Insight Into Clemson Athletics’ Social Media Strategy

Clemson Athletics’ approach to social media this year has been on fire. It’s evident that their social media isn’t a siloed, but a team effort, through all the stellar, real-time content they have been able to push out. They go into each game with a plan and lots of prep beforehand. It’s paid off, as they have seen tremendous growth:

From Tennessee Athletics.

From Tennessee Athletics.

You can attribute winning to their success, but winning is FAR from the only reason why Clemson has sky rocketed on social. They’re also killing it on social because they focus on content… good content. From their Vines full of swagger to their near real-time video recaps, Clemson has consistently turned out some of the best content we’ve seen all season. They even became the first sports team to publish with Twitter Moments. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

 

Video Storytelling

 

 

 

Short-Form Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to bigger things for one of the nation's best players… Great player. Better person. On to the @cfbplayoff! #ALLIN

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on

 

Still No. 1. "And we're just getting started." — Dabo 🐅 What a time to be a Tiger! 🐾

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on

 

 

Vines

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIFS

 

https://twitter.com/ClemsonFB/status/670601088127639

 

 

 

 

Other Creative Content

 

 

#BYOG #ALLIN for #ACCFCG 🐅🐾

A photo posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on

 

 

 

There is no question they have shared an impressive mix of content this season. Thankfully, we get to learn some of their secrets. Jonathan Gantt, the Digital/Creative Director at Clemson Athletics, took  time to answer questions about their approach to social media. Below he tackles everything from storytelling to making the most of Vine. Enjoy!

 

Your team has always produced great content, but it seems like you’ve stepped it up a notch even more this football season. What’s your overall approach/strategy to social and digital strategy for this year? And, how did it shift from the previous year?

We have four target audiences we’re trying to reach: current student-athletes, potential student-athletes (recruits), current fans and potential fans. We focus our content strategy on recruits because that approach has the greatest probability of engaging all four groups.

The social media element of our digital strategy is to use content (photos, graphics, videos, articles, etc.) to help answer the question “what is it like to be a Clemson Tiger?” So, for instance, the goal of our @ClemsonFB account is to illustrate what it’s like to be a part of the Clemson Football program. By doing that, we feel we can accomplish specific goals for each audience: 1.) Support our coaches in recruiting by giving them a 24/7/365 asset (social media) to aid in their efforts to bring the highest-character, most-talented student-athletes to Clemson 2.) Make our IPTAY donors and ticket/merchandise purchasers feel strongly that they’ve made a great decision by committing their hard-earned money to the development of our student-athletes 3.) Enhance the Clemson experience for current student-athletes 4) Show potential fans something special that they might want to be a part of.

Our strategy hasn’t shifted this year. I just think that our industry outreach and success on the field have generated more awareness and resulting national recognition. Our Sports Information Department underwent a transformational change (led by Dan Radakovich and Tim Match) beginning in late 2013 and we’re now starting to hit our stride as we progress in that transition. The core strategies were in place beginning in 2014 but restructuring personnel to fit those strategies over the last 12 months is what has led to the more noticeable changes in output this year.

 

What platforms are you currently on? How does your team decide where to activate?

Our department has varying levels of activity on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and Pinterest. Our decision to be active on a platform ultimately comes down to whether the lines of value and resources intersect – if the personnel availability we have matches the opportunity, we activate.

 

Your video content is on fire. From more long-form content (The Dream) to epic Vines. Any secrets to how you all brainstorm / ideate to come up with great ideas?

When I first started at Clemson, we really had to narrow the scope of ideas to things that were doable. Now that we have the proper structure and guidelines in place, no idea is too big. I joke that it’s really just like when you were a little kid and you’d go make home movies with your friends. We start with trying to answer a question that advances our mission, come up with an idea and then just go out and do it. Like any skill, we’ve gotten better with practice. We’re creating video content now that we wouldn’t have thought of or been able to execute at this time last year.

We’ve really focused on short-form as that’s the best approach for the target audience of recruits. And though we only have one full-time videographer (Nik Conklin, best in the business), we have several passionate, talented undergraduate students who make significant contributions to our digital video and help give us a consistent output.

 

In similar vain, what’s your team’s key to telling a great story?

Focusing on what matters. With 19 teams, 500 student-athletes, 14,000+ IPTAY donors and countless other groups we service, we could spend our time in so many different ways. So it’s really important for us to drill down on the most valuable things we can do and spend our time doing that. Otherwise, we’re not providing the best service possible to our athletic department. And then with each “story,” we try to identify connection points between our subject and the target audience and shape the story around those relatable elements. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some amazing storytellers with our staff and students.

 

I love how you all have focused on Vine as I think it’s vastly underutilized. What tips do you have for teams and leagues looking to step up their presence there?

Take the time to learn what makes Vine special and then determine how your team can contribute to that community. I believe the Vine community is the most unique of the social media platforms and I really didn’t understand it until I jumped in with two feet and spent time on the channel as a user. It’s a fun, fast-moving community on its own but it’s also an important element to consider in your Twitter strategy. The new features (Vine Music) also make it that much easier for teams to start publishing engaging Vines, so it’ll be interesting to see how our industry starts utilizing it.

