As college athletic departments prepare their social media strategy for the NCAA men's basketball tournament this week, they know that keeping fans engaged is more than just real-time news via Twitter. Yesterday, Mashable published an infographic from Sports Stream implying that if schools in the tournament did not have a dedicated Twitter feed and Facebook page for men's basketball, they were missing the boat. Just the title of the article is misinformed: "March Madness Teams Disappoint on Social Media." Au contrair, mon ami.
Even though the article was very informative-the conclusions were just a little off. Here are three reasons schools need to think beyond segmented real-time at tournament time.
1. Good social media strategy begins with an understanding of sector culture. In college sports, unlike professional sports, fans usually have an allegiance to a school, not a team. To say that fans would be annoyed by news from other school sports in their Twitter feed might be an error. While working as a social media manager at a D-I school, we surveyed our fans regularly regarding our social media strategy. We found that the majority of our fans appreciated news from other sports, and wanted one main feed where they could get all the news. Most of the sports communicators I've talked with at non-BCS schools say their fans feel the same way. Their allegiance is to the school, not a particular team.
2. Schools need an integrated social strategy to enrich fan advocacy at tournament time. The NCAA and top sports outlets (CBS,ESPN, etc.) provide a wealth of tools that fans use to follow the games and get real-time news on their phones, tablets, and computers. Schools should be more concerned with "newsjacking" the opportunities provided by the tournament to enrich fan advocacy in addition to providing real-time updates. This means running exclusive "behind the scenes" videos on a YouTube channel, feature stories about the players and the tournament experience, a picture gallery on Pinterest or Instagram, or tweeting pictures during the tournament. Think broader.
The opportunity to showcase the team across multiple channels is much more important to a school than having a sport-specific Twitter feed or Facebook page. Think about the concept of social business. How can schools use their channels to engage alumni and donors, or create new basketball fans? Think bigger.
3. One size social media strategy does not fit all. In the same way that small businesses cannot replicate what corporates do, smaller schools (non-BCS schools) need to think about scale, not volume. Many schools in the NCAA tournament would be hurt by segmenting their fan base to one-sport channels. Their fans bases are simply too small.
College sports have a connection to a broader mission that stretches to the rest of the campus. Smart schools understand that and use athletic social media channels for more integrated engagement in academics, advance, admissions, alumni, and many other operations.
The tournament is more than a real-time news event. Schools need to think big and take advantage of the event to build advocacy for their school. Think Flutie Effect.