How College Athletics Can Improve Using Social Networks

If you’re not extremely active using social networks to promote your team & university’s brand right now, you’re losing the battle. When I say active, I’m talking about 24/7, capturing every moment that happens in games, practices, workouts, in the city, on campus, with players, alumni, fans, etc… The future of social networking is just beginning. It’s only evolved into sports massively in the last 2–3 or so years & won’t be going away anytime soon. Not only can you make a ton of money, sell sponsorships, increase ticket sales, create campaigns, engage with fans & alumni, but it is also one of the best places that you can show your brand identity to the world & tell people what makes your university different from the rest. Not to mention that nearly every recruit & high schooler you target are on social networks. Of the top 60 basketball recruits in the class of 2017, all of them are on social networks, & 59 of them are active on Instagram. For the sake of time, I’m only going to get into my views on how teams should be using Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, & Twitter.

Every social networking platform has to be used differently, while the story you’re telling is the constant. They are not all intended to have the same purposes. Comparing to the technology industry that’s like using a computer, iPhone, TV or tablet in the exact same ways. Before you do anything make sure to identify what you’re trying to accomplish, & how that can be measured similar to knowing your KPI. A firm goal in what you’re trying to achieve often is unclear in this industry, leaving many unaware of what they’re focus is on. If your goal is to recruit, a majority of what you post should be focused around them. What interests the athletes? Find that out & tailor everything you do around that. In this specific example you can quickly judge your results a day after signing day to see how successful you were, regarding who you were able to sign, & who you couldn’t. If your goal is to change the perception of the university. Teams do this most often following bad years, or coaching changes. A majority of your posts should be focused around how you want to be viewed. Make a lot of videos with speeches, post quotes, utilize great design to portray an image you’re trying to create, make advertising campaigns through social networks that have target audiences. Steal fans from other local/competing schools. An equally great content wise advertisement on social media right now will be a lot more beneficial than advertisements on billboards, commercials or the right side of a website (assuming the same money is involved).

Before I start getting in depth on each social platform, make sure everything you do is authentic. There is not an end all be all way to do things. It’s about what represents your brand. Do a ton of research, interact with all types of fans, get analytics on what people engage in most & see how you can use that data to always evolve and stay ahead of the curve. Even use 3rd party applications that will give you more insight than what people like, & engage with most, & least. The results for Alabama will likely be different than Penn State. Meaning you can’t run the pages the same way.

My main advice on the Page setups for all of them would be to keep them consistent. Make your profile picture the same on all platforms, & the header the same on Facebook & Twitter (will have to adjust size, but not a hard thing to do).

The last point I want to make before I get into more depth, try to get verified on as many accounts as possible. On Instagram, Facebook, Twitter get players, coaches, & the team’s page(s) all verified. Verified Accounts look a lot better from a fan & recruits perspective. (*left off Snapchat because it’s not as needed since there is no discovery at this time.)

Instagram- Instagram is the most popular social network out right now among the 24 & under generation. The content that I’ve seen work more successful on for teams feeds often is great design, GIF-like animations, short, eye-catching videos, informational posts, & great photography. On feeds I believe, (with some exceptions when there’s a lot happening) you should be posting every day at least 1–2 times/day. On the higher end, I wouldn’t say there‘s’ absolute max if the quality content is all getting good engagement.

All photos you post should be retouched in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop at the very least. The difference in 4 minutes of retouching a photo can go a very long way. Below is my attempt at retouching a random image I got off Shutterstock in less than 5 minutes. There’s so much you can do in Adobe Lightroom: it’s crazy to just post an untouched photo.

