Who is a 5 in the Content Game?
By: Danny Dahms
With just a few days before March Madness tips off, we’ve decided to take a different approach for February and grade each school on a 1-5 scale as to how well they either avoid or fall into the game trap. A 1 indicates that a school posts little to no content outside of box scores and highlights, while a 5 indicates a school with a perfectly balanced social media presence.
As an intern at Front Porch Athletics, I have learned to ask “why.” In this case, why are schools engaging in content and social? I’ve learned that this relatively modern form of communications is the ultimate targeted vehicle to engage and drive potential donors, ticket buyers, t-shirt wearers, sponsors, etc. to do something. Content should be driving consumers to the bottom of the marketing funnel.
As I’ve shared many times before, posting scores and schedule updates does help fans to keep an idea as to what’s going on at their favorite school, but it generates very little engagement beyond that. It’s not compelling content and does not provide the non-“die hards” with any way to feel connected to the school, team or student-athlete. No one can truly get invested in a school that they only ever see through numbers and statistics. Instead, the school that provides a more complete picture as to who they really are, is the type of school that attracts the most investment.
Michigan State University - BIG10
Michigan State is the perfect example of how to run a university’s social media account. They’ve got such a healthy variety of content that they never bog themselves down in the game trap and they never lose focus on any particular area of their athletics department.
It’s difficult to pick what exactly to highlight from the Spartans since they do so many things well. One of the areas that catches my attention is how they’ve been highlighting the Black history of the university. The Spartans recently put together a video showcasing the 1966 football team, which primarily consisted of Black players. The school brought back the quarterback of that team to discuss how ahead of the times the Spartans were and what it meant to be on such a diverse team. The Spartans also featured several more posts showcasing their Black student-athletes, some of their favorite stories of Black History Month and more. I can’t do the school enough justice as to how well of a variety they offer their fans in this paragraph, but if you check them out for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Score: 5 - It doesn’t get much better than this.
Kansas State University - Big 12
Kansas State basketball’s poor men’s basketball record has certainly been less than inspiring to say the least. Logically, this would mean the school’s social media team would be motivated to bring attention to other aspects of the school…they succeed at doing just that.
The Wildcats boast one of the most varied timelines compared to many other schools on this list. They frequently bring attention to charitable causes, such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, and their K-State Proud organization. They also included multiple video interviews of some of their student-athletes speaking about their performances and they’ve even incorporated Black history programming into their regular upload schedule. Even though they might be putting less of an emphasis on their primary sports than usual because of a poor season, this certainly isn’t a bad thing when it comes to creating engaging and meaningful content. The school even went so far as to create their own program that allows you to write Valentine’s Day cards to specific student-athletes. Kansas State is safely in the upper echelon of the schools we’ve looked at this month.
Score: 5 - They can’t get much better than they already are.
Middle Tennessee University - C-USA
While this year’s Blue Raiders men’s basketball team might not have the talent to upset a top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament like they did a few years ago, the school’s social media team has more than enough talent to make up for it.
When going down the Middle Tennessee timeline, you would never be able to pinpoint a specific team or sport that they focus their attention on. They show equal amounts of love to each of their athletics teams and better yet, most of this love comes in the form of non-game related content. For example, every Tuesday is #TriviaTuesday, where the social media department will share random trivia questions focusing on one of their multiple teams. The school has also highlighted some of the most important Black student-athletes in the school’s history in multiple photos that show the players then and now. The Blue Devils offer plenty more examples of content that goes above and beyond simple in-game reports and they’re definitely one of the better athletics accounts to check out.
Score: 5 - One of the most well-rounded social media presences that we’ve come across.
Cornell University - Ivy League
In each of our past lists, the representative for the Ivy League has consistently been towards the top, and Cornell is no exception. With the complete absence of sports since last spring, members of the Ivy League have had no choice but to fill their timelines with other types of content.
Every day, the Big Red has consistently provided their fans with some form of media to consume. Their posts vary from small fun facts about the history of their school’s athletics to minute-long games of “I Spy” where the viewer has to find where Cornell’s mascot, Touchdown, is within the picture. Beyond this, they also include #FacilityFridays where new athletics facilities are featured in weekly virtual tours and they post dozens of articles regarding the history of their programs. Overall, Cornell would be one of the lucky few to earn a perfect score if they didn’t rely so heavily on articles as their preferred means of reaching their fans on social media. Although Big Red is certainly exempt from the game trap, since they have no games to actually feature, they still can’t be perfect without enough engaging alternative content.
Score: 4 - They’re just a few tiny tweaks away from being perfect. We would love to see less editorials and more photos and video.
University of Kentucky - SEC
For the first time since 2013, Kentucky men’s basketball has struggled. This has definitely created a lull when it comes to hype surrounding the school’s athletics and for that reason, it’s in the best interest for the school to create interesting content emphasizing on other topics. The Wildcat social media department is fully aware of that and they do a great job at reaching that goal.
