Social media is an area that, with minimal financial investment, a bit of elbow grease and a touch of creative genius, just about any college coach can support his/her goals in a meaningful way. Social media allows coaches to gain more exposure for their teams, position themselves as leaders in their respective communities and share all the great things that make their school and their program unique with prospective student-athletes, fans, parents, friends and alumni. It’s also a great way to gather and share information, showcase achievements, maintain a positive brand image and connect people.
I’m delighted to say that in my recent work with university athletic departments, just about everyone I’ve spoken with is interested in learning more about how social media can grow and develop their programs. And not just soccer coaches – I’m talking Division I, II & III football, basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming & diving, track & field, golf, volleyball and more.
I’m writing this post to share some of the work I’ve done and experiences I’ve had with college coaches. Hopefully this information is helpful for coaches, athletic directors or administrative personnel, and can be used as a starting point for people interested in engaging in a social media marketing campaign.
One of the first things I do when meeting with a coach is to ask questions and learn about his/her program and sport. I like to learn about the community – both online and in person. I ask about the engagement marketing tactics they’re already invested in and what they’re working to accomplish with any current efforts like Facebook pages and Twitter handles. The answers here give me a good sense of what each team’s community is like and where people are interacting already. I also use this time to gauge the coaches’ social media knowledge so that we are on the same page moving forward.
Identify Goals and Strategies
Next, we identify goals – and not social media goals per se, but personal, team and program goals. As you might expect, a coaches’ success is often measured by their wins and losses, so their top priority is generally to win, be competitive in their conference or to at least improve. Here’s an example of what a college coach might say his/her top goal is, and three strategies they might use to accomplish it (Usually coaches want to rush this part because they think I’m in the room to talk about social media. But I can’t help them until we’re both on the same page about what they want. Guided discovery is sometimes necessary.):
Goal #1: Win a Conference Championship in 3 years.
– Recruit higher caliber student-athletes each year for the next 2 years.
– Improve coaching by taking an educational course each year for the next 2 years.
– Develop a comprehensive periodization plan in the next month and follow it consistently for 1 year.
Plan Social Media Tactics
Okay, now we’re ready to talk social media. We’ll address each of these items line by line to see if there’s a way social media can help. For the sake of this blog’s length, I’ll be pretty top-level just to give you a feeling for what’s possible.
Goal #1: Win a Conference Championship in 3 years.
- Strategy #1: Recruit higher caliber student-athletes each year for the next 2 years.
Social Media Tactic: Identify what obstacles you currently face in recruiting and use social media to overcome them.
If your school is located in a difficult-to-access part of the country, perhaps you can create a series of videos that showcase the great things about your city, campus or athletic department. This might influence a student to visit campus in person, and we all know that once you’ve got them on campus your chances of a commitment increase exponentially.
Maybe your personality is what attracts players to your program, but with limited opportunities to interact you can’t really showcase that. A public profile like a Facebook or Twitter can allow you to share those parts of your personality that people normally only get in person. Share links to things that interest you, post short video clips, and interact with folks in a way you would if they were in the room with you. This way student-athletes will get a good feeling for the real person behind the weekly phone call.
Maybe your team’s news gets buried under the football program at your school, so the potential student-athlete doesn’t search for all the news and updates from your program. Start a Facebook fan page and post updates regularly. Share real-time score updates, recaps and instant reactions from players. Help people on the outside understand what life is like on the inside, and they’ll be more likely to contact you.
Those are just a few quick examples. The take away here is that by identifying the challenges you currently face in recruiting, there’s almost always a way to build a social media campaign to combat them. Remember to always keep NCAA rules in mind when developing recruiting strategies through social media. Here’s a post I wrote a couple weeks back about social media and recruiting for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) you might find helpful.
Strategy #2: Improve coaching by taking an educational course each year for the next 2 years.
Social Media Tactic: Supplement your formal coaching education by blogging, sharing and networking.
Soccer in an interesting sport in that coaching education is a key part of the community itself. I don’t know if other sports are quite as hard core about licensing, but I’m interested to learn. Regardless, there are a ton of social media ideas that offer opportunities for growing as a coach, regardless of sport.
First of course, there’s blogging. Sharing your thoughts is not only relaxing and personally rewarding, but also a great way to showcase your knowledge. You’ll be amazed at how other coaches in your sport will interact and engage with your blog, post comments and share their thoughts or ideas. If you’re not quite ready to blog yourself, read other coaches’ blogs and comment when you have something to add. Learning from others in your field is always a good way to develop your knowledge base and meet people with shared interests.
Attending sport-specific conventions is probably one of the best learning and networking opportunities that exist for coaches. But not everybody has the means or time to attend. By Tweeting photos from an event you attend, posting comments and sessions to Facebook, blogging about what you did and learned at the event, etc. you’ll not only be helping others, but establishing yourself as an authority on your sport in the social community. And if you’re not able to go, seek out the coaches who are providing this content for you and engage with them throughout the conference. Talk about good networking!
Get Facebook mobile. When you’re at a coaching course or out on the road recruiting and meet another coach who you believe you can learn from, friend them. Now you’re connected and have an open line of communication to this person in a less formal environment. You can ask questions and share ideas. Building your personal network will become huge as you evolve in your coaching career.
The take away here is that you can improve your coaching by engaging with others. Taking for an annual coaching course is definitely a solid goal, but you can supplement this with networking and sharing ideas with others in your sport every day.
