It has been some decade for Dublin GAA with seven Men’s and four Women’s All Ireland football titles. The County Convention takes place tonight and tomorrow morning we will report on what emerges by way of John Costello’s traditionally witty report and the possible naming of a successor to Jim Gavin.
Dublin clubs have won Four AIB All Ireland Club Championships along the way as well, showing a depth to the success of the sport in the capital.
AIG’s sponsorship has been constant throughout and the content they have produced by way of the Club Chronicles and other series has been a strong digital influence on the way the organisation has reached beyond the 15 players on a pitch at any one time.
Aside from the formal and official channels though there has also built up a thriving ‘fan’ based community, bringing the camaraderie of fans and family that would gather at Mulligan’s or on Hill 16 through into the digital environment.
We caught up with Barry Fennell this week to explore the effort that has gone into creating Hill 16 Army, an entity which now boasts over 100,000 followers across different social media and has broadened out into a podcast where Sport for Business has, for full disclosure, been a regular guest.
It’s a great story of how a love for the team has developed into a social media powerhouse, but not without its problems and hurdles along the way.
SfB: What gave you the idea for Hill 16 Army in the first place?
I had seen a few Dublin supporter pages on social media and, having tested the waters by writing articles as an admin on one or two of these, Hill 16 Army was born in 2014.
How big has it grown and did you imagine it would do so?
The success of Hill 16 Army has been phenomenal and I never for a second believed that it would become as big as it has. I still pinch myself at times when I see that Hill 16 Army has over one hundred thousand Facebook followers along with thirty plus thousand on Instagram and over twenty-one thousand on Twitter.
I also have a Facebook supporters group with eleven thousand members attached to the main Hill 16 Army Facebook page. This group allows supporters to post their own content and help each other out with tickets and lifts to games.
How much content do you create across the different media and how much time does it take up?
I have to create a lot of content for all three and then decide if a post would be suitable for each platform. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all different in terms of the audience with the Instagram page possibly the easiest of all three to run.
The night before match days I would find myself up until 3 am preparing content and scheduling it to go up on the various platforms at different times the next day.
Writing articles would be a very time-consuming part too but the element which actually takes up the most would be answering messages to the pages and replying to comments. I would always try answer messages and replying to comments can be vital in terms of a particular posts engagement and reach.
Do you track numbers in terms of the reach you have been able to generate?
Yes, I would always take notes on how all three platforms are doing. You have to learn from what works and what doesn’t.
Sometimes you could spend hours writing an article and it might receive a few hundred likes and then you could post something that took you five minutes and it could receive ten thousand likes along with thousands of shares and retweets.
The pages regularly outperform their actual numbers. I’ve had single Facebook posts reach over a million people on many occasions and posts on Twitter and Instagram will often go viral.
The beauty of social media can be its unpredictability but I’m lucky with Hill 16 Army that all three platforms have a very strong core following and I would feel I have a close relationship with the followers.
The fact that followers are on first name terms with me when commenting on posts is pretty unusual for a social media page of the size we have become.
The podcast has become a real winner. How many do you think are listening in at a peak?
The podcast has thankfully, and surprisingly, been an amazing success. The fact that I get to sit for an hour and shoot the breeze about my favourite subject with real heroes of mine is something that I am so grateful for.
A few short months after starting the podcast it reached number one in the iTunes chart which I still can’t believe.
Thankfully it continues to grow both in size and in guest quality and it would regularly have thousands of people listening to each episode.
What have been the highlights of your time running the Army?
There have been many but getting a podcast off the ground and for that podcast to become so successful has been something I never would have dreamed of.
I had no media training whatsoever or any broadcast experience so that, for me, makes it all the more special.
The five in a row for the lads and the three in a row for the ladies this year was just incredible. I feel particularly blessed to have been around to cover every step of both teams journeys.
What do you think is the thing that makes it so popular?
I would often ask myself the same question but if pushed to answer I would feel maybe that supporters really relate with my articles and thoughts on our Dublin teams.
I am constantly told by many followers on the pages that I convey just how they are feeling about a particular incident, game or player.
I also know that many page followers recognise the amount of hard work that goes into keeping them all updated on Dublin GAA news and games and they would see me at games throughout the year so they know that the page is authentic and trustworthy.
You had some financial support from a few partners but what does it cost you in time and money to provide the service?
Travel to so many games at different levels and in different codes around the country along with some overnight stays and ticket costs is huge.
I don’t receive as much as a free ticket to any game or any other perks, nor do I expect to. I pay for everything myself and always have.
The podcast has costs in terms of recording in a studio, production and also advertising it through social media but thankfully I have partnered with some great companies to offset these costs since the podcast began.
It has benefited these companies hugely given its not just the direct shout outs that they receive on the podcast but the huge amount of promotion and brand awareness that they also receive through the different pages on social.
How has it impacted on your own work or social life?
The simple answer is that I don’t have a life at times. The pages and podcast are that all-consuming.
While other supporters are in bed the night before a game, I’m creating and scheduling content for the following day.
While some enjoy pre-match pints I’m on my phone answering messages and replying to comments and questions.
During the game, I’m keeping the pages updated with scores and news. While many are out celebrating after a game, I’m sat in my car most of the time posting about the game and writing articles.
I’ll then spend most of the night posting content and replying to comments and messages.
I also like the page to be a frontrunner with any Dublin GAA news so I would be constantly checking my phone from morning until night.
Have you ever thought of jacking it in?
But that all fades away when supporters come up to me at games to say how much they love the pages or the podcast or when you receive some of the amazing compliments and messages that I have received from followers and listeners. That all keeps you going the next time, and the next time.
How would you expand it or improve it if you got funding in by way of sponsorship?
I would love to have a dedicated website for the pages and a dedicated graphic designer for the social media platforms to make it look even more professional.
For the podcast, I would love to try live streaming and video recording of the podcasts to break into the huge YouTube market.
If a sponsor was to be keen on attaching themselves to you, what would it cost?
To sponsor the podcast I, and many wiser people than I, feel that €400 per episode is an absolute bargain given the exposure that the sponsoring brand or company would receive.
Direct company advertising into thousands of ears, where unlike radio, listeners don’t change the channel.
Your company or brand logo is seen by tens of thousands of potential customers right across Hill 16 Army’s social media pages with guaranteed results and fantastic brand awareness.
When you see that free newspapers charge more than this for a box in something that most people pop in their green bin on arrival, it really is great value.
If a suitable company or brand would like to come on board as a page sponsor then I would love to sit down and discuss what I could do for them. I have run incredibly successful competitions for brands and companies such as AIG, Sure, Elverys and many other smaller brands but I would love a company or brand to partner with longer term.
Image credit: Inpho.ie