Slam Dunk Social Strategy for College Sports

Marketing Tools & Tips The Data-Driven Marketer

If you’ve got multiple social profiles on each channel, seasonal fluctuations, many internal stakeholders, enthusiastic fans, and finite resources, how do you manage it all?

To answer this question and more, we turned to an expert. Our guest in this installment of The Data-Driven Marketer is Patrick Dillon, Director of Marketing for Xavier Athletics. Patrick and Seth Bridges, our co-founder, dove into what it takes to manage it all, stay ahead of the competition and knock social out of the park. When you’re creating a social strategy for college sports it requires a deep understanding of what you want to accomplish and identifying the data to get you there. Patrick shares how his team manages social profiles for over 16 programs, increasing their engagement and outranking the competition.

In this session Seth & Patrick cover:

Full Transcript

Seth Bridges: Hey. Good morning everyone. My name is Seth Bridges. I’m one of the founders here at Rival IQ, and I’d like to welcome you to the latest edition of The Data-Driven Marketer. Before we get in, this is being recorded, and we will send out the recording afterward. So don’t worry, you don’t need to take notes. We’re going to talk quickly, cover a lot of area, but we’ll send it out. No worries, share it with your team. Ask questions as we go. Our guest, Patrick Dillon, is excited to answer your questions. I’m excited to ask questions. One of my teammates is here feeding me anything that you’re putting into that question panel as we go. If it’s pertinent to what we’re talking about, I’ll stop right then. We’ll get into it. Otherwise, we’ll definitely save time at the end.

So, enough of logistics. My pleasure today is to introduce to you Patrick Dillon. He’s the Director of Marketing at Xavier University in the athletic department. He is responsible for everything from advertising, to game presentation, co-managing social media, along with some other folks in their communications department. There are a lot of teams, 18 teams, men’s and women’s athletics across a variety of sports. There’s a lot to do, and I think we have a lot to cover today, so Patrick, welcome.

Patrick Dillon: Thank you.

Seth Bridges: Let’s jump right in. We had a pre-conversation, by the way, everybody, a couple weeks ago, and I could talk about this all day, but I’m not here to talk. I’m here to just listen to Patrick talk because it’s super exciting. So, let’s kick off with a little bit of baseline for everybody. Can you walk us through just a little bit about how you approached social media, particularly, at Xavier, knowing that you have so many teams, handles, and profiles to cover, with seasons, and the school year, and the university. There’s just a lot going on. Can you just set the table for us in terms of what your challenge is?

Patrick Dillon: Sure. So managing social media for an athletic department is obviously no small task, like we talked about. We’re a single department within that larger university setting, but we also have 16 unique programs. So, the department, we’re kind of like a P&G, a Proctor and Gamble, but we have a bunch of these individual teams, their brands, like your Tide, your Bounty, your Febreze, so I kind of liken it to that a little bit. So with that, we have these 16 individual brands under our bigger umbrella of athletics, and each team has their own set of social media accounts.

So for our teams, they all have a Twitter, and an Instagram account. Many of them have their Facebook accounts. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a major team effort. You even mentioned it’s a comanaged effort. No single person really could manage the 40 to 50 accounts we have for all of our teams alone. So with that, there’s also some imperfections that come into play. We try to put a strategy into place, provide graphic templates to promote consistency, and things of that nature, but it’s definitely a little bit of a beast to handle.

Seth Bridges: You mean just 40 or 50 handles, right? It’s not a big deal.

Patrick Dillon: Sure.

Seth Bridges: I mean, most brands struggle to be on just four, five, or six channels. So, can you tell me a little about the team? Obviously it’s not just you doing the work, so what is the composure, and what are the skill sets of the folks that you have dedicated to some of these tasks?

Patrick Dillon: Sure. So like I said, it’s kind of a co-managed effort between communications and marketing. In our marketing department there’s two of us that produce content, but I have to say that our communications team, there’s four of them, with having 16 individual programs. They each have their own responsibilities in there. We do have a little bit of a social point person among them. I try to play a social point person from a marketing perspective.

They’re each kind of responsible for their individual teams, and then on the marketing side, we’re kind of focused on the teams that we try to promote in terms of getting people to their games, selling tickets, things of that nature. So, it’s a little bit of a beast there, trying to deal with a team that big, and everybody has their own responsibilities. One thing that also can get hectic at times is there’s individuals on coaching staff that like to produce content as well, sometimes not up to the standards we might like, which can create a challenge sometimes, but then we have coaches that say when they’re on the road, they want to provide content to whoever’s following them, whether it’s their student athletes’ families and friends, whether it’s prospective student athlete recruits.

So, there’s a lot of people producing content, and we’ll probably talk about this at some point. We also get asked to produce sponsored content as well, so there’s a lot of different people with their hands in the money drawer there.

