Tony Xia, our new owner at Aston Villa, has raised a number of eyebrows already with his eager and increasing efforts to communicate to the masses via Twitter. Some fans are delighted with this, others are concerned, whilst the remainder just don’t know what to make of it all.
And there is a lot to it.
The very fact that Xia is on Twitter represents a massive departure from the norm as far as we supporters are concerned. The previous incumbent, inept American Randy Lerner, fiercely protected his privacy (his right) to the extent that he was borderline reclusive.
However, when Randy did opt to update or connect with the fans, it was generally via bizarre and incomprehensible prepared statements issued via the clubs official website;
Key to any success on social media, is by definition, the ability to be sociable. Lerner appeared awkward, out of touch and far from a natural communicator.
Had he been interested in any meaningful dialogue with the fans, the American would likely have only have worsened Villa’s already poor brand & public relations image.
The appearance on Twitter of Xia was therefore an unexpected lurch into a modern and arguably neglected world for Aston Villa. There were no direct lines to Lerner, Tom Fox, Paul Lambert or Tim Sherwood after-all.
Xia’s visibility was broadly welcomed by Villa fans owing to the clear change of tact it represented over the former regime.
At the very least it appeared like a form of progress. Or so it seemed.
As Dr Tony is an “avid user” of the Chinese equivalent Weibo, it shouldn’t really have been of any great surprise that he has quickly seized the opportunity that the equivalent “Western” platform Twitter presents.
Xia’s early TV interviews featured talk of imminent world domination, theme parks and huge overhaul. Big words for big ambitions that initially appeared on screen, but soon translated to 140 characters online.
One wonders how Tommy Jordan (Head of Communications at Aston Villa), most recently observed attempting to navigate Remi Garde’s difficult Q&A’s at Villa Park, would view or be able to reasonably manage social media expectations and it’s inevitable fallout from the new owner.
Does one dare offer Twitter advice to their cavalier, unpredictable and wealthy new boss?
For a club that as recently as 2010 dismissed club historian John Lerwill for comments posted to online forums [later ruled unfair at Tribunal], it serves to illustrate how business positions and personal opinions can collide.
Any such collision, naturally, will not be pretty or easy to manage, particularly when considering the ease at which reputational damage is inflicted.
Tweet’s such as the above in reply to Ian Holloway’s predictions for Villa’s coming season are a striking example.
It’s all rather uneasy, unprofessional and certainly amateurish.
It undeniably lowers the football club in the public eye, in a fashion never previously so visible. What would have perhaps been discussed privately or uttered under one’s breath is now public knowledge.
A comment such as this, whilst perhaps provoking an initial wry smile or smirk, soon evaporates upon considering that this man is responsible for everything that requires improving immeasurably at Aston Villa. Do top CEO’s or leaders make comparable statements routinely via Twitter? No.
Xia also made the mistake of promising significant funds early in his Villa tenure, only for a close season of disappointing recruitment to play out. Actions and words; a phrase that never seemed more increasingly appropriate.
These errors of judgement may be innocent or naive; but they are cumulative.
Examples of the pitfalls of CEO’s on social media are never far away. Xia cannot be immune to this, as much as we would want him to be, but he must be wiser in his approach.
Notoriously the good doctor was tricked into distastefully re-tweeting an image of Jimmy Savile after baiting from online trolls;
Twitter of course extends to close scrutiny and discourse on every statement made. Tweeted or deleted, Twitter & the internet has a memory.
For instance, changing your mind or the direction you wish to take the club isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even minor shifting of blame for prior failures can be easily picked up on;
23rd July 2016: “I do think not only one person should take full responsibility to the falling of past years, but every managers staffs,fans. #work together.”
30th July 2016: “
I can tell one thing that RDM said that we have had many talents just with wrong management!”
There are of course significant benefits in having an active owner on social media if approached correctly. Benefits that Aston Villa certainly haven’t had either the awareness of or the desire to even attempt to capitalise upon before.
It can build connections, boost Aston Villa as a brand and allow Xia to appear hands on with public relations. Again, not without pitfalls, but if managed correctly, it can be hugely beneficial. With that said, there are rules, standards and simple actions that must be adhered to.
Inane tweets, featuring profanities, censored (or not), are generally not the best tactic.
But…a pro-active, engaging and vibrant CEO on Twitter is a good thing surely?
Used with caution, for the right purposes and in a controlled, managed fashion, yes. But used flippantly and in a bid to build goodwill quickly? Or to respond childishly to a non-story that meets your dissatisfaction in the moment? No.
Unless you are in an exclusive club of rich and “famous entrepreneurs”, according to the Financial Times, then the “democracy of Twitter is a sham”. It’s an illusion, a farce and a situation no better than the media blackout that went before it under Lerner. All publicity is not good publicity.
Does Tony Xia really intend to use Twitter as a portal with which to drive Aston Villa in the direction that the fans would wish? Or will he ultimately make business decisions based upon his own interests?
Our immediate and urgent priorities are footballing in nature. It’s not something that complicated, nor indeed anyone with a passing interest in football couldn’t recognise. Yet already there are doubts beginning to creep in.
It’s not yet about remote academies or offering claret (red) cabbage alongside burgers at Villa Park or ill-advised Tweeting.
It’s simply about stabilising our great football club and winning football matches again. It’s time to get off Twitter and get the job started.
Established in 2011 – The Villa Underground is an independent Aston Villa social-blog & website. Featuring pre-match discussion, post match reaction, opinion, satire, a podcast, news & social media comment on all matters affecting AVFC.