For as quickly as social media has become the predominant way of fostering relationships and increasing engagement with fans and consumers, there seem to be few roadmaps for building, expanding, and tracking outreach. Winthrop Intelligence was curious to hear from several athletic administrators standing at the vanguard of social media’s potential. We studied data provided from the University of Miami, Mississippi State, UNC, and Oregon about the growth of their social outreach, the concentration of users across platforms and total uses, and emerging channels. These leaders also generously discussed their most successful campaigns, how precisely they interact with fans online, as well as social media’s measurable impacts on ticket sales.
Other than for marketing / promotions / fan engagement, are there other decisions makers within the athletics department that are leveraging social media data?
We have one of the most active ticket office accounts [in college sports] that delivers consistently excellent customer service via @UMTickets . Our development officers are all on twitter and actively share thank you messages to donors and push Hurricane Club membership. Our sport staffs are able to use much of the content we produce in marketing/communications for recruiting purposes.
On Emerging Social Channels:
Google+ has the most potential as Google’s dominance in search, and changes to its algorithm, could rapidly increase the importance of G+ (which currently sits very low).
On recent social media success:
A campaign called “Operation Sell Out” – Despite the fact that the Miami Basketball program had never sold out more than one game in any year, we entered the season with the ambitious goal of four sellouts in 2012-13. To support our efforts, we purchased the domain name OperationSellout.com and designed an engaging site built to inspire fans to purchase tickets. Here is one of the videos used on the website:
In 7 days, single-game ticket revenue more than tripled over the week prior to site launch, and the Duke game sold out on Jan. 22 — one day prior to game day, a program first…we were able to nimbly re-design the content to shift focus on selling out our next game just three days later. In less than 48 hours, we had accomplished #OperationSellout 2.0 to give us back-to-back sellouts for the first time in program history. We quickly re-built the site into OperationSellout 3.0 for our ensuing game vs. North Carolina. Operation Sell Out was largely fueled by social media efforts and had a $12.00 Budget!
On rebranding every social media account to incorporate the phrase “Hailstate”:
I thought it was important to have one consistent look, one consistent message, this will only strengthen our brand. This also helps our constituents know that it is us (not Michigan State, Missouri State, Montana State, etc). Also, There are a lot of fake accounts or people trying to copycat our accounts. We have had to fight a few to shutdown their accounts because of that.
Since we are in the smallest media market in the SEC, our fans rely on our social media platforms to satisfy their fix for Mississippi State athletics. Whereas in most SEC cities you would look at the newspaper or the local TV station, our fans go straight to us. Our fans trust the fact that they can voice their opinions straight to us, and as a result, they post/tweet/share their collective thoughts with us far more than our competitors.
On fan interaction:
We take great pride in responding to our fans, and I believe we do so more quickly and more often than our competitors. For example, on a typical football gameday, we will respond from our football account (@HailStateFB ) to a good 80-90% of our fans who use the simple hashtag #HailState. We will almost ALWAYS reply to fans who tweet directly to our sports accounts. We make it a goal that if our programs are important enough to our fans that they take time out of their day to tweet us, we need to make time for them and tweet them back.
On emerging social trends:
Thanks to the introduction of Instagram’s video component, the Vine trend is now somewhat outdated. With Instagram and even Tout, you can do the same thing as Vine with an additional 10 seconds. We’re seeing a growing interest from our female fan base in Instagram since it is so visual and creative. One of the things we’re excited about that is relatively new to social media in general is the app called Fancred. We were actually the first athletic department to have an account on the app, which is specifically designed to engage sports fans of certain teams.
As a result, the engagement level on it is a far higher percentage than someone who might follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook. We’re finding the people who follow us on Fancred are our most dedicated fans, and there’s something to be said for being easily able to reach that population.
On department vs. sport level social strategy:
Thus far we have allowed our individual sports to determine their own strategy for using social media. As the administrator for the overall athletics department accounts, I have taken the approach that it is my job to give the fans what they want to know. This involves keeping an eye on all of the programs’ social media accounts and passing information along to the large group of North Carolina fans that interact with our accounts. This tactic may involve more posts about some sports at certain times during the year, but we do our best to ensure that all of our athletic programs are well presented.
On cross-functional social use:
We absolutely use social media to support our various departments like the Ticket Office and the Rams Club. We try to work with the department and keep each other informed to ensure that we’re all sending out a consistent message to our fans, ticket holders, and donors.
On a recent social media success:
A ticket sale initiative offered only through Facebook
For example, we worked with the Ticket Office on a ticket sale that was open and only promoted to our fans through Facebook. I met with the Ticket Office and made a plan that included exactly what information would be included, when it would go up, and how to respond to fans that experienced problems or had questions. We also often cross promote each other through retweeting or sharing.
We met to discuss all aspects to ensure that both departments felt good about how the post was worded and even had a good discussion about what picture would draw in the best audience. To measure the success we looked at the engagement that the fans participated in on Facebook, how many people followed through and visited the Ticket Office website, and then how many tickets were actually sold. The biggest thing that made this a success was simply sitting down and talking through what we wanted to accomplish. Taking the time to talk face-to-face, even when discussing social media, is vital.
On in-house metrics:
TPS stands for Twitter Performance Score. This is an important metric for us as it gathers what tweets are generating fan engagement. Each tweet is assigned two points for a straight retweet, 1.5 points for an @ reply, and 1 point for a favorite. We are unable to pull this data for women’s basketball, but have included some of our more popular accounts.
On emerging social media platforms:
The growth on Instagram has been staggering. It is easily our most active social media channel and does a tremendous job telling the story of our brand.
On sports active in social media:
Our sport that does the best job with social media is acrobatics and tumbling . They are not only trying to grow their fanbase, but are faced with the unique challenge of growing an entire sport. They have realized it is a tremendous outreach opportunity. Receiving funding for social media initiatives can be difficult at times as there isn’t a direct ROI, nor should there be. However, long-term the ROI is there because of the positive association people can have with your brand, but that can be very difficult to show.
On measuring influence and outputs:
Our current collaboration with Nike and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund on our pink helmets has yielded some interesting data. We are currently compiling the data and when the auctions end we will have a full report. Our primary focus is on influence and what the reach of the message truly was. We received a lot of national attention for the campaign from some influential accounts to bring attention to a great cause.