Seth Bridges: So to that end, if you had to sort of state the primary goals of your social media efforts, how do you enumerate them? I mean, you went through recruiting, revenue, behind the scenes. What are the primary drivers, or what’s your primary mission in terms of what you’re going for?

Patrick Dillon: Sure. So, in terms of prioritizing content, we’re really trying to do two things. We’re trying to drive awareness of our teams, our brand, et cetera, and we’re also trying to drive engagement. We want people to be aware of what’s going on, and we also want them to be engaged with our content, engaged with what’s going on. We try to create content, and fortunately we have games.

So, having 16 sports, they all have some level of contest, so that right there, in and of itself, provides us with content, from previews, to recaps, to the stuff that actually happens within the game. Beyond that, we get awards from different organizations, whether it be the conference, or media outlets, so we have content that is naturally going to occur, which is good. What we try to do is also try to supplement that with additional content to help drive awareness for some initiatives that we might have, trying to drive attendance to games, trying to develop fans, really, and really try to get engagement.

And we can talk more about this at some point, but shareable content is one of our focuses for beyond the game day content on game day a little bit. So, at Xavier, men’s basketball is our biggest thing. So, while we have 16 different programs, men’s basketball kind of drives the ship for us. That’s where our fans our most engaged. That’s our best opportunity to connect with alumni, and just friends of the university, and the general public. So, we try to produce shareable content at those times that are key around men’s basketball games, coverage of games, and we can talk about that a little bit as well. So, I don’t know if that 100% answered exactly what you were looking for, but that’s a little bit.

Seth Bridges: No, absolutely. So, let me follow up a little bit. I’m particularly curious about the year-round nature of what you do. I mean, there’s almost a sport in season all the time. How much are you really prioritizing being in season on social when the sports are in season, and which sports can you just not play that way, you’ve got to be year-round?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so obviously that’s a challenge, because each sport has their own season, and like I mentioned before, the individuals that are managing a specific sport, and the communications for that sport, when their fall sport is done they’re onto their winter, or their spring sport. So, it’s hard to be consistently producing content for something that’s maybe out of season. So, I’d have to say for our non-basketball sports, it’s probably a little less of a focus to have content all the time for them, more producing content when we know there’s stuff to talk about, when we know there’s stuff to produce. Basketball’s a little bit of a different story, especially with the way that their recruiting calendar is, just the nature of trying to keep Xavier, and Xavier basketball relevant to fans, and alumni of the university. It’s now a year-round thing.

We’re producing content on pretty much a daily basis to keep Xavier top of mind 365 days a year. Yeah, it’s nice when you’re in season. You’ve got some built in things, but out of the season you’ve got to think about okay, what are you doing? So for basketball, for example, right now, we’ve been doing kind of a photo rewind, some biggest moments over a number of years. We can talk about a number of different reasons like why we’re doing that. Some of it’s from a recruiting perspective. This time of year is a heavy recruiting time for 16- and 17-year-olds who will eventually commit to us, and sometimes even younger.

If it’s their first time following @XavierMBB on Instagram or Twitter, it’s their first chance to learn about, okay, what is this program that’s really looking into me? Where is this potential future place to go to school, and play basketball? So, we would be doing ourselves a bit of a disservice if we didn’t have content all the time. Something we’re doing on our main accounts right now, fortunately in our main accounts we get to curate a little more from those 16 different programs.

This July marks our fifth-year anniversary of entering the Big East, back in 2013, so we did a little bit of a rewind of 25 of the best moments of being in the Big East conference, and taking photography from those events, and utilizing those on multiple platforms to keep us semi-relevant, at least. And there’s a little bit of storytelling along with it, which is something I know a lot of people talk about. It’s storytelling, and what really is that? The year-round nature is obviously a challenge. We have to be strategic out of season about what’s important, what’s relevant, and what are we realistically capable of?

Seth Bridges: Do you find that that recap content really tends to resonate with people, as they remember those big moments over the last? I think all of us remember our big sports moments for programs we care about, long, long past when they actually happened. Is that something you find continues from an engagement perspective on social?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, engagement has been pretty decent on some of those things, but we fight the Facebook algorithm for content we put on there, as I’m sure you’re aware of. On platforms like Instagram and Twitter, we’re doing just fine with those things, because we know it’s being delivered to our fans. Especially our basketball content, it’s stuff that our fans are most interested in, but it’s really kind of cool for us to get something out about maybe a big thing that happened for our men’s soccer program, or our women’s tennis program, because a fan of us might not have seen that when it actually happened. So, it’s kind of cool to be able to utilize, and I guess refresh that content again.

