Skip to Main Content

#ThankYouSirAlex – Twitter-breaking news

Posted by Joe McNamara on 8th May 2013

Back in 1986, when Sir Alex Ferguson became manager of Manchester United FC, he would certainly never have dreamt that news of his retirement would be circulated with such speed 27 years later. Nor would he have imagined that the news would be broken online by a single, sub-140 character message on Twitter.

At 9.17am this morning – ironically just as we in the office were all leafing through the morning papers, reading rumours of his impending retirement – the club’s @MUFCOfficial Twitter feed sent out a simple tweet: “Sir Alex Ferguson retires. #ThankYouSirAlex”.

According to Pocket-Lint, the story was mentioned 1.4 million times and the #ThankYouSirAlex hashtag used over 100,000 times. What struck me, though, was not the speed with which it spread, but rather how this breaks from the traditions of sports media coverage.

English Premier League football loves to hold press conferences at any opportunity they can, holding them before and after every single game they play, when they make a new signing, when they have big news or if they just have something to say. To put it in perspective, a lot of technology companies still dream of holding a few a year, and they usually will have to release a new product to justify it.

Not content with just spreading rumours they’d heard from every well-connected source they could find the night before, the crème de la crème of national sports journalists will have been reaching fever pitch at the thought that they might be the ones to break the news exclusively. But the media world doesn’t seem to work like that anymore – particularly if you have the brand awareness of Manchester United.

The Guardian Media Monkey blog makes a great point in an article about this same topic, that football journalists could do worse than to follow the official twitter feeds of the clubs they’re interested in to gain an inside scoop. That got me thinking about what relevance this might hold for PR.

Firstly it’s a prime example of how important running a twitter feed for your clients is. There’s something almost comforting about the thought that a company can truly break its own news to the world, rather than relying on media sources as its one and only channel of communication.

However, whilst Manchester United might have broken the news, it was the usual media outlets that made their tweet spread like wildfire. A brand must therefore command its own social media presence, making sure they have a good idea who it is that follows and interacts with them and, perhaps most importantly, who the influencers are they ultimately want to reach.

With such a huge story breaking on Twitter – and subsequently almost breaking Twitter – it makes me wonder whether the tech world itself isn’t too far away from huge product announcements and CEO changes being announced on social networks, rather than via the usual trade shows or press releases. It’s not a threat to tech PR, quite the opposite; it’s a massive opportunity.

Joe McNamara