Talking Twitter with Jim Lucas of the FA
7 min Q&A
Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Jim Lucas, managing editor, commercial & marketing directorate, for England’s Football Association, which includes @England and the @Lionesses.
I've been at the FA for the best part of four years now, and one of the biggest things that surprises people is when you realize just how many different properties the FA owns, and with that how many content channels we run and own as well.
Before I started at the Football Association, the bulk of our activity came out of the @FA handle, which we still operate, and that meant covering the England national team, the FA Cup, the Women’s Super League, and it meant we were covering a lot of different things and trying to speak to a lot of different audiences via one channel.
So before I arrived, but even more so since I arrived, we started to break up that kind of channel portfolio to really make sure we're talking to the right person at the right time and in the right tone of voice, and so on. So we run seven Twitter accounts within my team; that’s @FA, @England, @Lionesses, @EmiratesFACup, @BarclaysFAWSL, which is the Women's Super League, @FAWC_, and @TheWomensFACup.
When I first joined the FA I was running a lot of these myself, and we've now got to the position where I’ve been able to hire some brilliant people, recruit some fantastic agencies, to have people working on each of those channels as almost dedicated community managers, which has really allowed us to kind of develop a specific tone of voice and a real understanding of the target audiences for each account.
I think first and foremost, social media is so often the first touchpoint for an individual, consumer, or fan with a particular brand or a team, and you are often the person who is at the forefront of a brand. So I think a modern social media manager has to totally immerse themselves in that brand — talk the way it talks, live the way it lives, all the time. And also totally understand the audience you're trying to talk to as well.
It's not a case of arriving in the office at 9 o'clock, firing up TweetDeck and putting out some funny stuff, and then going home at the end of the day. You're constantly checking the temperature of the audience, the temperature of the business itself, and what it needs to say and what it wants to say, what people are saying about it, and then responding ultimately — in the form of replying to individuals, putting content out that they want to engage with — and then constantly repeating that.
My first role out of university in 2009 was — as most journalism graduates do — to join my local newspaper. I went straight to work as a sports reporter, and as someone of a relatively young age, I found it quite frustrating that I could only publish work once a week, ultimately. For a weekly newspaper, which came out on a Thursday, to be covering football matches that were happening on a Saturday felt really strange to me — there's only so much you can say about a football match five or six days after it’s taken place.
We didn't have a massive web presence, and I worked to improve that, but the biggest thing that I really focused on in that first role was developing a social media presence for the newspaper, specifically for its coverage of the football team that it focused on. Twitter was just starting to emerge as a channel where journalists could communicate with an audience, promote their work, and crucially start to build a bit of a fan base.
In 2012, before I joined the Football Association in 2016, I moved to @SouthamptonFC to work in their press office. Back in those days football clubs and organizations had a lot of people wearing a lot of different hats — that’s where the press officer, webmaster, and social media manager all converged at that point.
Since I've moved into organizations that have had more active channels themselves, I've probably been a bit less vocal on my own Twitter account, but my relationship is very obvious in the sense that it’s the first app I open in the morning, and it’s the last app I look at at night. It's my first source for any breaking news, and it's the first place I turn to for opinions.
I think there's there's no point engaging from a handle like @Lionesses with detractors or people who aren't in some way part of our community. I'm not saying that we only engage with people who say nice things about us — we should always be prepared to get involved in constructive conversations — but for me, it's about doing a little bit of research into that person we're replying to, or that conversation we're about to join.
It’s a massively positive thing for me — to talk to people, to change people's perceptions. Generally and professionally, changing people's perceptions is one of my biggest motivators, and Twitter's a place where you can do that really quickly and really easily.
I've gone back and forth on this across the course of my career, but I’d say yea, as long as it aligns to the tone of voice of your account, and you're willing to deal with the consequences of it, as it can backfire badly.
Generally, my philosophy — if that’s not too ridiculous of a word to use about hashtags — is use them within the wording of your Tweet, don’t just slap them on the end in the hope of getting a bit more discoverability out of them.
I left @SouthamptonFC in 2016, but always kept an eye on it since it was a little bit like my baby, really. It must have been maybe the summer after I left, there was this weird trend for football clubs when they were signing new players to do really elaborate announcements.
Each club was trying to outdo each other, as well as getting more and more cinematic, and more and more dramatic, and then Southampton just put an absolute stop to it by Tweeting almost a parody announcement. It encapsulated the way that football fans in general were starting to feel about football media departments trying to outdo each other and for me, the way Southampton just came in and absolutely popped that balloon left me thinking, “Wow, I wish I was still there and the one to pop that balloon a little bit.”
For me, if I look on a personal level, and the people I like to see in my own timeline, there’s an account called @FootballCliches which always makes me laugh, as it ridicules the business we work in. Football is an industry that takes itself way too seriously sometimes, and this account just nails it every time.
On a similar note there’s a guy called Jonny Sharples. I'm not actually sure if he’s a journalist, but he’s another really good industry commentator who, again, really turns the mirror on football clubs, how ridiculous the industry is. He’s done some great work in promoting mental health, for example, in the last couple of years as well, which I think has been a really good way to engage with an audience that maybe finds it quite hard to talk about that.
My gut feeling is if I were to look into my drafts folder, I’d find a Tweet that I’ve half written but then realized I’m logged into the wrong account so ended up having to abandon. With seven different accounts — plus one of my own — that’s almost certainly a user journey I’ve gone through at some point.