Seth Bridges: Yeah, for sure. I was reviewing some of your best social content here just last night kind of preparing, and I noticed you re-surfaced a moment from 2010 when somebody from Xavier was shooting over a Pitt Panther, which is my alma mater, so I didn’t particularly appreciate that post, but it did well, so the eight-year-old flashback to 2010 still performing. Maybe it’s just Pitt was there. I mean, Pitt is not even the Big East anymore, but you know. 2013, five years in, seems like it’s been a big run for you, providing plenty of content.

So the recruiting thing, I’m particularly interested in this, because as a University, and as an athletic department, you have a constituency and audience that is very broad. You’ve got current students, past students. You’ve got alums. You’re thinking about donors. You’re thinking about ticket sales. I mean it’s so broad, but if you don’t have the talent to continue to play at a high level, it’s hard to continue all those things. So recruiting, obviously, is a big deal. Everybody, particularly the younger generations, social media is a big deal. Instagram is a big deal. Being an influencer is a big deal. Like all of the things, we won’t even debate the positives, or negatives, or social impacts of all these things, but it’s a thing, and for you, what’s the one channel where you’re putting the most energy toward recruiting? And how much of that is sort of behind the scenes? How much of it is trying to show students, or prospective students, and student athletes, this is what you’re going to look like. This is you next year. This is you in two years. Is that part of what you’re trying to do there?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so kind of taking all of that. So, when we’re producing content, and thinking about what channels we’re really playing on, we really have to think about our audiences, like you mentioned. I like to put them into four different buckets, our alumni, fans, and donors are one. Current and prospective students are another. Friends and family is a very individual program, the third, and then the media really the fourth one. But current, and prospective student athletes, specifically prospective ones, recruits, that’s what our teams really want to focus on. That’s why they’re really on Twitter and Instagram. Some of our teams actually have a Snapchat account too, but that is kind of few and far between.

In terms of what is the most important platform there, I think it’s Instagram, but in basketball specifically, Twitter still has a really huge place. We find that those 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds that are playing AAU basketball, and doing all of those other things on the recruiting trail, they’re all on Twitter. That’s how they see they can promote their brand. That’s how we can reach them, but Instagram obviously still has a huge presence. So, I’d say those two, in terms of recruiting.

As an athletic department, we want to promote our brand, generate revenue, and that’s why we’re on Facebook in addition to Twitter and Instagram. And obviously, there’s other platforms out there, but at our size and scale, we made a conscious decision to do well on a few platforms, rather than do poorly on all of them.

Seth Bridges: An intensely good strategy.

Patrick Dillon: Exactly. So, from the athletic department perspective, which I’ll talk about a little bit different from a team perspective, Facebook’s long been our primary platform because of its reach, and specifically reaching those with buying power. But the challenge we face is that continued push away from organic, and more toward the pay to play model. Because of the real-time nature of Twitter and Instagram, and the younger demographic there, those platforms are kind of where we’re actually focusing more of the content, and starting there. Facebook maybe has become a little more of a repository for information for our plans, especially maybe our older demographic of fans, but Facebook’s also really powerful for us because of the targeting capabilities we can do with some of our advertisement.

But in terms of going back to the recruiting nature of it, and what kind of content goes there, that’s why some of our teams want to have somebody embedded with the team producing content when they’re on the road, or they’re at practice, and things like that, to give recruits, prospective student athletes, an inside look at hey, what is life like as a Xavier Musketeer? I’d say our basketball program probably does the best job of that strategically doing something, showing off the team at their yoga workout, strategically showing when they are doing recovery with cryotherapy, when they’re on that private charter plane what that’s like.

That’s that behind the scenes that the recruits want to see, but the thing that we all have to fully agree on, but I think is true, is that whatever concept we’re delivering to our recruits, our fans want to see that too. And I think there’s a couple of schools that have done a great job with that, and everybody will point to Clemson, and I’m going to do it too. They do a great job of saying our content is focused on recruits. If our fans like it too, awesome. And I don’t want to put words in their mouth with that, but I think that’s a little bit of the approach, and sometimes I think we need to do that a little bit more often here at Xavier, but that’s not a bad way to approach that.

Seth Bridges: Got it. So you just talked about how you think about four different audiences. We’ve got at least three different primary channels, maybe a fourth, or fifth, depending on how you’d throw in Snapchat or not, but you talked about the real time kind of engagement nature of some of these platforms as being a big deal. But at the end of the day, you talked about small team. We’ve got co-management. We’ve got team handles, university handles, athletic department handles. How are you using data to actually prioritize what goes where, and when you should stop doing things, and when you should start doing other things? How does that work for you?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so it’s funny. We started looking at data a few years ago and how it related to social. We were doing some silly things five years ago. We were selling sponsored content posts that were like, “Like this post if you recycled today, brought to you by Rumpke,” who’s a local vendor for recycling here in Cincinnati. And we tried to reimagine that, because we looked at it. First it didn’t pass the feel test, like hey, should this be what’s on here, but it also didn’t pass the numbers test when there were two likes on it.