Relatively recently, Instagram created stories. The fact that people aren’t using the Instagram story to show behind the scenes day to day operations from a players & coaches perspective mind boggles me. Stories alone when used right can increase engagement on a grand scale. I’d want to have 3–10 things up on the stories 24/7, & more on important dates (Ex. signing day, big games, local events). If it’s great content, people will want to see it. Since there is a 24-hour time limit as well, you capture more people’s attention because they know the information will disappear. Have days where you give all access to what specific players do (sort of like a day in the life), or account takeovers from famous alumni, & on the opposing side takeover other accounts like the NFL if you have a pro day to expose your program. Takeovers work great where both your team & their personal/professional brand gains engagement & attention. The great part about Instagram stories are that all the videos can be edited & shot professionally with great cameras, & then posted on your story from your saved photos. This also means you don’t have to give your password to everybody that you want to feature on your Instagram story plus everything that gets posted goes through somebody first. The ‘see more’ option will likely expand in a few months to everybody but, if you’re verified on Instagram now, you can use the ‘see more’ option to link a URL to your story. Before this, the only links available were the links in bios. Some options on what you can do using the ‘see more’ option are linking your website on significant days (like first day season tickets & single-game tickets are on sale), link an article by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Bleacher Report & other media sources, a youtube video (great if you have a video over 1:00 minute you can literally have a preview on your story & link the rest of it to the see more option) and much more. This also offers a much more direct way to see RPI on the links you post.

Advertising on Instagram is incredibly cheap, for now. I would capitalize on that while still possible. Similar to Facebook’s advertising setup, you can set campaigns up in Facebook’s power editor. I get into more depth on this concept in the Facebook section, but in short, it means you can set up campaigns that are targeted to specific interests, age groups, & locations. I would jump on this before prices inflate. If you advertise make sure it is quality content that people will care about & represents your brand. If I were Gonzaga or UNC, I would be promoting like crazy in the 48 hour period between the end of the final four games & the start of the championship because it’s hard to make it that far & the world actually cares about who they are right now. Capitalize on that!

Snapchat- Being discovered on Snapchat is different regarding how to be found because you can’t type in an organization & find their Snapchat account. (*Try to make username consistent with other social media accounts if possible.) You have to promote using your other platforms such as social networks & websites. One way of pushing people to add you is to post videos of what’s actually on there — this should be self-explanatory, but make sure you tell people to add you on Snapchat to see more content on these posts. Put the account in your bio on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, & on the footer of the website. Put exclusive content on there that people can’t find elsewhere & tell people that. Promote in games as well, using the scoreboard, & on game day magazines, & posters that are given out. Ultimately you’ve got people’s attention when they’re viewing your content you put out. In my eyes, Snapchat is emerging to be massive. It’s is one of the best ways to tell your story to the younger generation (until it explodes into a lot the other generations). The content you put out on Snapchat should be fun, & engaging. The best content I’ve seen is animation work, and behind the scenes videos. They should be simple & to the point. Try ideas out, see how much content people will view & when they stop.

Remove the white border when you post something to Snapchat. There are about 300 answers on google on how to do this.

One of the biggest things I’d stress is to buy Snapchat geofilters for everywhere you go that represent your brand. Home and away games. They can be as cheap as $5, although most large stadiums are more expensive. If you have a good analytical program set up, you can even see how much time people spend on snapchat, and social networks in games. That information can be pretty vital to where you put your game day focuses on. Buy geofilters for away games as well. If you’re Duke, playing against UNC buy a Snapchat geofilter for your rivalry against North Carolina saying, “We own Carolina” or something to the effect of that. Your fans will love that. Believe it or not, using Snapchat can heat up the rivalry between fans. When the rivalry heats up in any little way, both teams benefit.

Facebook- Regarding the number of users Facebook dominates all other platforms. Facebook’s 1.86 billion monthly (1.15 Billion daily) active users triples the amount of monthly users on Instagram (end of 2016). Facebook hands down has the best advertising setup of any social media platform to date. You can get incredibly specific with who you’re targeting, incredible analytics in the power editor, & set up unpublished posts to advertise with. Advertising is incredibly cheap as well. You can target fans between certain ages, in a location, that are fans of your team or opposing teams to see your content. You can get so specific to where if people are planning on traveling to that city, make sure they like your sport, set up campaigns to where they will see that there’s a big game happening, & where they can buy tickets. If you wanted to target only parents of recruits you can do that. Making the campaign so precise. It’s crazy how not many people understand the value in this. The more you are on people’s mind, the more they see you, the more powerful the brand, the more they care.

Encourage your fans to move your feed to the top often, because on Facebook you will get lost onto other people’s timelines, with how the timelines are currently setup (The people you engage with the most are on top, whereas you will not see some posts for a while).

Facebook feeds are uniquely a great area to post longer posts, & videos while retaining people’s attention for a longer period of time.

