When the AFL first announced the Greater Western Sydney Giants would be joining the competition, there wasn’t much going for the young club.
It was to be headquartered in the middle of the NRL’s heartland, there were no players, no fans and only a handful of staff.
But given the year was 2009, what the club did have on its side was social media.
While the other AFL clubs were in the process of bringing their fans onto various different platforms, GWS had a ready-made digital community to help begin the enormous task of building a brand from scratch.
“I think it has helped for us that our club began in the era of social media, as we haven’t had to shift communication or narrative greatly as the existing clubs would have,” GWS Giants social media co-ordinator Susie Giese.
“We’ve had a presence on social media since we began, and haven’t had to migrate the main points of club news and communication for our fan base.
Fast-forward a decade and the club is preparing for its inaugural Grand Final this Saturday.
And while GWS’s meteoric rise on the field has been well-documented, it is also important to note the growth of the GWS Giants as a brand over the years.
GWS was one of the founding teams in the AFLW competition in 2017 and has now amassed 30,000 members.
It has also formed a strategic partnership with GIANTS Netball in the Super Netball League.
According to Giese, this growth has been aided by the club’s open approach to sharing with their supporters on social media.
“Our fans have been able to get inner-sanctum access and news at their leisure, and for a club, the use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has helped us present our personality and values, which I believe has helped us establish our identity much quicker than if we had been a club trying to establish ourselves in the pre-social media era,” she said.
While many have described the young club as ‘manufactured’, Giese said social media allows the club to show its authenticity.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about this club externally – people calling us ‘plastic’ and saying we have no culture,” she said.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth. Social media is the perfect vehicle for us to really show who we are, and what we stand for.
“We’ve seen a lot of the sentiment change, and more people get on board or at the very least develop respect our club and players – thanks to the videos and content we’re able to share on social media.”
The club’s YouTube channel has been particularly effective for connecting players and fans, according to Giese.
Content on the channel varies from behind the scenes insights, match highlights or light-hearted player interviews.
All of this has helped swing public sentiment around the club and showcase some of the “unique” personalities that shape the club, said Giese.
Bigger is better?
While the media & communications team has had to rejig the social media strategy as the club has grown, it has never been about ‘going viral’.
GWS’s 78.8k followers on Instagram is relatively humble when compared with its Grand Final competitors the Richmond Tigers, who have over 225k fans on the platform.
“A point of difference for us on social media is that rather than chasing likes and huge follower numbers – although that’s always nice – is that our focus has always been on quality engagement with our fans,” Giese explained.
“We aren’t chasing meaningless numbers, but want to build a meaningful relationship with our followers online.”