So, we started to really use the numbers to prove our point on some of those things, and Rival IQ has been really helpful for us in tracking that, and we try to compare ourselves to how our peers are doing too. So, us personally, we compare ourselves to our peers in the Big East conference, right? Other member institutions like Butler, Georgetown, Villanova, just a couple of them. And what we try to do is strive to be in the top three in terms of total engagement among that peer group of nine other institutions.

So out of the ten of us, we want to be in the top three consistently. Rival IQ has actually helped us do that, and kind of how we ended up getting connected originally. Let’s just see kind of how we’re doing relative to those schools, and identify what we can do better. See if we’re seeing something that someone’s taking advantage of that we’re not in some specific situation.

So for example, earlier this summer I noticed we were doing decently in terms of engagement, but we were getting absolutely crushed on Instagram. Part of it was some of the other athletic departments. It was what they were posting. They had some cool things going on that we didn’t necessarily have, but part of it was also the fact that we posted three or four times over the course of 30 days on our department’s main account, and I said “wait a second, that’s got to be something there.” So, when we’re looking at that, and we’re looking at the numbers, I wouldn’t say we’re diving a ton into the data.

We’re more looking at some of the general trends we’re finding out there, like okay, how are we doing compared to our peers? And if we’re behind somewhere, why are we behind? What are they posting? Because at the end of the day, there are 10 institutions are very similar. 9 of the 10 are private, Catholic affiliated institution athletic departments where the primary sport is basketball. We have a lot of similarities, which means there’s probably a lot of things that we could do the same way. So that’s really where we’re looking at it.

We’re looking at those trends, and those things like that. So, I talked about basketball game day, and trying to produce shareable content around that. What we really saw was that our game update content was just not as engaging compared to some of our color commentary related content. So, we’ve decided to push our basketball game day coverage towards more of a color commentary situation, less of a hey, here’s the score, and here’s how much time is left, because in our situation there’s beat writers that are doing that. There are media outlets that are putting that out. No, not every school is going to have that same situation, but we’re fortunate for our men’s basketball program being on national TV as much as they are. We have these outlets that are providing that.

We have been acting more like we’re watching the game with our fans, and really it came down to the three retweets and second likes on what the score was, versus did anyone see that? With the nice little gif of the actual dunk, and that gets 35 retweets and 78 likes. Well, which of those things is better? So, that’s where we’ve really been using data to identify what makes sense for us to be producing? What doesn’t make sense?

Seth Bridges: So before we were getting ready for the call, it sounds like you’re sitting in your little social media war room there for game days. Is that right?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so it’s funny. So from where I am, when I look up, I can look down and see the arena right now. I was sitting at my desk, and I was like, I need a different place to talk to Seth. So, we have this little social media suite. Our social media team is called the Barracks, as you can see there.

You can see some of the social channels up on the wall there. But yeah, this is a place where on game day, is kind of our social media headquarters for basketball. It lets us see what’s going on, but also have the TVs around us, have the hardwire, when you’ve got 10,000 people in the arena stealing all the WiFi from you. So, this is kind of our headquarters for all of that on gameday.

Seth Bridges: So here, I’m thinking about a social media team for the University, for the athletic department. Now you’re talking about live commentary. Is everyone on your team an absolute sports fan, sports nut?

Patrick Dillon: Yes, but they can’t just be an absolute sports fan. Everyone likes sports, and that’s one of the biggest challenges. So, we rely on student help to help us on our game days. We talked before about how big our staff was. I mean, we’re not the biggest staff out there, so we rely on student help for that. Where was I going with that again?


Seth Bridges: Just you’re sports fans. Do you have people that are thinking about data, marketing, social strategy? But at the end of the day, they have to actually be able to say we can write this observation about what’s happening on the court, and have it be engaging, smart, make sense. Like you do not want me doing, I’m trying to think about a sport I don’t know anything about. I love all sports. I don’t know, women’s field hockey. Sorry, my mom was a ref, I should know more, but like—I wouldn’t have a lot of color commentary for you. Is it students?

Patrick Dillon: Sure, so it’s kind of hard, I’ll admit. It’s funny. We have a sport management program here, and we have a lot of students obviously interested in working in sports, and one of the things we run into is that they’re in that program because they like sports, and they get here, and they’re like wait, there’s actually work involved. So, we’ve actually had some more success with our advertising and PR majors, because they kind of get it a little bit, but they also like sports. So yes, that is a piece of the puzzle, but I’d rather have the non sports fan that is kind of interested than the hardcore fan that is only kind of interested in the social media aspect, the working aspect of it.

Seth Bridges: Pro-tip for everyone out there. Having people interested that work for you, that’s a good strategy I find. So, questions kind of coming in. With respect to the actual piece of augmenting your team with students, and I think you can even answer more broadly than this with respect to other coaches, players, et cetera feeding behind the scene content, but with the students particularly, how do you manage what they’re posting? Like do you have an approval, a guideline, or a bar? How do you measure before it’s like yeah, post?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so in the beginning they don’t get the post themselves. We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to get some students that we’ve had for multiple years that we are training them to an extent. So on game day, there’s kind of a central person who kind of disseminates everything, that is the final yes, the final on all of those things. I won’t say that every piece of everything we put out ends up going through that on a game day, because we get to the point where we have a student who’s been with us for three years who knows what the heck they’re doing that we build that level of trust.So it’s really important.

I would suggest in the beginning that there is a level of approval process, but just like anything, we have to trust them. I actually had a conversation with a coach recently about how we can maybe provide a little bit more coverage of a practice one or twice a week, and I brought up the idea of our students coming out, spending a little bit of time, 30 minutes at the end of practice helping grab some content, and publishing it. And the coach said I think I really want to see that before it’s going out, and I said you’ve really got to worry about the x’s and o’s of managing a group of 30 women out on that field right now.

Trust us. We’re the experts on this. We’re not going to put that student in the situation. I’m not just going to pass a student off to you that doesn’t know what they’re doing. So there is an education process. There is a little bit of a training process to get them to the point where you can trust that they can do it, because if every piece of content that you’re putting out has to get approved by one singular person, it’s not going to be in that real time. It’s not going to do exactly what you want it to do, so there’s definitely a training component to that.

Seth Bridges: But the trust building is probably the biggest, and it takes time to build that, but once you build it, it really unlocks people to run freely.

Patrick Dillon: It does. And it’s funny. When we bring in new students they’re always timid, like what do I say? And what do I do? And I say I don’t know. What do you say? What do you do? Social media is a blank slate. You’re now a content creator. Go do, and if you’ve got this great idea, bring it to us. Nine times out of ten we might say no, but it’s that one time when it’s really darn good, and we say yes, that it’s going to be awesome. So we try to push the envelope a little bit on that.

Seth Bridges: Yeah, I mean it’s not like this is whoever’s managing the Wendy’s handle, and they clearly have carte blanche to run. Do you build the trust, and hopefully can get some less saucy, but totally on point, without having to approve every step.

Patrick Dillon: For sure.

Seth Bridges: I mean, I think all of us, like we obviously have a team of people that do social for a variety of channels, and me, as someone who is responsible for that, if I had to read every tweet and post we just wouldn’t get the job done. So, you build that trust, and you say you understand how our brand talks. You understand what our audience expects. You understand the bar. You understand what things are totally off-limits. Go. Go, I trust you. It takes time.

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, the same way you don’t want to micromanage every person that’s working for you, you can’t micromanage every interaction on social, because you just can’t do it all yourself, and that’s why we have to have kind of the team approach to that.

Seth Bridges: Yeah, but you don’t want to get into that worst nightmare situation where somehow, something goes out that’s going to have you retracting, and having someone much higher in the organization than you having to apologize for something.

Patrick Dillon: And it’s a process to get to the point to actually trust individuals to do that. I guarantee you the UMBC athletics person, as they were beating Virginia, the first 16 seed to do that back in March, he wasn’t asking for permission. He wasn’t doing that as he did it, but he had built up that level of trust of ‘hey, this is what I’m the expert in. I’m going to do this.’

Seth Bridges: Yeah, I think that’s a good lesson for all of us as sort of managers of our brands, and of people to remember that. I mean, that trust has been instilled in you from the athletic director, and from the deans, and from the provost. It comes all the way down, and so it’s nice to be able to know that that can get connected from top to bottom, and you can leverage that student energy, which is going to be different. Like you work there great, but you’re not a Xavier alum, right?

Patrick Dillon: Just my MBA.

Seth Bridges: Just your MBA. Well that’s right, we talked about you have lots of variety of education. That’s good. I like it. I have more fire for the institutions I attended. I do. Like I don’t know, it’s just a thing. So, going back to the data and kind of figuring out what channels and platforms, one of the things you talked about was sort of Facebook maybe as a repository, maybe it’s targeting that older demographic. Maybe that’s a good place for you to maintain brand awareness from a giving perspective, but the question that came in is when you’re going to spend. Like we all know that if you want to get any appreciable reach on Facebook, save a few megastars, you’re going to pay a little bit, or a lot. How do you decide where to put the dollars that you put into Facebook, like the kinds of content you’re going after? What is the biggest driver, and how do you make those decisions.

