UW Badger athletics provide a rich resource for social media, and UW staff make the most of it to entertain and engage fans, UW Director of Athletic Communications Brian Lucas told a gathering of professionals who are fans of both Bucky Badger and social media.
“We try to create a connection with fans,” Lucas told the Social Media Breakfast Madison Wednesday, August 21, in a presentation titled Scoring with Social Media at the Best Western Plus InnTowner & The Highland Club.
Lucas detailed how UW Athletics staff use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and uwbadgers.com not only to inform audiences but to engage fans and generate loyalty.
Social media have dramatically changed the way UW Athletics communicates, he said, noting that prior to social media the staff primarily relied on outside media to tell their stories. It was UW Athletics’ job to try to influence those stories, but they had little control over the final product, after sending out a news release. Now, with social media, he said, “We don’t have to rely on media to tell our story; we can do it ourselves.”
Not only that, he said, but UW staff can tell a broader and more detailed story than the mass media because they have daily access to players, locker rooms and practices. “We have a lot of stories to tell,” he said.
Some of what they put on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is substantive, such as the first video interview with new Head Football Coach Gary Andersen and some is less so, such as a video of players traveling to Disneyland during their Rose Bowl trip. “People love to know that we ate chicken sandwiches before a game,” he said.
Some other examples Lucas cited:
* UW Athletics opened a Twitter account the day before National Signing Day in 2008 so they could announce new recruits first on Twitter and then send them a welcome message such as, “Chris Borland, welcome to the Badgers!”
* After staff shot an emotional video of Coach Andersen informing a walk-on student athlete that he had earned a scholarship, they tweeted it, and a Sports Illustrated writer retweeted it, greatly increasing its visibility. “I have Twitter open on my computer at all times,” Lucas said.
* Staff posted a “football is back” post with a picture of a player running with the ball on the field, and it reached 130,000 people.
* When staff were provided an aerial picture of a corn maze depicting Coach Andersen’s face, “I immediately thought of Twitter,” Lucas said. That post took off nationally, was in “every college football blog” and caught the attention of the media.
* A photo of UW basketball player Sam Decker checking in at airport at the start of a trip to Canada provided a behind-the-scenes look at what the basketball team is doing while getting ready for the season to start. “It’s stuff you can’t get anywhere else,” Lucas said.
* When staff posted video of the football players doing a “dance-off” at spring practice it generated 400,000 views, and was picked up by CNN and ESPN Sports Center.”We put it up, and immediately it was a hit,” he said. And not only was it fun entertaining, was a good PR for the program and “a great introduction for Coach Andersen.”
* As the Twitter account approached its 10,000th Tweet, the staff posted the 9,999th Tweet stating they would retweet the best completion to the sentence, “Camp Randall on a Saturday is … ” and give the winner two tickets to a game. They received 100 responses, retweeted the winner, and then were able to make the most of the contest by retweeting about 50 of the best responses.
Lucas said UW Athletics initially started with one Facebook page for all 23 sports but it quickly became clear that fans – and recruits – wanted pages that focused on their specific sports. Today, UW Athletics has 20 Facebook pages, the most popular being the main page, with 511,000+ “likes” and the football page with 194,000. The mens basketball Facebook page has 27,000+ “likes”.
Lucas said the Facebook strategy is to entertain and engage and then “sneak in our messages.” He said they often use photos of Bucky Badger or popular players such as former players Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt to capture fans’ attention and get “likes”.
Lucas said staff monitor Twitter accounts from sports writers throughout the country and engage with them regularly. “We need to be in that conversation,” he said. In addition, he said, Twitter is much more popular than Facebook among 14- to 18-year-old potential recruits so it is important for the program to be visible to them, using Twitter to send positive messages about UW Athletics.
UW Athletics now has 18 Twitter accounts, with @badgerfootball having 46,000+ followers and @uwbadgers having 28,000+. On Twitter, he said, “We try to answer questions. Somebody asks about parking, and we respond. We get a lot of questions on game day.” They also have started displaying live Tweets on the scoreboard at Camp Randall during games, and that has become very popular.
They also make extensive use of YouTube, with 1,400 videos and 3.6 million total views.
Lucas said UW Athletics is experimenting with Google + and Pinterest and “trying to figure out now how best to use them.”
“You have to figure out what you are going to use each platform,” he said. “You have to have a separate strategy for each.”
At the same time, he said, with social media you have to be flexible. “We do just kind of go at it and do what we do and sometimes we’re successful. We’re not afraid to try stuff; if it works, great, we’ll keep doing it. If not, we’ll change direction.”
Lucas said staff provide training to players on how to use – and not use – social media, emphasizing that all posts should be positive. “We tell student athletes to use Twitter for good, not evil,” he said. They remind players that everything they post will get out, no matter how private they might think it is, and that NFL scouts and general managers look at their accounts to see what kind of person they are.
“We tell them if you wouldn’t say it to your mother or to someone’s face, don’t say it on Twitter,” he said.
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Thanks to Jeffrey Powers at Geekazine for capturing this presentation on video: