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Report shows 2023 as a year of social media engagement growth for Australian sport

Report shows 2023 as a year of social media engagement growth for Australian sport
January 30, 2024

In what has been a significant year for social media engagement in Australian sport, the total fan count is now up to 158 million, adding 14 million (10%) to the 2022 tally.

New findings from sports social media researchers, strategists, advisors and educators, Shunt, show that while post publishing outputs remain flat, the sector defied expectations to comfortably beat the 1 billion engagement milestone for the first time.

A snapshot of Shunt’s annual Australian sport social media analysis across the Meta, Twitter/X, TikTok and LinkedIn platforms, shows:

  • 158 million social media fanbase (up 14 million/10%)
  • 3.4 million posts published (up 43,000/1%)
  • 1.17 billion engagement (reactions, comments, shares), up 39%

Commenting on the findings, Shunt Managing Director, Stu Williams advised “social media has been around for well over a decade now and sport was an early adopter.

“We keep on thinking that fan growth across the sector will plateau, but it’s grown by another 10% last year. It really is astounding.”

COVID legacy
The sector took a beating during COVID with community sport in particular feeling the brunt, most notably in Victoria and NSW.

Explaining that an important lesson from this for Shunt was that social media and in particular Facebook has now evolved into a communications utility, essential for the delivery of grassroots sport, Williams explained “a stark observation from Covid was that when sports seasons were severely disrupted or even cancelled community clubs had little to talk about on social media and audiences had no reason to engage so these two core metrics collapsed. This was unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

“Our great concern was that the next domino to fall would be participation, time will tell whether that’s the case. We now look to social media as an important leading indicator or canary in the coalmine for the relative health of the sector.”

Image: Total posts publishing by sector 2015-23.

Post publishing remains stubbornly flat
Looking at the recovery process for the sector with post publishing still falling short of its pre-Covid peak with a couple of contributing factors likely at play, Williams goes on to say “we think there’s at least two reasons why post publishing, a measure of the resources allocated to sports communications hasn’t fully bounced back.

“The first is Twitter or X where we’ve seen a near 70,000 fall in Tweets from the previous year (sports administrators measured only). Shunt has conducted separate research where something like two-thirds of all state sporting organisation accounts we monitor are now dormant.

“This was happening pre-Covid but the pandemic has accelerated the process. We now advise sports that the use case for Twitter/X is limited to niche applications only.

“The other really interesting factor is that as the sectors use of social media matures and becomes more sophisticated content generation is transitioning from a quantity to quality (fan engagement) play.

“Even at a community level the performance of posts (a really simple ratio that divides fan engagement by post publishing for a given period) has improved significantly in recent years suggesting a shift in tactics from a spray and pray approach towards less is more.”

Image: Total fan engagement (reactions, comments and shares) by sector 2015-23.

Fan engagement reaches major milestone
Paying close attention to engagements, Shunt has welcomed the 1.17 billion engagements (reactions, comments and shares), in 2023, a 325 million uplift from the previous year – led by TikTok and Instagram.

As Williams explains “it’s a massive result for the sector and reflects the strength of the connection sport has with local communities across the country and indeed around the world.

“There were two platforms behind this result, the first being Instagram. Following a lacklustre second half of 2022 where the platform was trying everything it could to be a clone of TikTok it seemed to be more comfortable in its own skin last year and sport reaped the benefits.

“The other of course is TikTok. We started seeing NRL teams in particular pick up the platform from mid- 2019 to last year where engagements totalled 170 million with no signs of slowing.

“We’re fascinated to see how the data plays out in 2024, particularly being an Olympic year.”

Context and perspective

Summing up, Williams sees these numbers as being about context and perspective, adding “we work with a lot of sports comms teams on better understanding and optimising their socials. The nature of the social beast is that it’s always-on, what we encourage our clients to do is to stop every now and then to take a look around at what’s going on and what they’ve achieved.

“These numbers are massive, with few if any other industry sectors able to match the mind-blowing scale of the conversation sport has with fans every day.

“This is what happens when you bring a sector that runs on emotion together with a technology that exists in a perpetual emotional state.”

Shunt’s dataset is based on 21,150 sports administrator and community club social media accounts.

Shunt dataset: 21,150 sports administrator and community club social media accounts

Click here to find out more.

Main image: Newcastle Knights fans. Credit: Telstra.

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