Patrick Dillon: So, this may seem a little counterintuitive. There’s two reasons. There’s kind of two purposes when we’re going to promote content or do some Facebook ads. When we promote content, sometimes it’s because we know it’s good content, and we know it’s going to do well, and we want to accelerate that.

Seth Bridges: But how do you know? When you say you know, because you’ve done it before, or because it’s a gut, or both?

Patrick Dillon: Okay, so when Xavier beats crosstown rival Cincinnati by 15 points at home, there’s really great photography or there’s a great highlight clip from it, and you’re posting that right after the win, that’s it. Like you just know. There’s no rule. It’s a feel thing, and we run into that with our sponsorship team. They’re like well, when are you going to promote this, or do this? Again, you’ve got to trust us that we kind of know what we’re doing in that situation. So, we’ll promote stuff that we know is going to do well, because we can take something that maybe would have had a 50,000 reach, and it can be 250 by just adding a little bit of money to it, because it’s like fuel on the fire, and then we’ll also promote content that kind of needs to reach someone, but we’ll make sure we’re doing it where we’re actually targeting it.

So, if there’s something we want to put out, and we know it’s not going to do well on Facebook, but we need a certain audience to know that information, or we want to try to target a certain audience, we will spend the dollars but make sure it’s at least targeted. When we’re doing the hey, this is going to do really well because it’s great, shareable content, we’re going to add fuel to the fire, we’re a lot less targeted with that, but when we have a specific method. Go ahead.

Seth Bridges: Is making sure that your first and most engaged audience is the local community, the physical geography there in Ohio?

Patrick Dillon: It’s our alumni base though. Our alumni base is big in Cincinnati, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, so I wouldn’t say it’s just Cincinnati. But we try to be targeted. The people we want to make sure are engaged kind of are those four buckets we talked about earlier. On Facebook, it’s really that alumni, donor, and fan category, more than it is obviously not the recruiting, and not the media. They’re getting it their own way.

Seth Bridges: Sure, absolutely. I think knowing that you can spin up a real fire around stuff that’s already good, and be ready with that budget, and be ready with the timeliness is impactful. In lots of conversations I have, it’s a little bit watch and wait if there’s not a timeliness to it. Like you have the win. I know you want to get out there on it, but you’ve obviously experienced that before that. Like you setup the scenario. It’s a big win with good video, with good photo. It was a nail-biter.

You came out on top. Any of those things clearly have an emotional aspect to them, and when you’re just layering on it’s local, it’s rivalry, et cetera you’re ready to go with it, but obviously you’ve watched that, and I’m sure when you go back and look at your numbers you see yeah, of course, surprising big wins, or surprising wins, or wins generally is good content. How do you get all of the video content? Do you have a deal with the local TV, or national TV, or whoever is doing distribution there?

Patrick Dillon: Sure, so we kind of have a mix of video. We do not have a video team. The University has a videographer that helps us out a bit. Again, we rely a little bit on students to help us get in arena highlights. Fortunately, we have a deal with Fox, being on Fox Sports One, and other of their national channels throughout the year. They have tool that allows us to cut and utilize highlight clips.

There’s a limit to the number of real time ones, but then we can put together highlight packages from the game, for a certain player, for a certain thing that happened during the game. We can turn them into the gifs that I talked about and made you chuckle about. So, we’re not necessarily producing a ton on a game day. We’ll produce our own internal highlight package, but some of the best stuff we’re doing is actually cuts of the TV feed.

One of the other things we did last year was in arena we have a video board, and we have been able to actually cut video board stuff to use on social media. So like if there’s a really cool dance cam, or the flex cam or something goes super well, or whatever it may be, we actually have the opportunity to cut that and utilize that. We had a hall of fame induction ceremony at a halftime. We cut and used that. We have the frisbee dogs. Everyone loves dogs. We know that, right? That is a halftime ad. We cut that, and we’re using that on social. It’s all part of that fan experience, so that’s kind of how we’re cheating the system a little bit, on having a lot of videos, specifically on Facebook, because I think many people know how that how that algorithm works is the more video it has, the better everything’s going to do.

If video is only 2% of your content, you’re going to be skewed the wrong direction. So we kind of cheat that system a little bit, and we’re putting out a ton of video, but it’s broadcast footage a lot of times, or it’s things that are already happening, behind produced, that we’re just cutting and utilizing.

Seth Bridges: Got it. So now, I’m thinking about universities that don’t have Fox Sports at their back, and also, like you, are small, don’t have necessarily a video team. What do you do for all the sports for which you don’t have that? Like I’m thinking anything that’s not men’s basketball at Xavier.

Like how do you end up getting that video content, or doing that content creation? How much of it’s UGC? How much of it’s student volunteers? How do you get it? Because clearly it’s still going to be a big piece of success if you can do it well.

