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Kings of The Court: How Duke Basketball Has Continued To Excel On Social Media

Through a renewed investment in digital, the department has become a content powerhouse.

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Image via @DukeMBB Instagram

There are few brands, if any, in all of college athletics more recognizable than the Duke Basketball program. That’s certainly in part due to the five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 14 ACC Championships since 1986 under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Over the better part of the last decade, however, the basketball program’s digital team has added significant equity to the Duke brand with their efforts on social media.

In the past year alone, the @DukeMBB Twitter handle has seen its impressions almost double from 17.6 million to over 34.1 million. Just prior to this, Duke’s athletic communications department made the decision to simplify their social media approach by merging their recruiting/fan engagement voice known as Duke Blue Planet (DBP) with the voice of their sports information accounts. As a result, @DukeMBB is the most followed team Twitter account in all of college sports with 2.24 million followers. Deputy director of athletics/operations, Mike Cragg, the former SID and 31-year veteran of the athletics department, explains the process of merging those two different presences into one.

I think the merger into one entity helped immensely. It is a better strategy for having just one with better collective thinking and better content. We had great stuff, but I think working together, we now have got a pretty robust team.”

“We are seeing that benefit in the numbers – but more importantly with a unified message and delivery. We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve in a lot of different ways such as being the first school to ever have a .com website. Now our social media approach is the latest and gives us an even more direct voice to our fans around the world.”

Cragg goes on to explain the added benefits of merging DBP with a more traditional voice.

“We had a lot of meetings asking ourselves – ‘what is the core question’. And that core question was ‘how do we best represent our basketball program and our athletic department and university – together. So knocking down some of those walls if you will and combining the age of video with the age of the written word, I think were the biggest challenges. Having one voice – across different social media platforms – allowed everybody to contribute to our social media world. It came with some growing pains, as expected, but I think that it was definitely the right step to take and it definitely paid off.”

“I’m really proud of this group and they have done a great job.”

Duke Basketball’s social media operation is headed up by director of basketball operations David Bradley. Bradley graduated from Duke in 2004 and has been on staff with the Blue Devils since his undergraduate years. In all of that time, Bradley has been instrumental in helping the basketball program embrace social media.

Together 🔵😈 #HereComesDuke

A post shared by Duke Men's Basketball (@dukembb) on

“I think we realized that social media was going to be big in some respects before many other college programs did. We’ve always prioritized it and had great support from our staff. Over the past couple years, we’ve definitely become more organized internally. One of the great challenges with social is navigating resource allocation around a crucial entity that wasn’t even on many athletic department radars eight years ago. We have a great team in place now so we’re able to produce high-quality content on a daily basis and remain a trendsetter in college athletics.”  

Because of his reputation as an old-school kind of coach and his very serious courtside manner, fans may be surprised to hear that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been so supportive of social media utilization. But as Bradley can attest, having the support of the head coach of your program is crucial when developing a social media strategy.

“Coach K has believed in and trusted our social media team to deliver since day one. We might think that social media is the most important thing in the world, but we can’t build a staff, have a comprehensive content schedule and produce top-notch content without the backing of the coaching staff and athletic department. We’ve definitely been fortunate to have that from Coach, our coaching staff, Mike Cragg, Jon Jackson and Dr. White.”

One of the biggest indicators of Duke’s recent digital success has been their Instagram metrics. In November of 2016, fans viewed videos on the basketball program’s official page 1.73 million times. A year later in November of 2017, that number grew to 8.45 million. Bradley and the social team have given special priority to creating content for Instagram and the audience that dwells on it.

“When we make a video, we consider whether we’re making it for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and discuss where our priorities lie. All those platforms have different audiences and serve different purposes.”-David Bradley, Director of Basketball Operations. 

“We’ve decided that Instagram is our highest priority right now, so we’ve made sure we have top-quality videos posted there in a length and format that appeals to the IG audience. All of our recruits and players are on Instagram, along with so many of our younger fans. It’s obvious attention spans have waned so we keep our content short and on brand, catering to that demographic. We attract some of the brightest student-athletes in the country to Duke, and definitely enjoy using those guys as sounding boards for what types of content and music they like to see on social media.”

A large factor that has gone into Duke’s Instagram growth has been their commitment to both consistency and simplicity in their content.

“One thing that I’m proud of this year is how our consistent we’ve become in branding our content.  We created a comprehensive style guide and all of our video, photos and graphics have a consistent look where you know it’s from @DukeMBB. The overall quality has ramped up as well, as we benefited from the great video skills and creative talents of Stephen Broome and Nolan Elingburg.  Also, our athletic department made a fantastic hire in landing staff photographer Reagan Lunn. We have the best sports photography in the country on our social channels because of Reagan. Overall, with a great team in place we’ve been able to get way more into the weeds on content strategy.”

