How to run a twitter account for your cycling club

I’ve been on twitter for a while now, and have been involved in the twitter account for Stirling Bike Club. This account has really taken off in the past two or three years and I thought I’d share some tips on how other clubs could do it succesfully.

Why do it?

You can use twitter to spread the word about your cycling club, grow your membership, create or improve a sense of community amongst the members, promote your events and other uses.

Don’t go on twitter just to go on twitter or your account will drop like a stone – it’s good to start out with a few specific aims.

To begin with, I aimed to follow any club members who were on twitter and any notable local cyclists. At that time, we were talking Scotland-wide, but these days many more people are on twitter. The aim was to build an audience and a community that would become self-sustaining.

Cycling Past

Conversation and community

To state the obvious, perhaps, social media is best when used socially. The big brands and personalities might judge their performance in the thousands followers and hundreds of retweets but for a cycling club, the numbers will be small. I usually cringe when people talk about their followers on twitter. Rather, success should be engaging in useful conversations and building an online community.

Anyone who sent me a tweet or replied would be engaged in conversation – this helps the person running the account to get to know people. After a while, your twitter community will take a life of its own and people will be having their own conversations.

Take your time

Don’t expect to start a twitter account and expect followers and comments to flood in. The first few months need research and ‘curation’ of the account.

I don’t automatically follow back – it’s useful to keep your ‘following’ numbers to manageable levels so that the twitter ‘home’ feed isn’t a deluge. Be clear on who you want to watch and interact with.

If you do want to follow several hundred people – use lists to gather together specific lists of your members, and other local clubs, for example. Social media management tools like Hootsuite are good for viewing lists easily.

“Brand personality”

In marketing, a brand is said to have a personality – what the tone of voice is, how the logo or club colours look and feel, what cycling disciplines you are involved in?

Is it a fun,  youth-oriented club? An inclusive welcoming club bringing newbies in to the sport? A mountain bike club looking for long adventure rides or hairy DH runs? A performance-focussed road race club / team?

What are the values of the club? The idea of ‘brand values’ is a commercial one but if you are clear on why your club exists this should be reflected in the tweets.

My preference is to keep the twitter tone of voice fairly neutral and avoid too many controversial opinions – the tweets represent the club as a whole. Some might say this is risk-averse but extreme ranting, raving or criticism can be kept to your personal account. Having said that, you should still aim to generate a fun, friendly sense of banter.

Involve your members

Proactively include the names of your members’ twitter accounts in your tweets and fish for a bit of friendly banter and conversation:

“Great ride by @hughjohnson1 last night in the club 10. Sub-22, not bad for an old bloke!”
“Epic ride on the trails at the weekend… @emmabrown85 when are you going tubeless?! #puntcturequeen”

BTWW 2014_DSC3938

Volunteer tweeters

It can be good to give two or more people access to the account, especially for a club that might have different disciplines or groups, such as social ride leaders, race/training oriented riders and offroad riders.

Fish for contributions

One of my aims was to get members from all areas of the club to tweet in pictures of their rides or races.

Getting this to happen took a while, and it has increased as phones have improved. I now retweet pretty much any picture that is sent to the club account – people love a retweet or a fave, and it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many twitter users are ‘lurkers’ – they’ll use their account to follow others and read tweets but often don’t chip in with their own contributions. If they see that the club account is a friendly thing that spreads the love, more people will contribute.

It can be worth asking people in person to send a tweet to the club account to get things going. Some of your members will emerge as ‘superfans’ and prolific tweeters and it’s not always you you would expect!

Events

I’ve found that tweets surrounding events can provide little explosions of activity that raise the profile of your club account. Whether this is a sportive or enduro you are building up for, a race a few of you are participating in, or an event you are watching, the collective sense of anticipation, excitement, achievement or disappointment can snowball and bring in other enthusiastic people to the conversation.

Separate twitter accounts for specific races or events have been a success for Stirling Bike Club. We have several dedicated and these ramp up the activity to promote entries and sponsors in the lead-up to an event, and then will be used for live updates on the day. After the event, they can be used to follow up on photos submitted by spectators. It doesn’t matter if they lie dormant for 6 months of the year.

They are also good for feedback – bad feedback should be seen as useful, because it helps you to improve the format of your event or rectify any mistakes you made next time – face up to it!

Sometimes members of the public will get in touch about bad or dangerous riding – this is something that should be interacted with graciously – be seen to improve the conduct of your club members!

Crit on the Campus
Battle of the Braes (road race)
Crit under the Castle
Up the Kirk (hill climb)
Plean CX 

These accounts can get event organisers involved in twitter and give different club members a ‘voice’. They will usually reflect their personalities – that’s pretty much fine! There are a few obvious do’s and don’ts – swearing, personal insults and engaging too furiously in controversial debate – keeping that for your personal accounts is best approach.

Remember to share the password and access to the account between two or more people though – if one person leaves the club, loses their phone or changes their email, you can recover the event account.

Hashtags

Hashtags are used by twitter to group together tweets and they can seem like a gimmick but it is worth coming up with a catchy one – maybe your club has a slogan or in-joke, a particular ride meeting point or an epic climb or trail that people can rally around.

A fun one that appeared was #jimstagram – a friendly tease directed to one selfie-happy member who would often crop himself out of his pictures – a club meme was born!

Cross-pollinate

You can link your twitter account to other social media services like instagram and flickr for photos. People love seeing a good pic of themselves at an event and in the early days, I would trawl the forums and facebook for photos including our club jerseys and link to them on twitter.

Forums are a bit old-hat for me, but in cycling clubs they are still an important way for people to organise rides and discuss all matter of club information. There are plenty of older people in cycling and some of these folk seem to prefer forums. The pace of technological change (i.e slow) on that platform is perhaps easier to keep up with. The best forums are well-moderated, useful spaces for conversation but the worst are cess-pits of argument! Whichever type you’ve got, include a link to the club twitter account in your forum profile information as this can alert people to its existence.

Self-promote

Self-promoting: tweeting about your own club rides, club riders and club events all the time can make the account a bore – know who your clubs friends and partners are and mention them too – national and regional governing bodies, local councils, cycling schemes, other clubs like triathlon and athletics who might have crossover amongst the membership.

  • Excellent blog Owen. So transferable as well. I’m taking heed for my own business Twitter, still very much learning. Thank you and all the best for your venture. 😀 xx

  • Agreed with Nattyshedgirl. So many pointers that can be taken from this and transferred to any organisation or business.

    Great blog post.

  • Linda Barclay Isles

    Top blog work Owen. Lots of great advice – especially about not following everyone…you’ll never find anything amongst the noise!

  • Nicola Donnelly

    Such a useful post. I think you should share it with lots of community clubs – great takeaways for everyone. Totally agree Twitter is all about the quality of engagement than quantity of followers.

  • Alasdair McGill

    Good stuff Owen. Stirling BC are up there with the best when it comes to cycling clubs on social media and I know that’s largely down to your influence. Many clubs can be old-fashioned, I remember my first experience as a club member up in Aberdeen. You were expected to know their secret code! As our sport has become mainstream, those behaviours still exist, so it’s refreshing when clubs change and become inclusive. I would urge any club looking to improve their communication to read this article.

  • Really appreciate the comment Ali.