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so we do that just on a different scale with our other sports. So, our other on campus sports, soccer, volleyball, women’s basketball, baseball, with all of those sports, some of those games are televised or streamed on the Big East digital network, and we can still utilize that same flipping tool. At soccer and volleyball, we kind of select certain games throughout the year when we can have a student there to do highlights, and utilize that. We do internally broadcast and stream certain games. Do we do it perfectly? Absolutely not.

So, there definitely is less content that we have  available for some of those other sports simply because we don’t have the video. One thing that I have kind of pushed a lot is every event that we have on campus that doesn’t have a photographer at it is kind of a disservice to ourselves, because photo content is still really powerful, at least in my opinion, and where photo content is actually super, super powerful is in the hands of our student athletes.

And we’ve been able to do that for basketball, and we’re working on what that looks like for some of our other sports, but being able to supply our student athletes with their photos from the game, that they can go and use on their social media, if they post it versus us, they’re going to get three, four, five times the amount of engagement that we would. And that’s just one of those brand building type of things. There are built in influencer marketers.

Seth Bridges: So what are you all doing? Do you have any programs structurally to help you do that right now? And if not, is expanding that, and making it a little bit more systematic a part of what you hope to do?

Patrick Dillon: So, we’ve had to jerry rig it right now, where our photography is literally in a DropBox. We take the best, put it in a DropBox, and give the link to the players via text message, and they can go into the DropBox app on their phone, save it, put it on Instagram. Done, right? We have had conversations with opendorse. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but I’m a big fan. There’s also a little bit of investment involved, but they have been doing a great job with that, in the collegiate athletics place, in the sports place, in the influencer space they’re doing a great job with being able to deliver specific content to influences to promote on their channels.

Seth Bridges: Yeah, no, certainly we work with a lot of different action adventurer, outdoor adventurer kind of sports or sports agencies, and the thing I’ve heard a lot from them is very similar to you, which is two parts. One, sourcing the content from the field when it’s often being taken by lots of different photographers, or by these sort of influencers, or athletes, or their athletes teams themselves, and if you’re a Mountain Dew, or a Red Bull, or whoever, how do you get that content back?  And then the curation and the best of? At least for you, it’s like you’re the source, and now you’re doing the dissemination, and then it’s sort of how are you making sure that it’s as easy as possible for these athletes to amplify your message on their own channel.

Patrick Dillon: Right, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was a little bit of a struggle though, because you struggle to create enough content for yourself. Now you’re going off and creating content for other people too, and providing them with all these assets. So, there’s definitely a balance of figuring out what is the right amount of that? What is important? How much can you realistically do?

Seth Bridges: Yeah. Do you all ever use user generated content, either from athletes or from your fans back out on your channel?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so probably the number one way we send it over the past couple of years is after each men’s basketball game, we will do a social media recap, where we will pull the best of from our fans throughout the game, by either using a hashtag, or checking our location, or using the terminology that we’re following, and we’ll compile a social media recap of the best posts from our fans throughout the game, or from media outlets and things of that nature. We had been doing that through Storify. RIP. Storify has gone away. But there are other solutions out there for that (i.e. Twitter Moments or Wakelet). But we were taking that, and we were putting that on our website.

We were promoting that through our social channels, like hey, check out the best from social media, and it was actually helping the spread of stuff after the fact, as people were seeing the cool, fun, great pictures et cetera from the game. So yes, we were doing that a little bit. We also play in the Big East tournament in New York City each year, and we’ve done a fun campaign the past few years. A little play on words, X in the City. So Xavier, X in the City, having fans give an X somewhere in New York City, whether it be at Madison Square Garden, or Central Park, wherever it may be, posting it using that as a hashtag, and compiling that at the end, and spreading that, and rewarding fans for participating. So yes, we are doing a little bit of that as well.

Seth Bridges: That’s another smart way that you are leveraging the fact that you have a small budget, you’re being creative, and now you probably get a ton of content, and probably a ton of good content that I’m imagining also those fans are also back reamplifying, and repromoting, particularly when you’re sharing content on your site.

So, I’ve been kind of feathering in questions as we’ve gone here, but I had one more question for you, kind of returning back a little bit to the broader scope of the Big East, and thinking about if you can come up with an example or two of places where you’re looking at what a lot of those other schools. You did a nice job of describing how similar many of the institutions are within the Big East.

Examples of places where you found yeah look at Butler. Look at Nova. Look at some of these other universities who are having success in the way that aren’t, and where you’ve said let’s try doing that our way, and find success. Can you think of any examples where that’s been true for you?

Patrick Dillon: Yeah, so prior to being at Xavier, I was at Georgetown in DC, and they do a pretty good job at keeping fans engaged on their main athletics account, on Instagram and on Facebook. They’ll do things such as hey, let’s see how many different states we can find a Hoya fan in, and they’ll post a picture of the United States, and people will comment. That’s a treasure trove for comments. And then you can post an update and say hey, we’re just missing these six states. Are you from this state? Or tag somebody who you know who is.