For occasional help with graphic design and animation, the social team has turned to agencies like Team Infographics and Uncommon Thinking. This helps reach fans with even more striking and informative content during games that can be created and shared quickly.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind Duke basketball’s social media success has been their ability to showcase the unique personalities of the student-athletes that have played for the team over the years. This practice seems to have begun with former All-American Nolan Smith. Smith played at Duke from 2007 to 2011, then had a four-year career in the NBA before returning to the Blue Devils, where he now has a role within the program assisting with digital content as well as coaching basketball. Bradley credits Smith with being the first player to show the program how important embracing social media would be.

“Nolan showed that you can have a really good personality, have fun and still win big. Particularly in our National Championship season in 2010, he was front and center for us as social media was really taking off. We let him do his thing and show his personality. He might have been the original sports vlogger, where he’d actually go out and film for us. We’d just give him the camera and he’d come back with compelling, authentic footage. It was a little bit raw, but that was the point. People were able to see Duke Basketball in a completely different way. Now, he’s on our staff so he’s still involved more as an advisory role. He’s had such a tremendous impact on our program in so many ways both on and off the court.”

Just as the basketball team will continue to find ways to be in national championship conversation, Duke basketball’s social team will continue to find ways to innovate in the digital space. If other programs and athletic departments hope to follow suit, it all begins with placing greater emphasis on social media strategy as the Blue Devils have been able to do.

“We’ve certainly seen athletics departments devote increasing resources to video, photography and graphic design in recent years. The programs doing the best work on social have prioritized it across every level, from the coaching staff, to the student-athletes, to the sports information department all the way up to the senior staff and athletic director.  We’ve been lucky to that have support here for awhile and it has paid off for us.”

*Duke is a client of Team Infographics and Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports.

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017.

Digital Media

Indianapolis Colts Turn McDaniels Mess Into Social Success

Finding a way to make a bad situation good can be tough, but in the Colts case, they hit the nail on the head.

Greg Esposito

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The picture that helped fans know that this one was for sure. (Photo via the Colts)

When you work in social media you’re well aware every time you hit send you’re putting your job and brand on the line. When you do it tens of thousands of times the nerves dissipate. You learn to trust your instincts. Sure, there are times where you might write something that’s slightly outside your brand voice, tweet something from the wrong account or post an image that is misinterpreted and fire up a slight amount of anxiety. But if you’re good at what you do, you can usually justify what happens to those in charge.

But what if one of your posts was fully approved and vetted by everyone and still goes horribly wrong? How would you handle that?

It’s the position Amber Derrow, Social Media Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, found herself in a few weeks ago. As the team officially announced the “hiring” of New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels via social media, ESPN’s Adam Schefter was reporting via the same medium that McDaniels had rebuffed the Colt’s overtures in favor of returning to New England. What would you do? How would you react?

Derrow reacted quickly despite the shock of the situation and followed the Harvey Danger rule of social media and ran it up the flagpole to see.

“I honestly found out like everyone else did that evening. I saw Schefter’s Tweet, was in disbelief and reached out to my supervisor,” Derrow said. “Immediately we started communicating with ownership and our PR department on what our next steps would be. Once we had confirmation that the reports were true, the McDaniels content was pulled from all platforms and we released a team statement.”

Despite the quick action, Twitter reacted with the exact amount of understanding and compassion as you’d expect. Absolutely none. Luckily for Derrow, she realized that, in order to work in social, you have to have a memory shorter than Muggsy Bogues.

“At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that there are certain things just out of our control,” Derrow shared. “ As a club, we were confident enough to share the news that McDaniels had agreed to terms. The internet wasn’t all that forgiving, but we just had to remind ourselves that bad days happen and better days are ahead. The sarcasm/jokes were more from Patriots fans than our own, which was something we wanted to focus on when trying to decide how to react to the situation. Our fans were hurt, upset, frustrated, etc. That evening wasn’t the place to make light of the situation.”

Understanding your fanbase in a situation like that is key. Fan is short for fanatic for a reason and emotions run high. A post or response that came off as tone deaf would have done more damage than the original post ever could have.

That same understanding though can lead to some amazing social media moments as well. Derrow, the one-person social team in Indy, tapped into that and created social media magic when the team finally hired their head coach Frank Reich a week after the McDaniels debacle.

