Stephen Cleeve: Is it worth me engaging with fans on social media?

King's Lynn's owner Stephen Cleeve with Notts County officials at full-time - Credit: Ian Burt

Stephen Cleeve - damned if he does, damned if he doesn't... - Credit: Ian Burt

Social media gets a mixed press - it can certainly be used as a voice for good, but there are many who see it as a dark place which should be avoided at all costs.

The only social media that I use in any meaningful way is Twitter, but I am looking at the pluses and minuses of doing so, as you cannot put a price on your own peace of mind.

King's Lynn Town boss Tommy Widdrington served the first of his four match touchline ban

Tommy Widdrington was punished by the FA, but even accepting donations to help pay his fine brought criticism on Twitter - Credit: Ian Burt

When the team and the manager were recently fined by the FA, a few Linnets’ fans asked if they could contribute; they simply wanted to help and put right what they saw as an injustice. Small acts of kindness like these are really appreciated by myself, and others at the club. One kind chap gave me £ 20 after our last home game and others emailed me, asking how they could help. We set up a donation page at the club’s on-line shop and I put out a tweet simply stating that if anyone wanted to help then please follow the link.

Within minutes I was under attack from a few rival clubs, a small number of our fans and a mixture of all sorts of flotsam and jetsam who fancied having a go at me instead of watching the TV with the family.

There were equally a tiny number of sensible replies from those who tried to correct the abuse stating that I was not asking for donations, but providing a mechanism for those who wanted to donate to do so.

On Facebook, where I rarely post, one or two of our fans thought it right to attack me further and another couple thought that I should resign. There were also a couple of intelligent fans who tried to explain the reality of what I said. Of course, many of those complaining have an axe to grind, they want to attack our club in any way that they can, so they bend the story to fit their own narrative. Very few of them, if any, actually come and support the team at The Walks on a match day.

Football fans can understandably get upset when there is no news coming out of their club, and I am talking about all clubs, not just ours, so I do try through my account to answer questions on a huge range of topics (many come through direct messaging) and generally be available. Maybe, though, the time has now come to review this strategy. 

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I do not always use social media to inform or discuss every point as it is not always the right format to use. Often my programme notes cover areas in detail as they are long enough to give justice to a point and cover it in a meaningful manner. Today’s programme notes against Bromley, as an example, cover issues raised by some fans about players that they feel “we should have looked at” that have been signed by rivals and rather than reply in a few words I can explain everything more fully and away from a hostile environment.

My tweet that caused this latest furore reveals some interesting numbers. It was seen on Twitter 267,258 times; it caused 12,627 people to react, 196 people commented on it (mainly in a negative manner) and 24 fans liked it, so I could look at the numbers if I was in an optimistic mood and deduce that 196 comments out of over 267,000 views is not actually very many. I did not engage with many of the users, but the few that I did communicate with, once they understood the situation, backed down from their initial stance; but is it worth all the background noise and head space just to get a point across?

The Peterborough chairman, Darragh MacAntony, engages with fans and it could be argued that his stance is more aggressive than mine towards those that do not agree with his statements and another Twitter user is Andy Holt, the chairman of Accrington Stanley.  

I like both these guys, but reading the grief that comes back to them from various users makes you understand why more chairmen are not as open as they perhaps could be. 

I am not trying to stifle debate, but to use abusive words, which is what the vast majority do, makes you less likely to partake in any conversation. In the real world I like people who have similar views to me, and I also like people who have different views to me. Just because my views on a subject may be different to another’s does not preclude me being civil or being friends with that person. I use Twitter to inform, to connect and to explain, but that surely does not give someone else the right to abuse me or anyone else for doing so. 

Most fans are pleased when you spend time with them and I am always happy to be with them, I try to meet as many as I can on home match days. There are several solutions that could solve my on-line dilemma, these range from refusing to be drawn into any debates or opinions, a self-imposed ban or just blocking those that are out for a fight.

Supporters are the lifeblood of all football clubs and most of them make me proud to be their chairman. Life has been tough recently for many fans and I know that soft targets such are myself are an easy way to offload one’s frustrations.  

What I find interesting is that several fans have donated money towards the club to help pay the fines, but they did so anonymously, not discussing their kindness on social media, as they did not wish to get involved with the numerous on-line arguments; they simply wanted to support their club.  

These supporters are why, when I go through tough times at the club, I keep on working to try to find solutions. We want to put smiles on their faces and however I deal with the social media issue, I will always be available for them.