Over the next 6 weeks till the start of the college football season, I’ll be examining how the schools in the SEC are using social media to connect with their fans. College football in the SEC is huge business, and the primary driver of revenue in the richest athletic conference in the nation. Last year alone, the profit from Alabama’s athletic programs topped every NHL franchise and the majority of the NBA teams as well.
SEC football is huge business, and I wanted to take a closer look at how these programs are leveraging social media to better connect with their fans. On the surface, this might not seem that important, because SEC football already has passionate fans in place, why is it so important to connect with them via social media? There’s two big reasons why: Recruiting, and ratings.
Social media has become an incredibly valuable recruiting tool for college athletics. And for the SEC, a dominance in recruiting has translated to on-field dominance over the last decade, so these programs have a vested interest in using every advantage they have when it comes to recruiting. Social media is a powerful way to attract and keep the attention of potential recruits. So while SEC programs are trying to connect with existing fans, they are also trying to appeal to potentially the next 5-star QB that could lead them to a National Championship in a few years.
Then there’s TV ratings. Anyone that’s followed Twitter during a major TV finale knows that Twitter chatter drives ratings. And ratings play a major role in where teams are slotted when it comes to television coverage. It’s why the South Carolina – Vandy game will be on the SEC Network at 11 am, and the LSU – Alabama game will be on CBS primetime at 7 pm. And having your program shown on a more high-profile network and timeslot means more exposure for your brand and a greater ability to connect with recruits. It’s a very powerful recruiting tool, if a top high school running back is sitting at home and he sees that Texas A&M is being shown nationally as the Game of the Week on ESPN, it makes an impression on him, especially if he is considering other schools in Texas whose games aren’t getting national coverage.
So over the next 6 weeks I’ll cover the social media efforts of the football programs for each of the 14 teams of the Southeastern Conference. Keep in mind as you read these posts that these programs are trying to connect with two main audiences: The fans that buy the tickets, and the recruits that help them win more games (which sell more tickets!).
Here’s the schedule for the series:
Today: The Florida Gators and The Vanderbilt Commodores
August 13th: The LSU Tigers and The Miss State Bulldogs
August 20th: The Texas A&M Aggies and The Kentucky Wildcats
August 27th: The Georgia Bulldogs and The Missouri Tigers
September 1st: The Auburn Tigers and The Arkansas Razorbacks
September 3rd: The Alabama Crimson Tide and The Ole Miss Rebels
How The Florida Gators Use Social Media to Connect With Their Football Fans
One of the aspects of this series that will be interesting will be to see which teams have created social media channels that are dedicated to just the football program, and how many they use. For example, Florida has accounts for the football program on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. The Vine account is a bit of a surprise, but it’s sparsely used, only one Vine so far this year.
I was also a bit surprised that there wasn’t a dedicated Facebook page for the football program, instead Florida has one for the athletics programs as a whole. I will say, whoever mans the Florida Facebook page does a good job of engaging with fans and also has a pretty good sense of humor!
Also, remember that fans want a backstage pass. They want to see content that goes behind scenes. Show us how the facility upgrades are coming along. Give us some videos of summer workouts. This is the kind of content that the casual fan that doesn’t really follow football until the season starts might not care about, but the hardcore fans love to see what’s happening behind the scenes. As I go through this series and look at the other 13 programs, I’ll be paying close attention to how well each school does at creating content that takes me backstage. Now to be fair, Florida’s Facebook page does a nice job of linking to media coverage that each sports program receives. For example, SEC Media Days in Birmingham were earlier this month, and the Facebook page for the Florida athletics program has a nice stream of links to coverage from Media Days on Florida coach Jim McElwain and the attending players. Given that Facebook is going to appeal to a more general audience, this type of content is a good idea. Also it’s worth noting that Florida has a very robust list of social media channels devoted to the athletics department as a whole, including the channels you would expect like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus, but also some surprises like SoundCloud and Storify. Here’s a complete list of the social media channels Florida utilizes across all sports. How the Vanderbilt Commodores Use Social Media to Connect With Their Football Fans Vanderbilt, affectionately known as ‘The Harvard of the South’ is a University more known for its academic prowess than its athletic accomplishments. Looking at how Vandy allocates social media usage, all major sports teams have a dedicated Twitter account, and a few, not including the football program, also have a Facebook page. Vandy has a dedicated Twitter account for each sport, including the football team. However, the athletic department as a whole has dedicated accounts on all the major platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. As with Florida, Vandy is currently putting a lot of promotion via social media for ticket sales for the upcoming football season. I did see a few specially-designed images of football players to get fans excited for the upcoming season such as this one on Twitter:
Honestly, I’m surprised that I haven’t seen a lot more of these type of custom pictures/images from both Vandy and Florida. Images such as these are very popular with fans, who often use them as wallpaper for their mobile devices or PCs. Without looking ahead, I am betting the remaining SEC schools will make good use of such images to hype fans for the upcoming season.
But remember that earlier I said it’s not just about the images for fans, it’s also about the video content. Especially video content that gets fans excited for the upcoming season or ‘hype’ videos. This one from Vandy’s YouTube channel is a great example of the type of video content that fans will eat up as we’re just weeks from the start of the season:
Great video and note that the branding at the end reminds viewers of the value of the Vanderbilt degree. This is one area where Vandy has a real advantage vs most of the rest of the SEC schools, and it’s smart of VU to play off that. What’s interesting to see from Vandy’s social media content is that they are really trying to appeal to prospective students as well as fans, again realizing the value of the Vandy degree. Check out this blog post about a service trip to Cuba that some of the student-athletes took recently.
So that’s this week’s look at how the SEC is leveraging social media to connect with its football fans. Next Thursday, we’ll do the same for the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kentucky Wildcats. As we move into August, Fall camps will begin so it will be interesting to see if the profiled teams include any content from Fall practices as a way to give fans a backstage pass.
If any of you are Florida or Vandy fans, what do you like best about your team’s social media efforts? Have you tried to engage with either Florida or Vandy via Twitter, Facebook or another channel?