Businesses like ours, and the clients we help, are intent on finding the best use of social media tools to win customers and ultimately drive sales. But our dirty little secret is that the average Joe and Jane still think of social media as a way to stalk people and keep up with their friends. Now, most college athletic programs are using that same philosophy but applying it as a recruiting and marketing gateway. Basically, it’s a way to stay in touch with the school’s fans and potential recruits.
Lesson #1: Social media is a good way to stay on your customers’ minds when they might not otherwise be thinking about you.
With more than 800 million people on Facebook and another 300 million on Twitter, it makes sense for athletic departments to adopt it as a communications tool.
Lesson #2: Branding is a long game. Social media is a good way to extend your brand, so you don’t have to seek immediate gratification all the time. It also gives recruits and fans the ability to build relationships with the coaches and athletes on a more intimate level. With increased media attention in college sports already, an effective social media campaign will give people an inside glance at what other outlets can’t provide and give the consumer an effective way to talk to the brand.
For teams that are not “top-tier” programs, who have to try harder than bigger programs, social media is an inexpensive and direct way to market to and engage the fan base. Most universities discovered that fans wanted more content and the social media channels were a way of distributing it to them.
Lesson #3: Have you seen the cost to produce and air a TV commercial? A good social media program is cheap, no matter how you slice it. You just have to work to make it effective.
According to Mario Mercurio, Director of Basketball Operations at Xavier University, “Using social media in partnership through television and radio is so imperative. It’s what everyone is moving towards and you have to be where your fans are. You have to be easily accessible.” This is really imperative for schools that don’t have big media budgets or are lesser-known. It’s a way of leveling out the playing field with the bigger boys in college athletics.
Lesson #4: Integrate your marketing. It’s always greater than the sum of its parts.
Facebook and Twitter are revolutionizing the way coaches recruit players, too. Most players have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and coaches are using the social media giants as avenues to stay up-to-date with what is going on in a recruit’s daily life. It also saves athletic departments money in travel and phone costs. Basically, if you’re not using these tools, then you are a step behind in the recruiting world.
Lesson #5: Social media is a two-way medium. You can talk and listen. And, it can be personal.
However, the NCAA is trying to mandate what coaches can and can’t do in the social media world. One rule prevents a coach and school from directly mentioning a recruit’s name publicly, but they can send direct messages to the recruit through the platforms. One coach went so far as to offer multiple recruits scholarships through his Twitter feed, which is a potential violation since the coach sent it as a public Tweet.
Lesson #6: Your words are public, weigh them carefully.
The final message is clear: Social media in college athletics – and business – is here to stay.