Why FIFA sponsors should kick comms toward social

With all eyes on FIFA, sponsors should take more advantage of social media to voice their views.

Visa has been the only one of FIFA's major sponsors to use social to make its point.
Visa has been the only one of FIFA's major sponsors to use social to make its point.

With all eyes on FIFA, sponsors should take more advantage of social media, where they can quickly and easily voice their views to millions of people worldwide.

Since the arrests of top soccer officials and investigations into FIFA by US and Switzerland authorities, Visa has been the only one of the organization’s major sponsors to use social to make its point. The financial services company, which has also taken the strongest stance on the issue, tweeted a link to a statement that said if FIFA does not make changes post haste, it will reassess its sponsorship. Visa’s statement was also posted on its Tumblr page.

All other big sponsors – except for Russian energy giant Gazprom – have made statements to the media regarding their concerns about the scandal. The others include Coca-Cola, Adidas, Kia, Hyundai, McDonald's, and Budweiser.

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In addition to the Justice Department indicting 14 people, including nine current and former soccer officials, on corruption charges, authorities in the US and Switzerland are conducting separate inquiries into alleged corruption at FIFA. The corruption charges, which date back more than two decades, are largely centered on marketing and media deals. Switzerland, where FIFA is based, began another investigation into the awarding of the 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar World Cups.

Incorporating social channels, such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, into their communications strategies could benefit the brands on a number of levels.

The more pressure they put on FIFA, the more likely the organization will be to make changes. Social media is one of – if not the most – far-reaching, influential platforms in the world. Visa’s news handle has more than 59,000 followers, while Coca-Cola Company has nearly 3 million and Hyundai has more than 236,000. Each brand has hundreds of thousands of fans and journalists at their fingertips on Twitter, giving them a one-stop shop to spark a conversation or share their perspective on the investigation.

By taking a stand early, sponsors can maintain a positive image among consumers and stakeholders. Most of the brands’ statements to the press have clearly said they take ethical matters seriously, but the sponsors’ social channels will allow them to position themselves on their own turf and in their own voice, rather than being part of a larger story.

For example, Chobani, a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee and Team USA, received heaps of praise for its Twitter post before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics that denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws. The image showed yogurt cups representing colors of the rainbow along with the line, "Naturally empowering everyone."

Brands can avoid backlash in the weeks and months to come by chiming in now on social media about the investigation, as well as concerns about alleged human-rights abuses taking place at construction sites in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup is scheduled to be played.

Coca-Cola was under fire last winter for "downplaying" its sponsorship of the Winter Olympics and showing a lack of concern about Russia’s anti-LGBT policies. Despite negative feedback at the time, the brand remained quiet on social.

Activist groups even took over the brand’s social media Sochi campaign by urging people to use it as a way to showcase the poor treatment of the LGBT community in Russia. The incident also caused Coca-Cola to be dropped from the Out in the City and G3 awards’ Brand of the Year category.

While posting commentary on social media always has its risks (once a conversation is started, it can’t be controlled or stopped), I think the benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls in this case.

We live in a time where transparency reigns and corporate values are expected to be front and center, so FIFA sponsors should take a step with social – even a short tweet like Visa – to make their views known.   

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