Kentucky has one of the most active social media feeds that you’ll come across in all of college athletics. This means regardless of what type of content they post, there will always be plenty of it. Some of the things they’ve routinely posted throughout February are quotes from student-athletes about Black History Month, similar to some other schools on this list, and scenic images of the school covered in snow. In addition to this they’ve also created a short video series titled “Not Your Average Hero,” in which past alums are interviewed about their experience at Kentucky. The most recent of these featured Wilbur Hackett of the 1969 Wildcat football team, who was the first Black team captain in SEC history. With such a diverse and active timeline, Kentucky would be an example of the perfect college social media department if it wasn’t for the floods of highlights and score updates that they like to frequently share.
Score: 4 - If they paid slightly less attention to their in-game results, they’d be one of the teams furthest from the game trap.
University of California - Pac 12
Cal has plenty to offer when it comes to their variety of posts on social media. They did an excellent job of celebrating Black History Month and showing just the right amount of game-centric content.
Out of all the schools on this list, there are very few that can compare to the Bears when it comes to the emphasis they put on Black History Month. Every day there have been multiple posts relating to it and there is a healthy mix of different media being used to celebrate it. Among the types of media shared, there are videos featuring present-day Black student-athletes and coaches, photos and stories of the trailblazing Black Cal students of the past, and even posts directing you to the school’s racial justice council. Outside of their celebration of Black History Month, the Bears also succeed with other forms of content. The school has sometimes created videos for their student-athletes of their families cheering them on from home while also celebrating any particular academic achievements from their players. Cal expertly incorporates this blend of content to safely avoid the game trap. The only possible cause for concern I have for Cal is how they’ll fill their timeline post-February. Before Black History Month there were more frequent gaps between posts and I’m curious if they’ll fall back into that habit going forward.
Score: 4 - Right now, Cal creates a plethora of content that is especially relevant at the time to draw attention away from their numerous posts highlighting their in-game results. They’ll definitely become a perfect 5 if they can keep up this habit going forward.
Villanova University - Big East
With March Madness around the corner and the Wildcats being one of the most consistent men’s basketball blue bloods in the nation, it’s no wonder that the Villanova athletics department would put a heavy emphasis on their basketball team leading up to March. However, Nova still does sprinkle in some non-game related content into their timeline.
The most notable of this content is related to their celebration of Black History Month. At the beginning of February, the school put together an initiative that would highlight some of their Black student-athletes throughout the month. In these posts, the school highlighted several things about the athlete, such as their hometown and a fun fact about them. The school also included quotes from the student-athlete themselves about something they’re passionate about or something about Villanova. If they moved away from flooding their timeline with so many highlights and box scores, they could easily move up this list.
Score: 3 - Nova gets some things right, but they post too frequently about in-game performance to be considered completely safe from the game trap.
Winthrop University - Big South
Despite being perhaps the smallest school we’ve looked at so far, Winthrop doesn’t use this as an excuse to lag behind some of their bigger competitors.
Obviously the results and updates of the school’s athletics teams are the first priority for the social media department, but they also feature a nice amount of content from other areas. The school’s main athletics hub frequently reposts content from other departments and they also create their own, which leads to a great overall variety. One of the Winthrop-based accounts that they repost from is their Alumni association. The Alumni account frequently highlights the history of the school, and throughout February they’ve been posting more often about some of their influential Black alumni. The main athletics hub does a nice job at sprinkling this into their regularly scheduled content simply by sharing it. The athletics account also creates very intractable content, such as colorable pictures of some of their student-athletes for their younger fans. They also jumped on the annual Valentine’s Day card bandwagon by creating light-hearted cards featuring puns based on their student-athletes’ names.
Score: 3 - They’ve definitely got the right idea and they could do even better by incorporating engaging content more often.
Wichita State University - AAC
The Shockers are another school that does a solid job at avoiding the game trap.
Wichita State has employed almost the exact same social media strategy for the month of February as Villanova. Both schools have taken it upon themselves to feature some of their Black student-athletes and to allow them to speak about whatever they want regarding Black History Month. In contrast to the Wildcats though, the Shockers feature their athletes in video form, as opposed to a series of slides or pictures. These videos are short and sweet but the production value behind them could explain why Wichita State doesn’t post them quite as much as the Wildcats do. Outside of these posts, the Shockers still have some room for improvement. The bulk of their feed is still game-related, as to be expected, but they could stand to benefit from a wider variety outside of this content.
Score: 3 - There’s room for improvement but they’re definitely doing okay as is.
Quinnipiac University - MAAC
The Bobcats are another one of the smaller schools that we’ve covered thus far, and while they’re definitely not a victim of the game trap, they can still improve.
