A blueprint for social media success in college athletics
Blueprint: a detailed plan of how to do something
We talk a lot about social media use of college athletics departments, and of course how student-athletes and staff use the various social media platforms. We tweet out a lot of links to something inspiring that one department did, or something unique that another program published. These ideas help to get creative juices flowing, to see what works for others that might work for you. The problem is that, without an actual strategy, none of these are really helpful. You don’t just throw graphics or videos or stories up independently of one another. Each has a place in your overall brand story, each serves a purpose in establishing and furthering your voice. You got a lot of RTs on that great pic but what now? That funny YouTube video you posted went viral, but you didn’t have a plan in place to capture that momentum. You are doing social media, but you aren’t really doing social media.
In our visits to over 80 athletics departments and conferences, we ask a lot of questions and learn about where people are succeeding and where they are struggling when it comes to social media.
These discussions (along with our work with athletics organizations and studying the social media industry as a whole) resulted in a presentation that we’ve given over the past two years at a number of events, on creating a blueprint for social media success in college sports.
Clarify Your Identity
We went back and forth on this, switching between create and clarify. At this point, most departments have created an online identity but they need to step back and clarify what exactly it is. What is your voice? What defines your brand? How do fans and non-fans perceive the brand? Why do people care about your program, and why should they?
This involves creating a branding and communications standards document, so that everyone who has access to an official department account (whether that is the main Facebook page of the softball Twitter account) knows the expectations from a brand perspective. Each person running a department account is a brand manager. They must understand the importance of department voice and being consistent across all channels. This includes profile and header pics, bios, hashtags, etc.
Identity is where many fail, and it leads to failure in other areas of social. It shapes the content you post, where you post it, when you post (and when you stay silent), and helps to define what you want to accomplish. Without it you are simply adding noise to an already noisy space.
Identity is the foundation of what you as a program are. It helps you know what to say no to. It’s more than a mission statement. It’s your why. It drives everything your program does online as well as off.
Create Measurable Goals
What is your team trying to accomplish on social media and how will you measure it? These need to be specific. You may want to expand the reach of your program, but what does that mean? More followers, more impressions, an increase in followers in a certain geographic region?
Realize that the goals of each department (communications, marketing, ticket sales, etc) are going to play into the overall departmental goals: ticket sales, fundraising, sponsorships, merchandise sales, stories being picked up in the national media, etc.
You must determine what success looks like for each goal. Look at things like Amplification Rate (shares per post), Conversation Rate (comments per post), Applause Rate (likes per post), Engagement Rate (a sum of all engagements – likes, shares, comments, clicks – per post), etc. Look at clicks that lead to sales. Don’t forget to include Google Analytics on this – a good portion of your social media posts are created to drive people back to your website. Make sure that is happening and then know what they are doing once they get to your site.
Curating and Creating Content
What type of content matters to your brand? What type of content can help you establish credibility and move your audience to act? How will you create different content for Facebook than you create for Twitter than you create for Instagram and so on? How will you source and include fan content (user generated content)? How will you implement sponsored content?
Having a detailed content calendar comes into play here. Know what type of content you want on each day, before/during/after each game and more. One of the biggest keys here goes back to measurement. Don’t just create content you like and call it a day. Measure each piece of content. Listen to fan feedback. Does video work better than a photo? Do game recaps do better in short bullet points or should we go deeper? Going back to brand identity, how will you make each image/video/post clearly your own? As an FYI: some great examples of this are Clemson, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Washington. When you see a post from them across any platform, it is easily identifiable – and that doesn’t just mean slapping a bit logo on the picture. From filters, to text to color scheme, consistency matters.
Another note here: the best kind of “content” you can create is personal engagement. Listening to and responding to fans. Not just from a customer service perspective, but in joining the conversation of those who are passionate about your program.
Choosing your Channels
Should we be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? What about YouTube, Snapchat, Kik, Tumblr, Pinterest, Periscope? Choosing the right channels can be an overwhelming task. If you spend much time on Twitter, every day a hot new platform arises that you absolutely must be on or your brand will fade into oblivion. Take a deep breath and ask a few simple questions.
Where are your fans? Where are they talking about you?
Where can you get your best ROI?
Where can we best achieve our goals?
Where do we have the time and resources to be great?
Are you missing out if you aren’t on Instagram? Maybe. But if that’s an audience you’re trying to reach and you are already reaching them in a meaningful way on Facebook or Twitter (or both), then why add another platform? If it can help you tell your story in a better way, and you have the time to do it and measure it, then jump on. If not, continue to put in the work of mastering Facebook or Twitter (again, or both).
It’s so easy to get caught up in the platform game. Our main advice to programs is to be great on a few platforms, not average on many. Many athletics departments don’t have digital teams. Everything related to social media is run by SIDs who have 47 other things to do each day. They are struggling to get it right on Facebook and Twitter, let alone keep up with Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. When we’re spread too thin, we do mediocre work.
You’ll notice a theme here, but we’re going back to measurement here. Analyze every bit of content you share to every platform. Twitter and Facebook provide free insights into age, location, spending habits, education, and more for your followers. Use tools like SocialRank, PicStats or Iconosquare for Instagram analytics. Use targeting on Facebook to create content for specific audience segments. Know your audience. Create content for who your audience actually is, not who you think they are or who you want them to be. You should be reaching students, PSA’s, alumni, fans, family of current athletes, and the media on your chosen platforms. Know how your story relates to each group. Know what content matters to each group.
Social Media is a learning game. Know the in’s and out’s of each platform and what kind of content plays best there. Don’t get comfortable, as these platforms change all the time. Analyze and tweak as needed.
Also, it’s 2015. On some platforms (cough:Facebook:cough) you’re going to have to pay to play. Establish a budget for paid/promoted content.
Capitalize on Your Community
You have staff and student-athletes who are living out your department’s story and mission every day. You have fans that are crazy passionate about what you’re doing. Empower them to tell your story online. Educate them on what it means to use social media well, to use it in a positive and meaningful way. They are your brand ambassadors, influencers and advocates. Identify them, work with them, promote them, reward them (if they are fans). Their posts can have far more impact than the posts of a program. People are fans of teams, but people connect to people. Utilize that to your advantage.
With a plan in place, now the key is to do the hard work to execute, measure, analyze and adjust as needed. To let your why drive your what and how.
Social Media can be intimidating and overwhelming. It can seem like a game where you are constantly just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It doesn’t have to be that way. To succeed you have to be prepared, you have to have a plan, you have to have a purpose. Long-term success comes intentionally, not accidentally.
pic via BusinessesGrow
Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating student-athletes and staff to providing an overall strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 70 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.