Q&A | Talking Twitter

Talking Twitter with Ed Langford of Team GB

Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers, with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Ed Langford, digital comms manager for Team GB, Great Britain's Olympic team.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes @TeamGB worth following?
Team GB is the Olympic team, so it's different from the sports you might watch on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s an account that grew massively around London 2012 and the spike in social media in that second decade of the century. London was a kickstarter for our social channels, particularly Twitter, and it's only gone from strength to strength. It’s a great privilege to be part of it and to work with a brand that’s so loved across the UK. We always use the stat that it’s the second most loved brand in the country behind the NHS, and we're very happy, particularly this year more than any other, to be second place and take a silver medal.

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How long have you been in social media, and how has the industry changed since you started out?
I came out of university and got a proper job for a couple of years in retail technology recruitment, which wasn't really for me long term, so I went back to the drawing board and got a diploma in sports journalism, which had a grounding in sports media. I was offered a placement at Team GB partway through that course to work on social media during the Winter Olympics in 2014, and I never really left. I started in a digital-comms hybrid role, and now I look after all of our content output across our digital feeds; our social media, website, app, and anything that has a fan-facing lens come through me and my team.

In terms of the change, it's absolutely enormous. I remember when I was in Sochi and just sat there Tweeting the scores during curling matches. These days, it's such a different industry that evolves so quickly and is incomparable to what it was even seven years ago, after the real boom of social media for sports, starting around London 2012. Gone are the days when your social media manager was your intern, who you sort of threw an account to because you weren't sure how to use it. 

We’re an entirely privately funded organization, so there's no government money that comes into us on an annual basis. What that means is that we have 20-25 commercial partners with part of my job being to provide value for them through our social media accounts, create co-branded content that showcases them and their wares, and also provide the content that the fans, athletes, and stakeholders, and people who follow us online want to see and want to engage with.

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What does it mean to be a social media manager in 2021?
It's no longer quite a narrow role, nor is it overly specialist, especially as these days you need to be a good marketer and have a strong PR nose. During the Games, you almost need to be a customer services rep, and for those accounts and brands where it’s relevant, you need to be an arm of the commercial team. All those are pretty complex and interesting roles for an organization, let alone amalgamated into one or two positions that have such a frontline engagement with the public.


How would you describe your relationship with Twitter?
I'm a watcher and follower; I'm not much of a publisher. I've created my little center-left sport echo chamber, and I'm very happy to just rattle around in there of an evening. Once work finishes, if I’m at home watching sport on TV — or “Love Island,” or wherever it is — I have Twitter as my second screen while watching those events, which isn't the case for other social media channels. It’s probably the one part of my job that I quite enjoy taking home with me.


Twitter is all about the conversation. How do you decide what conversations or replies to engage with?
It starts with who we're speaking to and what we're speaking about. One of the great strengths of Team GB is the size of the team that we take to these events — there are 373 athletes selected for Tokyo. It's diverse, broad, and in terms of the UK, there's a great mix of geographies, ethnicities, and sexualities. Everything that makes up Britain makes up Team GB, and that's what’s unique. But the size of it also means that it's so hard to keep track of what your athletes are doing, let alone what everyone else is doing on digital or even at the Games themselves. 

Most of the time, we’re talking to and with the athletes — that's who we try to engage in conversation — and then with major events, that's when we start to bring fans into it. Team GB fans are big eventors, and they enjoy those major moments surrounding the Games. When the nation gets particularly behind the team and into the Games, that translates onto social media. So the Games is when we turn from talking to and about the athletes to talking to everybody about everything. It makes for an interesting and fun time.

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How do you prioritize the different functions of your Twitter account's role?
It differs between what we class as Games time and non-Games time. The majority of the time, as a brand, we’re not in event mode, so outside of Games time, we prioritize trying to be the voice of Olympic sport, celebrating successes and medals, as well as athlete stories and how they're preparing for the next major event. It’s almost a collective newsfeed that no one else can do like us because of our position and perhaps our reach as well. 

During Games time, that changes because, particularly on Twitter, rather than becoming the first screen for Olympic news, we become the second screen because it's wall-to-wall coverage on TV, in every newspaper, and on radio stations. That’s when you have the chance to be more creative, because as the second screen, you don’t have to work as hard to get news across so you can play around with medals. Equally you can be more creative with other content that you create, like working with athletes or having conversations with fans. Outside of Games time, that isn't really feasible for us, as we're trying to just drive awareness of the news, whereas during Games time, we are the news.


Time for a quick-fire round:


Throwing friendly shade at other account: yay or nay?
For us, it's a big no. It’s fun in other industries, but the Olympics world is slightly different. We try to see the bigger picture with it, and it's about respecting the destination of the countries and promoting the Games as a whole. I don’t dislike it across the board, but this summer, [the focus is] on positivity and respect.


Including more than one hashtag: yay or nay?
Don't like it, but sometimes have to do it.


Using emoji to replace words: yay or nay?
Never, but using them in addition to words is encouraged.

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What accounts are a must-follow for you right now?
I'd certainly encourage people to follow our athletes. We are the collective voice of those athletes, and we want people to follow Team GB. We have a Twitter List of athletes attending Tokyo, and we want them to tell their own stories and their journeys through Tokyo.

On a personal level, what England does in the FA is amazing. They're probably setting the benchmark at the moment as digital content for sports teams in the UK. Digital has been at the forefront of how they've transformed the national feeling towards a football team that was much maligned. That's completely turned on its head, and I think the digital content is right at the heart of that success.


This interview has 280 characters left. Share a Tweet from your drafts folder with us.
I don’t use drafts personally, but I write lots of notes and stats that will come to fruition or might come to fruition during the Games – then use those as Tweets. For example, we have Sky Brown, a 12-year-old skateboarder, on our team this summer, and we have a track cyclist, Jason Kenny, who will become the most decorated British Olympian of all time if he wins any medal. Sky Brown was one month old when Jason Kenney won his first medal, and now they might win medals on the same day in Tokyo. It’s stuff like that, that you have in your head, or written in draft form, that will do really well [with fans].


Photo copyright David Pearce 2021

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Talking Twitter

Go behind the scenes with some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers and the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments in the Talking Twitter collection.