Monday, February 9, 2015

Making the Grade: A Social Media Report Card for Collegiate Athletic Conferences

Having a social media presence is a given for virtually any brand today assuming its target audience uses social media. This statement is particularly relevant for sports brands as fans take to social media to follow their favorite teams and athletes as well as join in community with fellow fans. College athletic conferences are brands in their own right. Each conference is an umbrella brand over the brands of its member institutions.

Social media metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers are captured by initiatives such as Sports Fan Graph, but audience quantity in terms of likes or followers is perceived by many social media marketers as vanity metrics. They measure quantity of clicks but not quality of brand-audience engagement. Some of the audience acquired may be attributed to relationship building that occurred offline. Given these limitations, what are alternatives to evaluating social media marketing effectiveness for sports brands?

Grading College Conferences using a Social Media Audit

Students enrolled in my undergraduate sports marketing course at Middle Tennessee State University during the fall semester evaluated the social media presence of collegiate athletics conferences as part of their study of social media marketing practices in the sports industry. Twenty-five conferences were reviewed; each of the twenty-five students in the class conducted an audit of two conferences assigned randomly. The social media audit criteria included:
  • Social Networking Sites Used- Identified the sites used by the conference
  • Audience size- For each social network identified, audience size was reported on each site as of the date of the audit.
  • Content strategy- What content forms were used by the conference (video, photos, links to league members’ pages, other content).
  • Engagement- Evaluated frequency of content posts and level of interaction with posts (likes, shares, reposts, etc. from audience).
  • Critique of strengths and weaknesses- Reviewed overall social media practices of conference, indicating areas in which conference uses social media effectively and areas for improvement.
  • Overall Grade: Gave a grade for the conference’s use of social media marketing based on  analysis of content strategy, engagement, and strengths/weaknesses. Assigned grade of A, B, C, D, or F; +/- grades were allowed. 
Audits were conducted during the period November 7-21, 2014. Results of the students' analysis of the conferences appear in the table below. 

Social Media Audit Report Card
The Honor Roll:
Conference USA
Southeastern Conference
Mountain West Conference
Big Sky Conference
Pacific-12 Conference
The Rest:
Big Ten Conference
Atlantic Coast Conference
Northeast Conference
Colonial Athletic Association
Ohio Valley Conference
Big South Conference
Big 12 Conference
Southland Conference
Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference
American Athletic Conference
Atlantic 10 Conference
Sun Belt Conference
Mid-American Conference
Southwestern Athletic Conference
West Coast Conference
Missouri Valley Conference
Patriot League
Southern Conference
Western Athletics Conference
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

A Look at the Honor Roll

The top five conferences can be considered as making the Honor Roll as each had a 3.0 GPA or higher when the judges's scores were averaged. What practices made these five conferences stand out? Hear what the student judges had to say:

Conference USA
"It seemed that in some way each (social media) site was linked to each other. I believe this helps attract fans to their other pages and helps the conference gain more followers. They keep their audience and fans engaged with different content."

"They do a great job with keeping their followers informed of current news and updates."

Southeastern Conference
"Overall, the SEC is very good at keeping their fans informed. They post multiple times a day across many platforms and have a variety of different topics and media."

"The overall  presence of the SEC on social media seems to be working fairly well. It may work in the conference's favor to interact with fans more and comment and just have more overall interaction with fans considering the fan base is so large."

Mountain West Conference
"The Mountain West Conference does a great job with the way they use their social networking sites, using Instagram for pictures, Facebook more for fan interaction, Twitter for informational purposes, and YouTube for video."

"Direct communication via Twitter is a strength, communicating with fans that had technical difficulties watching the games. This makes the conference more personable and is a good way to sustain and grow their number of followers."

Big Sky Conference
"Social media practices are great on Facebook and Twitter. They post everyday and get people pumped up about upcoming games and events."

"Big Sky Conference appears to be very involved and active on their social media sites. They are extremely aware of how often they post and give fans and followers a wide array of news. The brand seems to be very well thought out and consistent throughout all social media sites."

Pacific-12 Conference
"This conference is very good about trying to involve fans, at least on Facebook. They post a variety of different media and ask the fans questions, which leads to the amount of comments they receive. They are also good at tagging the Pace-12 schools in some of their posts on Twitter. This gets the schools involved and puts the name in front of followers."

"They have good content on YouTube but not many views. They could probably make use of another channel like their Facebook or Twitter pages to make people more aware of their presence on YouTube."

Lessons Learned

Overall, the exercise was valuable in that it allowed students to apply social media marketing concepts and practices they learned to two collegiate sports brands. The results are not based on rigorous data analysis. However, they could be used by college athletic conferences to rethink how they utilize social media. It seems to be a given that these brands need to have a social media presence. Conference brands have what could be viewed as a built-in fan base from the fans of their member schools. The question that must be asked is whether there is a strategy in place that sets outcomes a conference should realize through its use of social media channels.