“Going into the contract signing, I thought we could have fun with the original situation since enough time had passed that it was appropriate,” Derrow said. “When the news broke that Frank Reich was going to be our head coach, the fan sentiment was immediately positive. Since they were pleased with the signing, we knew we could have some fun with the announcement. We also made sure, as a club, that we would not announce ANYTHING until Frank’s pen hit the paper. I personally watched him sign the contract and left the room to send out the official announcement.”

So what do you create if you’re Derrow to make light of the original situation? First, you get photographic evidence that it actually happened and then you take it to another level to troll the trolls.

“I didn’t use the photo of the contract signing as the ‘announcement’ photo on Twitter because I knew what the responses were going to be following our initial Tweet:

“WE NEED PROOF!”
“PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN”
“ARE YOU SURE?!”

So, we let the steam build on the initial post and finally released the contract signing photo with the eyeballs emoji. A simple gesture that says, “Hey, look over here…is this what you want?!”

“What came next wasn’t planned. We didn’t anticipate fans needing MORE proof. (Why would they?) We had the contract signing photo, and we even included a framed map of Indiana in the background so people knew Frank was in Indy for the signing! However, with Frank’s sense of humor, he obliged to my request of holding up a newspaper to prove the date and location of the signing. Our Owner, Jim Irsay, was right there with him showing his excitement for the evening.”

The moral of the story? While you likely won’t have to use the hostage newspaper approach to fix a situation, you should always have thick skin, stay in tune with your fans and never be afraid to have a sense of humor even when it comes at your own expense. It just might pay off in a big way.

“People will never forget what happened the week prior, but our fans were ready to move on,” Derrow said. “The evening of the contract signing was a fresh start and a new outlook on what’s to come. We got the right guy, and that’s all that matters. We’ve shown more personality on social since the contract signing because of the positive response, and I think it’s something we will continue to grow and work on as a club.”

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Digital Media

Why the LPGA is Investing in a Social Media Tool to Help Golfers Build Their Digital Brands

The association has teamed up with Nebraska-based opendorse to give their golfers a way to build and monetize their social media channels.

Adam White

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The LPGA hopes to leverage the platform to help to distribute content natively through golfer’s channels. (Photo via LPGA.com)

If you haven’t noticed, athletes across the world are realizing the power of their social channels and the opportunity presented when fans have direct access to them.

From superstars like LeBron James sharing parts of his personal life through Instagram Stories to Joel Embiid roasting other players on Twitter, athletes are taking full advantage of the platforms that they have at their disposal and the audiences they have built.

Naturally, brands have seen this trend play out and are now getting involved to deliver messaging and partnerships through these athletes.

With a roster of over 200 golfers, no one probably knows the impact in getting your biggest brand advocates to share content, branded or otherwise, natively through their channels than the LPGA.

Because of this, the association took a significant step by partnering with opendorse, the Nebraska-based athlete marketing platform, to deliver a seamless solution that allows both the organization and their constituents to benefit.

“Our players are our greatest spokespeople, said Tina Barnes-Budd, Senior Director, Social Media Marketing & Communications at Ladies Professional Golf Association. “With that in mind, it needs to be a simplified process for players to buy into the system. We just had a successful pilot test at our first event of the season with the defending champion, Brittany Lincicome. She loved the ease of execution and thought it was great that she could ‘natively’ share LPGA-generated content with her fans.”

Not only does the deal give players the chance to distribute content created by the LPGA’s social team natively to millions of fans around the globe, Blake Lawrence, opendorse’s CEO, sees the deal as something much bigger than just a streamlined way to deliver high-quality content.

“In conversations with Tina and Heather, it’s clear that their mission is to help LPGA players grow the game of golf and introduce the sport to young women around the world,” said Lawrence. “The LPGA players and fans of tomorrow will be introduced to the game via social channels. As young golfers look for heroes in the sport, these players will be equipped to inspire that next generation of golfers.”

“Our goals, both short and long-term are quite simple. To help our players with rich content that their fans and followers will engage in, help promote our marketing and title partners, and continue to promote the LPGA brand as a whole.” – Tina Barnes-Budd

After watching what opendorse had done with the PGA Tour, finding a way to leverage the power of platform for the LPGA became a hole-in-one opportunity for Budd and her team.

“We’ve been in talks with opendorse for the last few years but became more serious in investing in this program after they were able to showcase how the PGA Tour was using it, said Budd. “After watching the PGA Tour’s program in action with their players and witnessing the amount of engagement they were receiving, we thought it was a great program to be involved with.”

