provides an insight like never before.
It’s not all about the followers
There’s an argument for it being voyeuristic and celebrity lead but social media is a two-way street. If a player wants to block a follower, they can. If a follower wants to avoid posts such as why Joey Barton thinks Nietzsche is better than Rousseau then they too can block.
Twitter has had a lot less cut through in Germany than the UK and opened an office in Berlin earlier this year. A simple comparison makes for an interesting read, Toni Kroos the German international and Bayern player has 38k followers. Compared to his British equivalent (Taking into account Age, Position, club size and international appearances) Jack Wilshere, who before he closed his account had 1.3m followers, 34 times the amount Kroos does. In terms of clubs Chelsea FC have 1.3m followers on Twitter, Borussa Dortmund, who have been tweeting for more than year now, has just over 90k.
Whether the lack of Twitter popularity amongst Bundesliga players is down to a cultural decision, pressure from the club or a fear of saying the wrong thing, it’s difficult to see it continuing. As fans continue to seek and also expect more access to players Twitter has set its eyes on Germany as new ground to conquer and as more fans join the micro blogging site, a demand for interaction from their favourite players will soon follow.
*(Bayern Munich have since gone on to set up a Twitter account which tweets in both in English and German, they currently have 33k followers since starting in August)
Picture attributed to Michael Radtke