Today, John and I addressed a gathering of about 50 coaches, administrators and marketers of the athletic department at the University of Denver. Our message: In the near future, a university’s approach to social media will be the differentiator in recruiting, marketing and alumni/booster relationships.
As marketing professionals and sports fans, we observe with great interest the developing relationship among student-athletes, their programs and social media. The landscape is littered with young people in high profile positions sharing the consequences of poor decisions. North Carolina’s “Anchorman Austin,” “The Duke List,” the University of Kansas football and basketball teams get in a real world fight and then take it online…
Predictably, programs adopt a defensive strategy. Some ban the use of social networks, nearly all require visibility to existing accounts. The University of Missouri Track and Field program assigns patrol of athlete accouts to team captains.
Services are being offered that monitor Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Some traditional media consultants now include “social media training,” as a keyword in their marketing. Unfortunately, the former only provides reaction after the fact and the latter is more opportunism than value: The same safe, uninteresting sound bites that garner precious seconds of TV air time are rewarded by ostracization on social media.
The winners of recruitment battles will be those who can look parents in the eye and say, “Mr. and Mrs. (Athlete Parents), we recognize the realities and importance of a personal brand. If your daughter chooses our school, when her collegiate career is over, the online activity she exhibits during her time with us will open doors for her.”
Ashton Kutcher’s is the most popular Twitter page because he shares things about himself and talks back to you.The winners of collegiate marketing battles will be those who develop synergy among the self-interests of their most marketable assets–their student-athletes, the interactive nature of the Web and the larger community: Alumni, boosters, patrons. They will bridge the gap between athlete and spectator in the way celebrities and fans have done.
A professional approach with professional standards of conduct will produce professionals. This approach will be founded on strategic (rather than defensive) listening, a clearly defined acumen and training. The question of social media and college athletes is not, “Should we allow it?” but rather, “How can we create the best possible ongoing brand experience?”
Who will provide the model? “It will be,” as John said today, “whoever is the most ready to be amazing.”
And the rest will follow.
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