Many posts on the Quinnipiac athletics’ social media feed are simply box scores and in-game updates. However, what saves them from being one of the lower ranked schools this month, is how much focus they’ve put on their Black student-athletes and alumni for the month of February. Out of all the schools on this list, the Bobcats feature the most stories from their student-athletes by far. Every week, five Black student-athletes have been highlighted and they are each able to give a quote either praising the Black history of the school or giving advice to future Black students. The school presented these posts in a very elegant manner and they appeared on the school’s main timeline almost daily, which is more variety than some other schools can claim. If Quinnipiac is able to keep up with this variety going forward, they’ll definitely climb our rankings.
Score: 3 - There’s definitely a lot of game-centric content, but it’s saved by a nice variety of posts about other areas.
Clemson University - ACC
The Tigers sometimes made attempts to post non-game related content, but for the most part, their feed is indicative of a game trap victim.
Once in a while throughout the month of February, the Tigers posted and celebrated some of the school’s famous Black alumni. However, most of these posts come in the form of outside articles that require the consumer to be redirected to the Tigers’ blog site. As we’ve said before, this is one of the worst ways to drive engagement and it doesn’t help that these posts are few and far between. The bulk of Clemson’s content is directly game-related, but their attempts at variety still keep them from being one of the most extreme game trap victims I’ve come across. For example, they put together a great video for a “Heritage run” early in February which saw the women’s volleyball team visit landmarks on campus that represent some of the greatest contributions from Black Clemson students of the past. They also created a couple posts showing off the beautiful Clemson campus, so the Tigers are definitely aware that variety is something to strive for.
Score: 2 - They know what they should be doing, but they’re not quite there yet. This is strange because the social team involved with football recruiting draws has been well chronicled.
UNLV - MWC
The Rebels are a school that just barely does enough to not be considered a full-fledged victim of the game trap. They post numerous times per day and while a large majority of those posts are either highlights or score updates, they occasionally shift their focus elsewhere.
One of the ways that UNLV likes to provide variety to their timeline is through short interview style videos featuring student-athletes, particularly those on the softball team. The interviews themselves were brief and simply featured the athletes talking about the upcoming season, but they still offer a break between box score after box score. Aside from these interviews, the only other time in February that UNLV has posted unique content was in a handful of videos featuring student-athletes speaking about Black History Month. These types of posts show that UNLV wants to provide their fans with variety, but they simply don’t do it enough.
Score: 2 - Until they move away from relying so heavily on in-game performance, they can’t be considered safe from the game trap.
Grand Canyon University - WAC
There’s not much more to GCU’s social media feed beyond their scores and schedules. Even though these are all presented in attractive and creative graphics, they don’t engage people for more than a few seconds.
You could quickly navigate throughout the entire GCU timeline of February in roughly five minutes. The bulk of their content was nothing more than simple graphics featuring scores or photos celebrating student-athletes for their in-game performances. Outside of this content, the only other prominent posts that appeared multiple times on GCU’s feed were pictures of campus, and while it is beautiful, it only catches the eye for a few seconds. Once in a while the Lopes social media team will also create polls for fans to participate in, but again, that only takes a few seconds to complete.
Score: 2 - The school desperately needs more variety, and in addition to this, the new variety of content needs to be engaging.
Drake University - MVC
With Drake men’s basketball boasting a gaudy record, they’re certainly more than happy to direct as much attention to their on-court performance as possible. However, this has put all other aspects of the University on the backburner as you could count on one hand the number of Bulldogs’ posts unrelated to their in-game performances for the entire month of February.
By definition, the Drake social media feed would be the perfect example of a game trap victim. While they do create cool and appealing graphics for all of their score and schedule updates, there’s not much more to dive into beyond first glance. The school is in serious need of more variety for their timeline which is very easily achievable, especially during Black History Month where there are a plethora of opportunities to highlight individual student-athletes and some of the university’s Black history. If Drake is also able to secure the March Madness bid that they’re hoping for, they’ll certainly have more attention coming their way and it would be a great time to revamp their social media department.
Score: 1 - The school desperately needs variety.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga - Southern
With all of their athletics in full swing again and their fans now being allowed to attend these games, the Mocs have shifted all focus towards their wins and losses.
Without exaggeration, the Mocs have more than double the amount of letters in the nickname of their University than they have non-game related posts for the month of February. It requires some real digging to get past the highlights and box scores to find any different kind of content. The best piece of media that they put out this month were custom Valentine’s Day cards tailored to some of their specific student-athletes. Even though this was obviously in order to celebrate the holiday, if they just made more of this light-hearted or student-athlete-centric content, they’d solve most of their problems. However, as of right now, Chattanooga is another victim to the trap.
Score: 1 - Implementing any type of variety in their upload schedule would go a long way.
As you can tell, the game trap is a slippery slope and it’s not easy to escape once a school has cemented itself as a victim. This can be seen through each of the aforementioned lower schools as they’ve developed clockwork-like routines where they only show what happened in last night’s games. These teams must now shift their focus towards breaking out of this habit if they hope to resonate with their audiences the same way that some of the higher-graded schools do. These schools that have always been wary of the game trap are the ones that create much more incentive for their community of fans, alumni, etc., to support the school and driving them ultimately into the marketing funnel.