While watching some ice hockey on the box at a friend’s house last weekend, Sky TV was at pains to remind me (every 15 minutes) that the Football World Cup starts soon. ‘Soon’, at least, in Sky terms, meaning weeks from now. Sky chunters about these things like some shops talk about Christmas: you think it’s just around the corner, but it’s because they put their decorations up in March

Anyway, this blog will likewise try to pre-empt the competition by talking today about the World Cup and social media. Specifically, should brands try and incorporate some soccerball into their social calendar?

A few touchline warm-ups first. Realistically, if you are going to do this kind of thing justice, you should have been planning to do so for a little longer than this timely blog implies. It might be really tempting to jump in at the last minute, but I’d suggest a little bit of consideration wouldn’t go amiss. I mean, I’ve been planning this blog for about a week…

The other thing – and this one really matters – is that if you really want to push the boat out, you’re much too late. International football’s governing body, FIFA, guards its IP jealously, all the better to flog the rights for some hapless brand to be the Official Pet Food of the 2018 World Cup. If you haven’t inflated their coffers with a large wad of marketing budget, and then try to get too cute with your marketing (“It’s semi-finals sales day down here at Biggo Carpets”), FIFA might respond by sending on their lawyers in a late tactical substitution.

You’ll find the same thing is true the further down the budget aisle of sporting events you wander, but FIFA and the Olympics are pretty notorious. Fair warning, you know?

In fact, let’s park the bus a little further back, and ask ‘why?’ Why are you playing the game in the first place? Yes, the tournament will blot out just about every other conversation for an interminable period this summer, but should your brand pull on an England shirt and join the throng? Some brands have a natural affinity with this kind of thing, but not all. If you are the social media manager for a chain of Funeral Homes, for example, this shouldn’t be your bag, unless you take a particularly pessimistic view of England’s chances.

So, even if your marketing department are all in the Office Sweepstake (a feature of the workplace that demands even more planning time than a social media calendar), it doesn’t follow that you should hitch your messaging to the World Cup. Perhaps the next FIDE World Chess Championship?

Tonally, too, there’s a lot to think about, assuming that you truly do feel you have to play along. It’s easy to drop into a kind of blokey bantz voice for the length of the tournament, but that’s going to sound really false if your normal tone is a little less Cro-Magnon. Beers, pub chains and snack foods will drown you out in any case.

This is why you should turn to the sort of professional help (of the social media kind, not the other thing) StrawberrySocial can offer. For the month of the tournament, all kinds of brands are going to be trying to skew their conversation towards Eng-er-land (other football teams are available), and it’s going to be hard to make your contribution stand out. It will be even harder to cope if you haven’t planned for the possibility that your beloved Three Lions might not be enjoying Russia’s hospitality after the end of June…

One last caution. Sport is unpredictable. I’ve spoken about the need for planning in this blog, but even more important is the ability of your messaging to be nimble and reactive. If the player you’ve chosen to highlight scores two own goals and gets red carded for nutting the opposition keeper, you may need to walk back on your “Player of the Tournament” predictions. If you aren’t ready to post/tweet every day, and particularly during every game, then stay clear.

Sport is great, and it both unites and divides audiences. That’s not something that most brands should factor into their messaging (for example, how will your pro-England cheer-leading go down north of Berwick?). Done right, it can lead to some great engagement, and put a smile on your audience’s faces. That’s the win we should all be aiming for.

I got Senegal in our office sweep, by the way. If they win, this will be the last blog I ever need to write…