The Emerson College men’s basketball team had a tremendous season in 2013 and 2014. As an unranked team entering the NEWMAC conference, they had a lot to prove and definitely surprised a lot of people. I was in attendance for each and every home game as the Associate Marketing Director for Emerson Channel Sports in order to provide social media coverage. Watching the team grow and adapt as a unit not only showed their camaraderie and dedication to the sport, but helped me provide better coverage of a department that gets little attention in the Emerson community.
I’ve learned a lot about social media engagement from them. It’s partially because there is such a small audience; I can fairly easily track basic measurements. I can tell you how many people we reached on social platform and how much activity our posts received. I used software to calculate the optimum time of the day to post. During this time I also built a modest marketing team to cover more games and increase our growth. There were shifts in strategy that greatly influenced the success of our online campaigns and carried over into the physical Emerson community.
Content is King
Before the days of Instagram video and Vine, our visual content was strictly blurry pictures. There were a handful of video applications at the time but none had a large enough audience to be useful for our organization. The launch of these prominent applications made our content much more interactive. People could begin viewing the material and reviewing various plays from the games.
Photography with a DSLR has now replaced our blurry Instagram images (all thanks to our fabulous photographer, Sam Nipatnantaporn). Each basketball game consists of at least twenty-five images that include each player who sets foot on the court, some pictures of the coaching staff, and a few shots of the fans in attendance. We have learned to watermark these photos so when they are shared across the Internet we can claim credit. Earlier in the process we made the mistake of not including a watermark; we quickly learned our lesson when athletes began downloading the images and posting them on other platforms or using them as profile pictures (which we couldn’t have been more thrilled about!).
A single photo album gets far more views and activity than our dozens of score updates used to; we’re emphasizing quality images and videos in order to be a resource for the audience and the athletes. Not only have we changed the tools we’re using, we’ve also shifted the focus of what we are including in our coverage.
Successes, Not Scores
We used to post scores heavily; with every score we would try to have an accompanying photo or video (once Vine was around). However, this turned out to be a bit repetitive because ECS provides a live stream of the game and Emerson Athletics updates statistics live online. I wasn’t entirely sure how to shift our focus and what we would highlight instead.
I kept this tactic largely the same until the men’s basketball team competed against Amherst, the defending national champions. We were expected to lose by a landslide, yet we won. The phrase “social media blew up” perfectly applied here. There were constant notifications across all platforms for hours after the game ended; responses were still trickling in for days. It was one of the early games that we used a DSLR camera to get high-resolution photos (as seen below) and I was stunned by the response. The images became people’s profile pictures, Instagram re-grams, cover photos, and the list goes on and on.
We learned athletes weren’t as apt to share score updates (even if a great photo accompanied it) or posts about them dominating their rivals. People shared their success stories; they retweeted the video of them making the three-pointer nobody saw coming or making a great block to defend their basket. The win was important, but not as important as what they accomplished during their time off the bench.
We shifted our approach to report the score separately from plays and it decreased the massive gap of engagement we saw between when the team won or lost. In a few weeks, months, or years, everybody will forget who won that game, but they’ll likely talk about the incredible play that was made by so-and-so in the second half with three minutes left on the clock. We want to focus on those memorable moments, not the final numbers on the scoreboard.
The focus to accomplishments diminished the huge disparity in engagement between when the team won versus when they lost. Even at a game that’s a large loss, we still see relatively interactive engagement with our content. This consistency has allowed us to keep growing our reach and our audience.
We’re looking to connect with the athletes and their friends and family and sometimes, they don’t know we exist. To address this issue, we started tagging them in posts (which meant we had to be a little creeperish–it’s a word–and find their usernames on Instagram and handles on Twitter). The effectiveness exceed my expectations; the people we mentioned followed us if they weren’t already and showed more engagement with the content. It also drove traffic to the other material we published and our social media influence kept rising. Therefore conversations kept rising; on a few occasions the men’s basketball team would be debating a play and would refer to an Instagram video to review it. They would be chatter about the photographs. The content was reaching our audience via the Internet but was discussed in the physical community.
It took us a while to begin to develop these, but I’m so glad we’re producing them more consistently now. With the help of the marketing team, we created a whole list of potential promotional ideas based off of famous sports movies. We selected “Like Mike” as the first concept which was especially fitting with four Mikes on the men’s basketball team. Four promos were created–one for each of them–with one of the regular hosts of ECS’s broadcast, Matt Searle. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome and the audience seems to like it based on the view count and the feedback we’ve received. Take a peek at our creations below!
Event planning isn’t my favorite activity; it is a lot of preparation for a comparably short occasion. However, it was time to transfer the success we had online and create a physical event. At the suggestion of my boss, we threw a SuperBowl party (and I couldn’t have been more nervous for it). With an abundance of food, a big screen television for viewing, and a beautiful Skybox in the heart of our athletics center, we had just under fifty people in attendance. We received positive feedback and helpful suggestions through a survey distributed online afterwords. The people who stopped by were diverse–some were friends we had persuaded to go, some were members of ECS, and many were those who heard about the party and wanted the free food.
The success isn’t enough for me to pursue event planning as a career, but it reassured me that ECS could organize an event and build its brand through them. I’m also realizing how difficult it is to book room on Emerson’s campus, so I’ll likely be planning future events months, if not a year, in advance.
A tremendous “Thank You” to the men’s basketball team for sharing these videos, participating in our promotions, and having an awesome season for us to promote. If it wasn’t for your dedication to the game, there wouldn’t be anything to report on or broadcast. An ENORMOUS “THANK YOU” to my marketing team who put all hands on deck every step of the way. I know that everybody’s already looking forward to the 2014-2015 basketball season.