Strategy #3: Develop a comprehensive periodization plan in the next month and follow it consistently for 1 year.
Social Media Tactic: Use social channels to learn about how, what, why, when, where and how others are developing and implementing periodization schedules and use this information to make your plan even better.
I would probably use social media here for learning and research – find out what others are doing to create and develop periodization plans for their athletes by asking questions on a blog, Facebook page, twitter account, and more. I’d seek out videos of presentations that have been done about periodization as well. Social media is a great tool to learn about what others are doing.
By the way, none of these social media concepts are necessarily independent of one another. Once you’ve developed your periodization schedule, for example, consider capturing video footage throughout the year for your team’s YouTube channel, then write about what you’re doing in your blog, and ask for thoughts and feedback on Twitter. Get creative! Now we’re talking comprehensive engagement.
Tactic < Strategy < Goal
Remember, the key to success is to always tie the work you’re doing back to your main goal. Will any of these ideas support your mission of winning a conference championship? That’s ultimately up to you to test, track, measure and decide.
It’s important to note that it’s not like you just come up with an idea, snap your fingers and make it happen. First, there has to be a plan. Then, coaches have to execute on that plan. So far in my work I’ve consistently seen three main barriers to engagement, and here are a couple ways to help overcome them.
Challenge #1: Lack of Computer Skills
Regardless of experience, education, sport, success, etc., many coaches lack the hardware and software expertise they would need to create podcasts, videos or social profile pages. For example, I’ve had coaches tell me amazing ideas for video campaigns, but they don’t have a video camera, can’t edit the files on their computers, and don’t know how to begin uploading them to the Internet. Another example is that a number of coaches have asked me what the difference is between a personal Facebook page and a Facebook Fan page and which one they should be using for their programs. The answers to these questions are not difficult, they just take specialized education, which coaches are just not frequently exposed to.
- Solve: Athletic Department Education Sessions
In-house educational training sessions will help you and your fellow coaches develop knowledge you might otherwise not have the time or ability to learn on your own. Ask each coach to lead a session in an area they’re familiar with, get your marketing and ticket sales staff involved, or one of your current student-athletes might see it as a great Public Speaking/Communications class project. Maybe one program has a great Facebook page or an awesome blog. Ask that coach to present about what he/she has done to create their social media program and how it’s impacted their recruiting, alumni relations and more – Always remember to bring it back to the main goals of your program.
Challenge #2: Not Enough Content, Fear of Exposure
A frequent concern I hear is that coaches don’t feel that they are interesting enough for Facebook or Twitter, and that nobody really wants to know “what I had for breakfast.” Coaches are also frequently concerned with posting things about themselves or their programs that would expose them to criticism by the media or help their opponents gain a competitive advantage.
- Solve: Develop Content Plans
By developing individualized content calendars, you can build a plan around what you’re going to post and when you’re going to post it. Identify what you are doing each month throughout the year and build a theme around it. For example, if you’re a soccer coach, the theme in January might be recruiting, February is lifting, March is signing letters of intent, April is spring training, May is graduation, etc. The idea is to identify what is interesting/sharable during various periods throughout the year.
You can get even more detailed by determining what content is pushed through which channel based on the communities you’re invested in. For example, if you’re recruiting during the month of January, you might blog about the cities you’re visiting, post photos of your travels on Facebook, check into restaurants you’re eating at on FourSquare, post updates about the weather and field conditions on Twitter and upload a video from your trip onto YouTube. In February, since the theme is lifting, you might blog about the periodization schedule and lifting routine, post photos of the weight room to Facebook, check into the gym before each session on FourSquare, post updates about how great the training sessions went on Twitter and upload a video of the strength and conditioning coach talking about your program on YouTube. An excel spreadsheet works great for developing this plan.
Challenge #3: Investment of Time and Resources
A social media campaign takes time, energy and honest enthusiasm. Between recruiting, traveling, games, practice, lifting, family, friends, and all the other things that go on in our busy lives, coaches are already stretched for time. We’re interested in initiatives like social media, they often get pushed to the back burner because we’re not convinced that they make a powerful enough difference to invest all that time and energy in. Or, we find ourselves doing the same thing over and over again without asking ourselves if its working or not.
- Solve: Measure Success
In order to see how far we’ve come, it’s important to establish where we started. By recording quantitative metrics like Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and website visitors, you can see the return on your investment of time and resources. Recording qualitative results like comment length and engagement, discussion topics, photo and video content, you can get a better feeling for how an external audience perceives their program. Maybe you can even get a fun little contest going in your athletic department – get creative! Once you learn what kind of content brings people to your social profiles and encourages them to interact with you and your program, you can tweak your content plan a bit to give them more of what they want.
In sum, social media can really be a great tool for college coaches to invest in, but it’s important to identify your goals, create a plan around those goals, learn how to do it well, measure the results and then adjust as needed. We as coaches have to take responsibility to do it ourselves, social media engagement isn’t just going to happen for us. Make it a priority and the results will happen!
To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with a few cool examples of social media use in college athletics:
- Marquette Asks Fans For Help With Social Media Ticket Campaign
- Six Reasons Why I love the Utah Women’s Soccer Show Your Scarf Campaign
- Wildcat Wednesday with Greg Byrne
- Learn about the 2011 Ute Gymnasts
- NYC Bars Partner with College Alumni Programs