Live from Final Four: NCAA Digital Revamps Social Media Strategy

During Friday’s public team practices, Chris Dion, the Assistant Director of Digital and Social Media for the NCAA was roaming around the court sporting a shiny new pair of Google Glass. In no way was it more obvious how the NCAA’s approach to social media has changed in the past year.

With a new department dedicated to the social media surrounding its various championships, the NCAA has begun taking on the Twitters, Facebooks, and Instragrams of the world with renewed vigor. At the Final Four, a team of four is focused solely on the event’s social media presence.

L to R: NCAA's Jordan Schartz, Chris Dion, and Nate Flannery, with North Of Creative founder Misty Sanford.

L to R: NCAA’s Jordan Schwartz, Chris Dion, and Nate Flannery, with North Of Creative founder Misty Sanford.

“As a brand new department, the sky is the limit,” says Nate Flannery, Director of Championships and Alliances, Digital and Social Media at the NCAA. “That’s a good and a bad thing. You want to try everything and you can do anything, but at the same time, there’s no model to work off of. There’s no blueprint for success. We’re trying a lot of things and we’re throwing a lot of stuff at the wall. But you have to in this space. Nobody has the formula. Now as we start to see what’s working and what’s not, we’re really learning what our fans want.”

This weekend, the social media team is working with three brands: Final Four, March Madness, and its television partners. Each with their own Twitters, Facebooks, Instgram’s, etc. have their own way of telling this weekend’s stories. The Final Four brand is about pushing the festivities and events going on inside and around AT&T Stadium. The March Madness brand is where much of the editorial-esque game and news content will go. The television side is all about driving viewers to their screen.

As for the Google Glass, the NCAA was supplied with a pair to experiment with after hosting and promoting various Google+ Hangout events throughout the season. Dion is using to Glass to capture unique, first-person angles for video to share on the various social channels.

“We have the benefit of some tremendous access and this allows us to utilize that access to get us somewhere we weren’t able to get before,” says Dion. “We’re getting a unique perspective.”

The NCAA launched a March Madness Instagram page at the start of this season.

The NCAA launched a March Madness Instagram page at the start of this season.

So, why did the NCAA boost its efforts in social media?

“I think we really saw everyone from our broadcast partners to the corporate partners putting more of a focus on it for their marketing efforts and to drive tune ins to broadcasts,” says Flannery. “As the dollars have shifted from a lot of other areas in traditional media into more of the digital and the social world, we’ve seen this as something we need to focus more on to better service our partners.”

NCAA Digital accelerated its social strategy on the video side primarily by bringing the NCAA Vault, an established archival video resource created in partnership with the organization’s media-rights manager T3Media, over into YouTube. The move has helped drive significant more traffic to the archival content than in the years before when it was hosted on NCAA.com

“We needed to put the Vault in place where more people are going to find it organically,” says Flannery. “We can’t just have it as a destination. It has to be something that a user can sort of stumble into when they are on YouTube or Google.

“As a college basketball fan, the original NCAA Vault was one of the best products that never succeeded. I would get lost in there for hours just watching videos. But you’ve got to go fishing in the biggest pond in the world and that’s where you catch a few. That’s what YouTube is.”

The NCAA Digital social media team on hand in Dallas this weekend includes Flannery, Dion, Jordan Schwartz, Associate Director of Social Media Strategies at the NCAA, and Misty Sanford, founder of North Dallas-based North Of Creative firm.

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