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Experts’ Roundtable: Social Media In College Athletics

Social media has become the primary fan engagement tool for athletic departments around the country. In this Experts’ Roundtable, ADU reached out to a few whose responsibility is to strategically share the stories of their respective programs through leading social media platforms.


Facebook’s announced some algorithmic changes that will prioritize posts from family and friends and could potentially negatively affect team and brand pages. Will this change affect how your team utilizes Facebook? If so, how?


Morgyn Seigfried – Asst. AD for Digital Media – Temple University:


Absolutely. Once again, we as content creators are being asked to step our game up. I think for us at Temple, the change means we have two options: create wildly engaging content or pay to play. Anything else is going to get completely lost and is probably a waste of time. The one advantage we have working in college athletics is that there is a built-in dedication and passion from our fans. Now more than ever, we are being asked to capitalize on that through our content.


So what are we doing to combat this? We are already looking at how we can start tailoring content to Facebook in order to have success. We’re also looking into reallocating our traditional marketing dollars and moving them towards advertising on Facebook. After all, Facebook is a great marketing tool and we need to continue to take advantage of that. Even if it costs us – at the end of the day it’s still cheaper than billboards, etc., and has the most users of any social platform.


One important key in all of this is having the support from the top down. Our Athletic Director understands the importance of social media and is willing to adapt, adjust, and grow based on how social media continues to evolve. I know some people in the industry that struggle with getting higher-ups to understand the value in social media. Having buy-in in from above is a huge key to our success. We’ve invested in social media and in turn, have seen tremendous results.


Andrew Lentz – Assoc. AD, Branding & Creative Services – Baylor University:


When platforms change, you have to be ready to adapt too. One of the most challenging aspects of being in the social media space is that each platform is always evolving and that change is inevitable, but it’s also exciting and forces you to constantly evaluate how you’re serving your audience. We’re always creating content with a goal of making our viewers feel a part of it. It’s crucial for us to be more intentional, both with the content that we post there and with the way we present it.


Specifically for Facebook, my hope is that we take big steps in live video and collaborate with our engagement department to be strategic in how we use advertising dollars in the upcoming year.


Brandon Harrison – Social Media Manager – University of Wisconsin:


With the recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm, there is now a heavier importance on meaningful social interactions created by your post. While one of our goals on Facebook has long been to encourage conversation and sharing with our posts, this is now more important than ever. One way we are planning to adjust on Facebook is by becoming more active in responding to fans and commenting on our own posts, which in turn will help cultivate more conversation and engagement for our posts. We’ll be focusing more on making sure that our posts are conversation creators and content that our fans want to share with the friends and family within their own personal social network.


What’s the thing you spend the most amount of time on but that brings the littlest value to your organization?


Seigfried (Temple): I would argue we don’t do anything that we view as having “little value” or else we wouldn’t do it. That being said, something that is extremely time consuming, requires a lot of bodies, and that doesn’t do particularly great from a numbers standpoint is our live streams of all home Olympic sports. But, sometimes you have to “eat your veggies” as my one co-worker affectionately calls it.


No, our live streams don’t necessarily hit the numbers we’d like, but we are committed to covering these teams and giving them a platform, which includes live streaming games. We recruit from all over, and we want to be able to promise parents, family members, and friends that no matter where they are, they will be able to see their loved one compete. That is important to us, and until we decide it’s not, we will continue doing it no matter how much work it is and regardless of the ROI.


It comes back to a bigger point that there are certain things that don’t necessarily light the social media world on fire – for example, maybe posting a tennis home meet on Instagram versus a football home game won’t get the same numbers – but does that mean we are just not going to do it? No. Every team is a vital part of our overall success, and we don’t ever want to lose sight of that.


Harrison (Wisconsin): For social media, one of the things that can personally take up a good amount of my time is creating graphics. Thankfully, we have talented graphic designers on staff who assist us, but we do make sure to weigh out and evaluate the ROI on graphics situationally. For example, a player of the week honor in college athletics is recognition always worth celebrating for your Student-Athletes and teams.


But, rather than spending time to create a graphic for every single weekly honor, could we instead use it as an opportunity to showcase some of our great staff photography? In turn, this is one way we can showcase our strong photography and also free up time for our graphic designers and staff to work on larger-picture projects. We’ve also found in some cases that the posts still draw strong engagement.


Lentz (Baylor): Any type of content that tells our audience what to do instead of shows our audience why they should care. We still produce a high volume of promotional graphics that are information and “sales-y,” partly because we’ve always done it.


Breaking through the clutter is difficult and ultimately, it’s a privilege to be in someone’s personal space on a daily basis. We take that for granted when we spend more time selling what than why.


What one word best describes what your team hopes to accomplish through social media?


Seigfried (Temple): Storytelling. We want to tell our story from all angles. Sometimes it’s the story of a game. Other times it’s a long form video detailing our student-athletes’ trials and tribulations. It’s a snapshot on Instagram, where a picture truly can be worth a thousand words, or a behind-the-scenes video on our Instagram story. It can be a quote graphic or a Facebook live video. You get the gist.


How we tell our story may constantly vary, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a top priority for us. We want to humanize our student-athletes and display their incredible personalities, because we truly believe we have some of the best kids in the country here at Temple, and their accomplishments are bigger than just their success on the field. They are active members of the local community, they’re achieving academically, and they volunteer in their free time. We want you to see that too, through our lens.