Last little piece of advice is to find out when people are most active & capitalize on that time. This applies to every social media outlet. Have posts/formats/ideas ready to go days/weeks & occasionally months in advance, so it’s not a mad dash to put content out every day. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everything, especially same day video content meant for practices, & workout in the offseason, but for a majority of posts this can be applied.

Twitter- Pretty much where a majority of recruits live. Be extremely active tweeting everything current that’s going on. People want to know what you’re about. Put videos & photos alongside a majority of your tweets because they generate more engagement.

Currently, Twitter is the most live, up to the second social network available. Twitter is where a few minutes could be the difference between you trending, & getting 25% of that attention. People move on so quickly. On game days you have to have hundreds of posts ready to share out at any given moment in time for touchdowns, fumbles, GIFs of every player & coaches, score updates, & ideas of what you’ll do if there’s a crazy play, buzzer beater, upset, or anything unlikely happens. People love the unexpected, & if you’re not ready, you’ve missed the few minutes where Twitter wanted to see what you have to say. The top account in my opinion that realizes how to capture the moment is hands down Bleacher Report. Their genius team of 35 people outweighs every outlet & news source around, which I believe is highly correlated to their companies success.

Unless there’s a SC Top 10 play, I generally wouldn’t post straight replays. People don’t come to Twitter to see replays. They are available everywhere including YouTube.

Don’t be afraid to interact with fans, absolutely retweet them if they tag you in a good picture, at games, wearing a jersey, or something to the effect of that.

One thing I recommend doing is setting up a large message icon to where everybody can send you a message. Kudos to the 49ers being one of the few teams I’ve seen do this. After all, Mark Cuban puts it best saying you are providing people an experience, make that experience as great as possible. If fans have general questions, you should be accessible everywhere. No, you don’t have to respond to all the weird questions.

Another thing is to be careful tweeting at other teams because not only do you leave yourself venerable to getting destroyed in the response back, but it also may not be what your university is about & fans could react in a way worse than you expected.

Twitter & Facebook right now have the best opportunities to involve sponsors & make more money. Develop prices based on engagement you can generate. Giving a random shoutout to Chipotle will be overlooked by every person who scrolls past the page. Work the sponsorship in with your feed. The day before a game tweet out, “Chipotle is giving away two tickets to tomorrow’s game to the first person that guesses …”. That will generate much more engagement & demand than a random shoutout would.

Another great thing about Twitter which I’m surprised still is a thing… Cost Per Follow (CPF) advertising. CPF is where you only pay when people follow your account, all interaction, engagement, & link clicks are free. How do you take insane advantage of this? Choose CPF advertisement, & encourage people to buy tickets, promote your brand, &individual events/posts (ex. Spring game, helping charity’s around town, players visiting with local schools, workouts, etc…). Likewise, you could set up Cost Per Click on your website links & only tell people to follow you. The only thing they charge for is website clicks. This means that engagements, insights, and followers are all free. Their analytics will give you detailed summaries of what’s happening as well, always review & adjust your campaign to see the top RPI possible.

What can you encourage Athletes to do? Interact with fans WAY more. Talk to them, don’t be ‘too cool’ to reply or even favorite a tweet from a person that idolizes you. Hold question & answer sessions on Twitter, & answer reasonable every question that violates team rules & are comfortable revealing. People love interaction. Make sure it is authentic to who you are, & the brand. People can sense when you’re faking who you are.

Another awesome thing to do is going live on Instagram or Facebook in the hotel, on the way in between classes, in dorms, around the city or anywhere that can show the side of you that people don’t see from in the games. interaction with fans through social media create some of the best moments fans have. Take a few seconds out of your day and it gives them a personal connection & they become a fan for life & support you immensely. Buying your apparel, going to fundraisers, & promoting you. One thing to do is make sure the athletes understand they represent something way bigger than themselves; they represent their family’s, a team, coaches, a city, & a university.

Closing thoughts- Be extremely active, tell your story, represent your brand & great things will happen. I just scratched the surface in this fairly short post on what’s possible & what can be done. Possibilities are endless & always evolving. If you’re reading this in a year, the information likely won’t be as relevant as it is now.

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Side note if anybody is interested — much more personal projects coming once I finish getting license deals set up on photography. If you want to see more work that I’m unable to share publicly or general inquiries, please don’t hesitate to email me or message me on any platforms!