With their old system, Budd and her team had to email golfers and ask them to help to promote something. Now, it’s as simple as the LPGA digital team preloading all the content with the right media and hashtags, pushing it to the golfers via a text, and having them hit one button to send it out.  

It’s this seamlessness, and the fact that the golfers are already bought into the idea of helping promote the tour and its initiatives, that Budd believes will allow the tour to help them hit their key KPIs.

“Our players are extremely social savvy, so the thought of putting money into a tech company to help push out LPGA and sponsor content was a no-brainer. We pride ourselves in being ‘risk takers’ and are willing to try new things. We feel that investing in the opendorse program will generate a great ROI with the additional reach, impressions and engagement we, along with our partners, will receive by pushing out the content through our players.”

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It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

This year will bring about a shift in the coverage of America’s Pastime.

John Collins

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Roster Change in Media Coverage of MLB

Pitchers, catchers, and players reporting to camp in the “best shape of their lives,” aren’t the only things fresh and new as we head into Major League Baseball this Spring. Of course, rosters change, there may be updates to “pace of play,” and there’s that whole free agency squabble…but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This change is a potentially tectonic shift in the coverage and conversation of the action on the field.  

Mike Behind the Mic (Image via Newsday.com)

Signaling this sea-change is longtime sports-talk host Mike Francesa stepping away from the mic, making it the first time in over 30 years that the gruff personality won’t be a key pillar leading the baseball conversation. Francesa became a fixture on WFAN in 1989, teaming up with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo to create one of the most successful drive-time talk shows of all time. The show became an authoritative voice in one of the largest markets (New York City) with avid sports fans that had a ripple effect and went a long way in shaping the larger national conversation- especially baseball.

Perhaps because of the local Yankees, Mets, and proximity to the Boston Red Sox (or maybe just because he was very, very loud…) Francesa grew to become a larger-than-life sports media personality with a particular “expertise” in all things MLB. Credited with legitimizing talk radio, Francesa won multiple Marconi Awards for his broadcast on the radio, and was simulcast across the country. Nicknamed the “Sports Pope,” his opinions about the baseball season frequently became gospel. Love him or hate him, Francesa’s thoughts and personality became one of the biggest in the game. Now that’s gone, leaving a void for other voices to emerge as the major “thought leaders” generating much of the baseball conversation.  

This is all part of a much larger trend, with many of the major sports media outlets paring back their coverage of America’s Past-time. Longtime staple Fox Sports has shuttered the baseball writing on their website, ESPN has removed many of the biggest names in their baseball department, and Sports Illustrated is pivoting to shorter-form video focused more on entertainment than the game.

New Guy on the Field! (Image via theathletic.com)

That’s created quite an opportunity for new sports-media venture The Athletic to become the authoritative source of MLB coverage and fan conversation. The subscription-based website recently announced that they’re drastically expanding their baseball coverage, assembling an all-star roster bringing together some of the most respected MLB reporters in the industry. Led by Fox Sports main writer, Ken Rosenthal, the site has also added Jayson Stark, formerly of ESPN, and the legendary Peter Gammons to the team, established their own analytics department headed up by Enos Sarris from Fangraphs, and recruited Emma Span from Sports Illustrated to become a veritable powerhouse of baseball writing that will be incredibly interesting to see.

By bringing together so many of the biggest voices from disparate sports media outlets, all with different editorial missions and a particular emphasis, or “flavor,” to their reporting, The Athletic has created a journalistic jambalaya of national baseball coverage positioned to dominate coverage of the game from every angle (traditional stats, stars & stories, advanced sabermetrics, etc.).

Beyond that, the site has established coverage at the local level for 20 of the 30 MLB franchises by bringing on well-established “beat reporters” from those markets with individualized team expertise. That’s positioned The Athletic to merge local and national coverage at an unprecedented level. As Enos Sarris said when reflecting on his decision to join the site, there’s “a real chance for synthesis and original thought, born of a structure unique to this venture;” creating an all-new player in the sports media focused on generating high-quality baseball content.

As traditional outlets and personalities fade to the background, The Athletic could emerge as one-stop shopping for fans of all stripes and colors interested in an analysis of the sport on every level, from every perspective. It’s still only Spring Training, but if all goes as planned, The Athletic may have just established themselves as the “Yankees” of baseball coverage, becoming THE authoritative source of all things MLB.

*Pop Quiz; Holiday Trivia: Who was the first President to throw out the ceremonial “first pitch” on Opening Day?

**Bonus Points: Which former President was once part-owner of an MLB franchise? What was the team?

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