That’s something that Georgetown did recently that I think is really good, and I want to copy, but I’m not going to copy it yet, because that’s a little too obvious, and I would tell my counterpart there that. I’ll say Georgetown also does a great job of utilizing some of their famous former student athletes that played in the NBA, whether it be Allen Iverson, or someone of that nature. They also have a number of celebrities that end up wearing the brand. So, Bradley Cooper is a Georgetown alum.

They’ll post a picture of Bradley Cooper a dozen times a year wearing a Georgetown hat, or a Georgetown shirt, and trying to figure out how that applies to your institution is how you make that happen. So, in our situation, George Clooney did a movie at Xavier a few years ago. We might pull out the George Clooney with the Xavier hat photo every once in a while, get people excited. Things like that (like Bill Murray?). It’s finding who are those people that matter to your audience? What are those things that can get people, like in the state example get  people commenting? Something that I’ve seen on non-Big East accounts recently, you see it a lot in the NBA, hey, you have 15 dollars to build team.

Here’s five tiers, how much each tier of player costs. Build your own team. I’d love to do that for Xavier at some point, like hey, here’s 15 alums. Build a starting lineup. So, little things like that, just looking for those inspirations, and trying to apply them back to your situation, because while we are similar, we’re all different in that sense. But there’s some things that you can beg, borrow, and steal, and adapt to yourself.

Seth Bridges: Yeah. I mean copying and inspiration are not that far apart as it turns out. And yeah, we have a lot of customers in higher education. Every year we do a big study on higher ed, which is coming out in a few weeks, and one of the things I’ve noticed in doing that study now for three years in a row is that first of all, comments highly viral. The more we get commenting, the more we end up with expanded reach, but alums particularly just love to reflect on their times in school, whether it was 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, and if you really, really want to get a lot of comments going, post something that really tugs at that for some alum, and the comments just flow.

I remember in ’56. I remember in ’78. I remember in ’95. I remember in whatever, I was at that same place doing this thing that these kids are doing now. Yeah, hurray world. It’s great. I do it too. You heard me talking about Pitt. I graduated from Pitt a fairly long time ago. It’s all good. We have that emotion, and it sounds like for athletics, finding places that can drive that kind of chatter. I do like the idea about the kind of engagement from now like a hurray, or high five, but yes, I would like to build my thing. I would like to enter this. Effectively, it’s a contest, right? Like why do I think these five players are the best ever, and here’s how they can go together, people really love that. And if you’re going to reamplify it, that’s the prize, right?

Patrick Dillon: Right. And going off of what you just said, getting people commenting, getting people sharing. If you can get people excited, then they’ll help you spread your message, and then they’ll tell their own story about their relationship with you. So, in our situation, people are telling their story about Xavier as they share some post, or as they comment on some post, and that can be really powerful, like you talked about.

Seth Bridges: Yeah. I mean, we all have our experiences, and at the end of the day, the more something you’re doing on one of your channels kind of pulls at my emotion, or my being around that, the more likely I am to like it, share it, comment on it, et cetera, and when you find that pattern, or that magic, every campaign can’t be like that, but of course you try to do it as many as you can.

Patrick Dillon: For sure.

Seth Bridges: Hey Patrick, we are about out of time. We ran through a number of questions from folks, and I really appreciate you spending your time here with us today. I’ve learned even more. I could chat with you about this all day. There were a handful of questions that I think went unanswered, and so, we’ll follow up with you and try to get some final answers on that. For everyone who’s watching, keep an eye out. Our higher ed engagement report comes out in just a few weeks, and we’re very excited to share the results of that with you all. We will send this recording out, and you’ll get a chance to sort of rewatch, and share with your teams as you want. Patrick, I hope you have a great rest of the week, and thanks for spending the time with us today.

Patrick Dillon: Awesome. Thanks Seth.

Seth Bridges: Great. Have a good one. Bye, everybody.

Patrick Dillon: Bye.

Cassandra Schwartz

Cassandra leads our product marketing, focusing on product, brand, and communications needs. Cassandra has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade helping businesses like Microsoft including Xbox and The Garage, Pike13, and many others connect with their audiences. Outside of work, Cassandra keeps extraordinarily active. An avid community builder, she leads the Seattle Lean In Circle, and co-founded SheHasDrive, as well as a peer-mentoring program based in Seattle. Since moving to Seattle from Kansas, Cassandra has adopted an outdoors lifestyle that includes hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Ready to start analyzing?

Start measuring the impact of your social media campaigns with our 14-day free trial.

Start Your Free Trial