The Gong Blog

College athletic departments are now on the “social” clock

College Athletics and Social Media

Yes, that’s a picture of two of my prized possessions — a Rutgers helmet and football signed by Greg Schiano for my 50th birthday. They are proudly displayed in my office. I have a great deal of respect for the man and what he did for my alma mater’s football program. I could write about how he got a raw deal the last few days, and how I hope he gets a shot to prove that he’s a great college head coach. 

But this is not that blog post. 

No this is addressed to all the college and university athletic department administrators who wake up today facing a new reality. It is well articulated in today’s USA Today by college football writer Dan Wolken who points out that newly-hired coaches and administrators who hire them now may have to “win” social media before they even get a chance to “win” the news conference. 

That’s a frightening thought for athletic departments who are still trying to figure out how to use social media beyond using it as a recruiting tool to convince 17- and 18-year-olds to pick their school because they have cooler graphics than their rivals.  

How can schools use social channels to their advantage in ways ranging from staving off the negative social avalanche to crowdfunding fundraising to just plain rallying the troops? 

Identify and engage your social influencers early and often and include them in the conversation.

If athletic departments just looked, they could identify their core “influencers” on social channels. They tweet often. They have more than just 100 followers (in many cases thousands or more). They are always “on” the channels commenting on games. They are fans but rational. They want you to succeed both on and off the field. Reach out to them. Bring them in the fold and arm them with good, solid information. They can help you stem the tide when all hell is breaking loose. 

Include them in your fundraising conversations.

Not every donor can give you $10,000, but influencers can help you find and convince 1,000 people to give $10. Rutgers fans know the success we’ve had doing this on a relatively small scale so far in our social community. It works. 

Ignore the small stuff.

While there were some critical loud voices that aided in the Tennessee “snowball effect” against Schiano, most of the social crowd that chimed in had small numbers of followers. You need to decide what your negative tipping point is. And to be frank, it usually seems a lot worse than it is. You can usually ride it out — especially if you can proactively balance it out with some friendly influencer voices. 

This is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year effort.

You just can’t turn it off and on when you want to; it doesn’t work that way. A good first step is to spend more time being “social listeners.” If you listen, you can easily find out what’s on the mind of your collective fan base and help avoid issues before they become an issue. 

I realize this is a total mind shift for athletic departments, who have focused for years on beat writers and columnists. In 2017, EVERYONE is a beat writer and columnist. In some cases, they can influence more people than the daily paper or website covering you. 

The Tennessee-Schiano case is the wake-up call. Athletic departments need to learn from the big brands and take proactive steps to build their online communities and influencer stables, or be faced with a growing sense of doom every time they need to communicate what their fan base may perceive as an unpopular decision. 

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POSTED IN: Social Media, Strategic Communications

Jon Newman

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