But it’s important to note that our Vine strategy is just a subset of our overarching video strategy and focus on short-form. We still do long-form pieces occasionally but short-form video posted natively to social channels has proved a much more engaging approach for our target audience. Once we determined that’s how we wanted to utilize our video personnel, it made sense to tap into Vine in addition to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

And, how do you decide between all the short-form video content (whether it becomes a GIF, Vine or native Twitter)?
The “loop” is the biggest determining factor – if we have a short clip that people will want to watch more than once (either because of the footage or the audio loop), we put that on Vine. If we create four short-form social videos for football in a given week, probably two of them are edited with the audio loop in mind.

 

You all are able to turn around stellar content quickly during games. How is your team able to get this done? Any tips and advice for others?

Speed and timeliness is always a major factor in our content creation but it certainly moves up the priority list for event coverage. Our approach is to shift our personnel (staff/students) to single-focus roles on gameday. We determine our list of deliverables and then assign staff based on the roles needed to produce those deliverables. We try to make each person’s role as meaningful as possible and eliminate extra or unnecessary responsibilities. And once people understand their role in the process and the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish, they work as a streamlined team to capture, edit and publish content. I feel confident we’re as efficient as possible with the resources we currently have. And our resources (staff size & equipment) are nothing really unique at Clemson, we just arrange them in a way to be most effective in that fast-paced, high-pressure environment.

 

From your team’s experience, what are the keys to creating engaging content?

Knowing your audience and combining personal skill and experience with available analytics/feedback to drive decisions. We’ve referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” – it’s usually best to trust the natural tendencies of our talented staff because they’ve spent the necessary time perfecting their craft. But we also try to do some basic reporting to either reinforce (or debunk) those “gut” decisions. And we’re fortunate that we can also occasionally show drafts of content to current student-athletes and get their perspective on it since they have a similar perspective to our target audience (recruits).

We have to focus on creating content that gets people’s attention and keeps people’s attention—specifically teenagers—which is difficult, certainly, but also a fun challenge. So every element of the content is developed with that strategy in mind – it needs to be concise and impactful and always made with the end user in mind.

 

Let’s talk about your talented digital/social team. How many people help bring this vision to life, and what are their roles?
Our structure is similar to that of a marketing agency.

Department Head: Joe Galbraith
Digital/Creative Director: Jonathan Gantt
Sport Contacts: Tim Bourret, Phil Sikes, Libby Kehn, Carl Danoff (GA) and Chas Williams (GA)
Photography/Publications: Brian Hennessy
Designer: Jeff Kallin
Videographer: Nik Conklin
Historian: Sam Blackman
Broadcaster: Don Munson

We’re also fortunate to have a very talented, hard-working group of undergraduate and graduate students who make significant contributions as writers, designers, videographers, stat editors, photographers and digital media assistants.

Our sport contacts serve as the “account reps” for our teams and handle the day-to-day social content that focuses on helping to show “what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.” They do a great job of building relationships with our coaches and student-athletes and creating, capturing and sharing content every day on social. When they have an idea that requires more support, they can call on the creative team (designers, videographers, writers, photographers) to help tell the story.

Each team member plays an important role and it’s so fun much seeing the everyday collective output. The community and culture we have is unique and it’s a great place to come to work every day.

 

For people that might not have the same resources from a social/digital point of view, what recommendations do you have for maximizing potential?

I started my career in minor league baseball, so I’m very familiar with the struggles of creating maximum impact with limited resources. The interesting element of college athletics is that every single school—no matter how big or small—has a population of students who can contribute. And if you take the time on the front end to give those students the right guidance and support, you can then exponentially grow your resources. And again, that’s something any school can do.

We overhauled our student worker program last year so we hire students with some level of skill, experience or passion in specific content creation areas: writers, videographers, designers, etc. We don’t let undergraduate students publish to social media because part of their experience should include the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and it’d be unfair to put them in a spot where they have to deal with the significant consequences of public missteps on social. But they absolutely create the content that goes on our channels and serve other operational roles — they write articles, edit videos, design graphics, create basic analytics reports, stat events and a variety of other responsibilities. And that, of course, frees our “SID’s” to handle other tasks if they need to while still enjoying a consistent, frequent level of quality content posted on social.

 

In its simplest form, what does it take to be successful on social media?

Obviously, there’s a lot of different ways to be successful on social, depending on your organization’s objectives. For our approach, we just really, really have to be entertaining. Ultimately, people aren’t on social media to communicate with brands. They’re on social to communicate with their network of family and friends and to be informed and entertained. So, as a brand, if you’re going to play in their space I think the biggest requirement is you have to be entertaining. We want to recruit the best and brightest to come to Clemson so we have to be entertaining to get their attention and get them excited about our university.

 


 

 

A big thanks to Jonathan Gantt of Clemson Athletes for taking the time to answer questions. You can give him a follow here: @Jonathan_Gantt

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