When Stephen Fry ascended the boardroom throne the other week, much was made of the fact that in his wake came upwards of 1.7 million Twitter followers.
With one, crafty placement of a #ncfc ‘tag’, he could bring brand ‘Norwich City Football Club’ to the attention of a whole new audience.
One was that was bright, engaged and very – the argument would go – 2010…
And given the fact that the genesis of #ncfc has – in part – something to do with MyFootballWriter and our relationship with Channel Four’s 4iP digital innovation fund, it is an argument that I would have to subscribe to.
Stephen commands a powerful following.
And in a world that is getting ever-more digitally connected with every passing day, there is every good reason for the Canaries to work off that Fry ‘brand’.
So – in theory – this week’s news that the Canary director has humphed out of Twitter after various rows over who-said-what-about-whom-and-in-what-context when it came to matters of the fairer sex and, er, sex is not good news.
Fry’s loyal army of Twitter fans are no more; or rather the Pied Piper has piped his last tune.
His account closed down; ‘Bye-bye…’ his parting remarks.
In practice, you wonder. Stephen has long had a love-hate relationship with Twitter and the ‘following’ he attracts.
And being a true thesp, he knows full well that the only thing worse than being talked about in such ungracious fashion… is not being talked about at all.
Is there no such thing as bad publicity? I don’t know; ask George Michael.
So, I think the allure of that particular stage may yet pull Stephen back.
For many people these days, Twitter can be a hard habit to break. For ‘Just one more wafer thin mint…’ read ‘Just one more witty tweet…’ Always leave the audience wanting more, darling…
Oh, go on then… You love me really, don’t you…?
But I suspect Twitter isn’t the only string to the Fry bow; that his value going forward to the Canary board might be based on rather more than his ability to Tweet a gag or two.
Because as much as many people still don’t quite ‘get’ where this whole world of ‘social media’, of Twitter, of Facebook, of FourSquare and the rest might be taking us all… Stephen undoubtedly does.
In fact, he’s probably way ahead of the curve. He understands the web-wired mind-set of the next generation of Canary supporters better than anyone else around that boardroom table – certainly at director level.
And if the Canaries are to ensure that they not only continue to connect – online – with as many 15-year-olds as possible in their bid to keep them away from the temptations of a Chelsea or a Manchester United, but equally to ensure that they understand the web-based lives of every 17-year-old trainee on their books, so having someone as social media savvy as Fry in the building could still be a God-send.
The world is changing; there is a digital revolution afoot.
And its not just in the way that we connect with eachother, but the technology that we use to do that.
Who owns the ‘rights’ to the ‘content’ that Carrow Road produces at three o’clock every other Saturday afternoon when probably well over half of the crowd have a mobile phone in their pocket capable of ‘broadcasting’ video?
This summer and Football DataCo clamped down on Twitter usage out of the Press Box; four tweets a half at ten minute intervals is – I think – our allotted ‘publishing’ windows; you, on the other hand, have yet to incur the wrath of the licensing authorities.
How they ever police the use of your mobile phone in the midst of a game is something that they have yet to quite work out. They still might; given time.
And this isn’t some passing fad; the march of technology is such that a football club’s ‘right’ to protect the use of its own ‘content’ will come under ever more challenge as we all slowly wake up to the fact that we’re all – potentially – broadcasters now.
I, too, can do my half-time ‘report’ to my FaceBook pals; I can ‘FaceTime’ off my iPhone; Skype off my Blackberry.
Yes, I know. Thousands don’t – and won’t.
Such is their match-day ritual of pint in one hand and pie in the other, that use of the mobile phone – bar telling the Mrs ‘I might be out a while longer… – is next-to-nil. And that will never change.
But for a generation of City fans who have all-but had a mobile phone surgically implanted onto the end of their arm, that will change.
And Fry gets this. He knows one end of an iPhone from another; he’s heard of AudioBoo – the ability to deliver a radio ‘boo’ of the game off your phone – he’s held a FlipCam in his hand; made a video; done a broadcast.
I also strongly suspect that Stephen knows the value of ‘brand’.
Like ‘Twitter’, that very word can send the shiver up the spine of the traditionalist. Norwich City Football Club is a football club, not a brand. Delia Smith is a chef, not a brand. The list can go on and on.
And, in fairness, the Canaries are far less of a ‘brand’ than a Manchester United; they haven’t yet wholly lost the personal touch; they are a ‘community club’.
But to the bankers who continue to knock loudly at the club’s door, they probably are a brand.
They will view the Smith-Fry ‘brand’ as a decent combo that – might, just might – command more patience than with other clubs.
There wasn’t, for example, much ‘brand value’ to be found lurking within the boardroom of Fratton Park.
In contrast, a bank versus two national treasures of the Delia and Fry ilk is more of an equal contest; whether or not Fry has his Twitter army at his side or not.