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The Secret to Auburn Athletics' Speedy Social Media Growth

Jason Matheson is competitive. He’s the head of Digital for the Auburn University’s Department of Athletics. To Jason, social media isn’t about beating someone else, it’s about being at the top. That same competitive attitude present in Auburn Athletics crosses over to the War Eagle social media channels.

Recently, Jason gave us an inside look at the #AllForAuburn campaign that earned them a million followers on their social media channels. Jason shows us you don’t have to be in sports to use the same competitive approach to increasing your social media reach. Many thanks to Jason for his time.

1. What was the inspiration for your "All For Auburn" campaign?

Auburn Digital should be just as competitive as the teams we field. We're constantly recruiting fans, season ticket holders, donors and the next generation of student-athletes. We compete with programs with larger enrollments in more populated states. If it's strictly a numbers game, other programs simply have more people. Auburn is known for its passionate fans and we need to tap that competitive advantage. We can maximize Auburn's reach and engage at a higher rate with our stakeholders. We need a rally point to focus our efforts. Enter the #AllforAuburn campaign.

best social media for college sport

2. How did you come up with your goals?

Our "One Million" number was big but attainable goal within a reasonable timeframe. We didn't want a finish line but a marker on our way to our next goal. Overall, we (1) wanted to increase Auburn's reach on our official social platforms and (2) encourage fans to explore more of what we offer more often.

3. What are some of the tactics you used to increase your fan numbers?

We all have a finite amount of time and resources so we first prioritized our efforts on the platforms we anticipated the most return. We then developed the #AllforAuburn hashtag to focus our efforts across all platforms. It conveys multiple facets including "everyone's for Auburn" and "I'll give my all for Auburn" (plus has roots in a traditional Auburn cheer). It's a uniquely Auburn call to action. Finally, we streamlined our post techniques and armed our contributors with templates to unify our visual messaging.

university athletics and social media 


4. Did you use an application to keep track of your campaign? Did you use contests?

We've experimented with many social tools (and fielded pitches from untold number of tech startups) but nothing beats hands-on, daily interaction with our stakeholders. It's hard work to consistently to provide our fans what they want (rather than what you want to give them) but the feedback is immediate. We decided against contests or anything that felt artificial. People have developed an online filter and recognize whether you have substance or whether your efforts are just temporary.

One of our key analytics is "percent engaged" on Facebook. We may not have the population but we can engage our base at a higher rate than anyone else.

social media and sports fans and engagement

5. How did you get buy-in from your staff and coaches?

It's an ongoing educational process within the Department. The early adopters were the coaches most in-tune with recruiting. As soon as we convinced a few to use the hashtag, it caught on from there.

athletics departments at universities engage sports fans passions



We also have an online section on to track our efforts in addition to a physical wall chart in our digital area. Sports fans relate to stats so providing a visual guage of our efforts was a natural.


6. What was the biggest surprise in the campaign?

How quickly it gained traction. There's a natural shift in the way people consume information and this rides that wave. We should hit our target earlier than forecast.

7. Did you witness a lull at all during the campaign? What did you do to kickstart your efforts?

Not yet but it's natural in college athletics to see things slow down during the summer months. However, without live events, we have more time to develop features and focus on the emotional pull. People aren't logical when it comes to supporting a team. Emotion has to be our hook.


8. Do you think an annual campaign of this sort would be successful?

We don't see an end for this campaign. We'll hit our number goal but then we'll just set our bar higher. Our idea of success is when #AllforAuburn becomes ingrained in our identity.

9. What have you seen other schools doing on social media you'd like to try?

We like Oregon's natural pull on "younger" platforms (Instagram, Vine) and the overall efforts from Miami, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Michigan and LSU do some really nice work on their sport-specific platforms. Each Athletics Department has a different personality and priorities. College teams are simply more interesting than pro teams in this arena.

10. How do you organize and manage all the social media accounts in the department?

Our digital team handles our six main Auburn Athletics platforms. The individual athletics communicators are responsible for their sport feeds (with varying degrees of involvement from coaching staffs). We like to cross-pollinate on our main platforms by "percolating up" the best from the individual sport feeds. We have a visual style we've developed across all our platforms to unify our efforts.

11. What tips would you have for someone in a one-person shop with a smaller brand that would like to try a similar campaign?

Everyone has a stake in your brand's social efforts. Develop and share your philosophy. Lead by example. Aim to persuade a few key early adopters (inside and outside the department). Others will follow.

Jason Matheson (@JasonRMatheson) has been the Assistant AD for Digital with Auburn Athletics since March 2013. He started in college athletics as an intern at Miami in Coral Gables and then worked 11 years in Norman with Oklahoma Athletics prior to Auburn. Like many in this field, he began in media relations and developed an aptitude for digital. Jason says his job has been an evolution that changes as digital changes. 

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