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Antoine Zammit is the owner and driving force behind Empire Of The Kop; one of the largest social communities in sport - dedicated to news, comment and fan-networking for Liverpool FC fans.
I got to know a little about Antoine, whilst in the process of blogger outreach on a client project. I was struck by his professionalism and dedication, not only because he is based outside of the UK, yet still manages to be bang on-time (and often first) with the latest LFC news; but also because despite having built an already successful blog (and seriously large audience), Antoine was always available - including when it became apparent that he was writing to me and tweeting from his hospital bed.
As social media professionals, we may often stress that to build a truly successful online community requires more than just information and authority; it requires absolute dedication and passion. Here was someone who epitomised this - I simply had to interview him...
Could you introduce yourself and give us an overview of your blog, and social communities?
How long have you been a fan of LFC?
I have been a Liverpool supporter for over 30 years now, it all started when I was a kid growing up in Malta. In 1992 I moved to the US and brought my passion with me across the pond.
What made you decide to turn your passion for the club into a full time occupation?
Well actually it is not my full time job however I do spend as much time on it as a full time job :-). Living in the US is difficult for a football supporter; I don't have any friends who live close by or any co-workers who follow the sport so I had to turn to the Internet. It started with Facebook, I used to post LFC news stories to discuss. Very soon other LFC fans from all over the world wanted to be my friends and before I knew it I had 5,000 Facebook friends which is the limit that Facebook allows. Due to this limitation I switched to Twitter and started tweeting, eventually I ended up launching the blog when Facebook censored a page I had posted and Empire of The Kop was born.
How many readers do you have and how big is your total audience (roughly) when considering your social profiles too?
EOTK (Empire of The Kop) gets over 250,000 visitors per month, there are over 36,000 Facebook fans on our page and over 100,000 followers on Twitter.
How did you build such an enormous and engaged community?
Mostly it has been passion, I try to be not let any piece of Liverpool FC news slip past. I also Tweet live game updates which have become very useful to fans who aren't able to watch the game. I am usually faster than any of the other football sites and Tweeters.
Such volume and frequency of communications must require great attention to detail, and some pretty heavy-duty tools I imagine? What are your favourite twitter, or general posting tools to help you manage and monitor all the outgoing and incoming messages?
I use Tweetdeck on my computer and when I am on the go I do use the mobile Twitter application.
Would you describe what you do as a labour of love?
Yes of course :-)
What sets EOTK apart from other LFC blogs and fan sites?
Mostly it is because the site is by Liverpool fans for Liverpool fans, there are no professional writers who write on the blog, they are fans from all over the world. Thanks to the blog I was able to give a voice to many fans who would otherwise be disenfranchised.
How do you source your information?
The internet of course; thanks to the tremendous network of followers I am able to get the stories submitted right as they happen and sometimes someone slips me some gossip too.
What are your three biggest tips for would-be bloggers on how to grow an audience?
Engage your audience, be generous (Re Tweet) and follow everyone who follows you so you can communicate via DM (Direct Messaging) as some don't want to be public on certain things.
>Nichola: I came across a first-hand account of engaging and generous activity from Antoine (behind the wheel of EOTK) on Twitter. When I told a friend and contact of mine, Rhys Wynne (who is a lifelong LFC fan) that I was interviewing Antoine he said "I tweeted to him when I was in Slovenia to ask where I could watch the Merseyside derby in Ljubljana, he put me in touch with the local supporters club, who actually had an event at the pub 10 minutes walk from the hostel, it was great. The guy has an amazing community surrounding him."
What's been the biggest difficulty you have faced over the years in building EOTK?
Having to deliver bad news about the club is always the most difficult, I am a messenger and sometimes I do get shot.
Do you have any support, interaction and/or recognition from the club?
Yes, the club's official Twitter have sung my praises a few times and even did a special shout out for me when I was hospitalised.
What's your take on the clubs' financial situation and the recent difficult times?
It was tough having to go through all the negative stories and trying to put a positive spin to them. The situation has improved with the new owners and if they do what they promised then happy days are ahead for Liverpool F.C.
There certainly have been some happy days lately, with a great result against Chelsea at the weekend. You're away to Wigan on Wednesday. What's your prediction?
Wigan away can be tough, unfortunately many of the players will not have enough time to rest. I do hate predictions but I am going with a narrow win 1-0/2-1 for Liverpool.
Finally - whilst I have a soft spot for Liverpool, as they are one of the best Northern teams; I'm actually a 'Boro lass myself. After a difficult start to the season, we're under new management (Tony Mowbray) and won convincingly on Saturday. Do you think Mowbray could bring 'Boro back to the Premiership?
Things do look a little dire for Boro, I do believe that they will stay in the Championship next season however I can see them turning around and returning the Premiership after that. They deserve to be in the Premiership.
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Thanks Antoine, you've been a great interviewee and a fantastic, real-life example of social media theory.