Harrison (Wisconsin): Storytelling. Here at Wisconsin, we take great pride in the people. Whether that’s our alumni, coaches, student-athletes or team support staff, social media is an engaging way for us to share the stories of the people here. When you look at any of our social media accounts here at Wisconsin, we hope you learn more about the people within our program and the impact they have as Badgers, whether it’s on the field of play, in the classroom, or in the community.


Lentz (Baylor): Connection


What do you think is the most under-utilized feature of one of the main 3 social media platforms?


Lentz (Baylor): Live video. It takes a lot of buy-in and coordination to execute well, but there is value and opportunity that we haven’t quite tapped into and that I haven’t seen a lot of teams use well. Live video gets six times as many interactions as regular videos on Facebook. There’s a rawness and authenticity to it that otherwise can’t be conveyed.


Seigfried (Temple): This is a tough one. I would probably go with Facebook/Instagram Live. They are both such incredible tools, especially on Facebook, where it helps you beat its new algorithms. They both provide your fans an all-access pass to what is going on at that exact moment. I know sometimes I don’t even realize a moment is Facebook Live worthy until the moment has passed, or I am worried it won’t turn out the way I want it. (The beautiful thing is you can always delete) I do know one thing – when it works out it works out insanely well. Our most viewed video last year was a Facebook Live of our student section doing the Mannequin Challenge. Going live with engaging content is pure gold.


Harrison (Wisconsin): Instagram Stories, but many are catching on to this and beginning to adjust accordingly. Instagram is one of the social media platforms on the rise right now and its Stories function has been a game-changer. Not only can you get creative and have a lot of fun sharing, but I think they’ve become more important due to Instagram’s algorithm.


A common complaint I hear about Instagram is how some individuals may see posts that are as old as 5-6 days, which can make some posts less meaningful in some cases (final score graphics, quarter updates, etc.). Instagram Stories are limited to a 24-hour window (unless archived) and I know some people who spend more time looking through the Instagram Stories than scrolling through the actual Instagram feed.


Of the platforms you are using regularly, if you had to eliminate one from your arsenal, which one would you give the boot and how would you come to that determination?


Lentz (Baylor): I think that question looks different for every team depending on resources and manpower.


We try to stick to three platforms (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and do those really well. I see value in all three for us and wouldn’t eliminate any. I know this doesn’t completely answer your question, but I’d truly have a difficult time justifying us not being active in any of those.


Seigfried (Temple): We did this awhile ago. For us, it’s Snapchat. Aside from numbers alone, we decided we would rather be really good at 3 things rather than subpar at 4. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a good geofilter here and there, but as far as using it on a daily basis as a storytelling tool, we just did not see the value. In my opinion, Snapchat is meant for more personal, one-on-one interactions than it is for brands. Beyond that, we compared our numbers from Snapchat to our Instagram stories, and it wasn’t even close.


I am not saying there’s no value in Snapchat for other schools, but I am saying for us at this time, it’s not a top priority. We were spreading ourselves too thin trying to put unique content on it and would rather push people to our Instagram account stories and get our numbers up there.


Harrison (Wisconsin): Snapchat. With the increasing popularity of Instagram and its increasing emphasis on its Instagram Stories function, you could make the case that it’s worth solely investing time in Instagram instead of both Instagram and Snapchat. Because of this, Snapchat would be the platform that I would personally choose to move on from if I had to eliminate one.


Long ago “vertical video” was frowned upon, mocked and even at the center of some internet memes. With the introduction of some new features on some popular apps, the paradigm has shifted. Should teams be producing more of their professional/pre-produced video content in full portrait aspect ratio?


Seigfried (Temple): I’m all for experimenting. Sometimes vertical video works. Obviously on Instagram stories it’s incredible. Sometimes on Twitter it can be super cool. I don’t think you should just start shooting/resizing everything to vertical, but I do think the days when we mocked it are long gone.


I love experimenting with sizes, formats, and styles of video. Size and dimensions depend on what you are shooting, how long the video is, and what your goals are for every unique piece. Bigger picture thought: tailor your content based on what you are trying to achieve. If you want the video to be specifically for Instagram stories, obviously shoot/size for vertical. If it’s a longer form video for Facebook, keep it simple and then resize to tease on Instagram stories. Tailoring content to fit each platform is hard to do, but you will see results, making it worth the time and effort.


Harrison (Wisconsin): I think vertical video is certainly a trend to keep track of and explore when possible. Vertical video and square video is something that I’ve begun discussing more with our video team. Personally, I find myself recording video on my iPhone vertically much more than I used to. When you consider how much of your social media content is consumed on mobile devices, that can make square/vertical video more impactful and eye-catching.


We are definitely exploring fun and appropriate uses for framing video vertically, but it’s not something that we do exclusively. By mixing in square/vertical video, I think we’re able to catch the eye of our audience on occasion. We still feel there’s great value in horizontal video, but square/vertical video is something that we are beginning to discuss and explore.


Lentz (Baylor): So much of our audience is mobile. We’ve seen five times as much traffic on our football Facebook from mobile devices as we have computers in the last month alone.


If your viewership is primarily on their phones, how are we grabbing their attention and standing out among the crowd? Taking up more real estate is one way of doing that and it provides a creative opportunity to shoot and edit in a much different way.


I don’t think we’ll ever go completely vertical, but I do think you’ll see a greater shift towards it across the board.


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