Q&A With the Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Social Media Team

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The team behind the magic!

The Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team accounts shine on social media. Not only does their social media team have great access to the student-athletes, but they also know how to tell a compelling story. If you followed their team throughout the NCAA DI Men’s Basketball Tournament, then there’s a good chance their accounts stood out to you. They have found a way to create a presence that builds passion for the program and lets personality shine through.

The stats speak for themselves from the tournament run. In total, the Badgers’ social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reached more than 122.8 million people (from uwbadgers.com).  That’s impressive!

The two minds behind their presence, Patrick Herb and Brandon Harrison, took the time to answer questions on their approach to social media. Below they tackle everything from the Twitter Mirror to goals and taking advantage of big states like the tournament. It’s clear this dynamic duo “gets” the social space, so sit back and enjoy their fantastic Q&A:

Can you briefly talk about Wisconsin Men’s Basketball goals in the social space?

One of the biggest goals for us in the social space is to offer access and share insight that no one else can offer. We’re around the team 24/7, so social media is a great way to bring fans and followers behind the curtains with us and inside the program by sharing things they wouldn’t see otherwise. This has long been one of the goals since the account was first created for the team.

We also set metric and statistical goals, just like everyone else. This season in particular, we looked over the rankings of fellow college basketball team Twitter accounts. We made it a goal to work our way up the list. With the collection of characters and personalities on this year’s team, sharing the fun and playing off emotion became a much bigger part of our coverage. Our fans and audience quickly fell in love with this year’s group, so it became a goal to cater to that.

 

Today, thanks to social media, teams do not have to solely rely on the media to tell their story. How has social media shaped your current roles over the years?

Working in a communications and public relations role with a team, social media has especially evolved in becoming a resource for pitching story ideas. More than ever, story ideas come from something seen on social media. This season alone during the NCAA tournament, we had story ideas develop on social media surrounding stenographers, go-karting and Super Smash Bros. Those are story ideas that game notes and web releases just don’t pitch. It’s important for team accounts to engage with fans, but also realize that media are taking note of what’s on your timeline, too.

Social media has also evolved into a tool we often now use to create a timeline of events. This is not even just for chronicling a game, but also tournaments and road trips. A while back, we may have created a running blog or a web-landing page to keep fans up to date on events of a trip. Now, our social media accounts serve as a real-time running blog of our journeys.

 

Your team obviously had a stellar season on the court, but you also had a stellar season from a social media point of view. Can you share your top three social/digital moments from this year (regular or post-season) and a little insight into why they performed so well?

1) Stenographer Antics
This is an easy choice. Perhaps one of the most memorable off-the-court moments from the NCAA tournament this season was sophomore Nigel Hayes and his antics with stenographers. Following a press conference in Omaha, Nigel, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker became enamored by one of the stenographers on hand and her stenography machine. Patrick tweeted out a photo of the three looking overhead as she walked them through how the machine operated. He also got a video of their delighted reaction as they tried out the machine for themselves.

Not only did those posts take off online, but pretty much any press conference after that involved Nigel taking the podium trying to throw out big vocabulary and stump the stenographers. Nigel also had a “hot mic” moment and was caught whispering, “Gosh, she’s beautiful” to his teammates in regards to one of the stenographers in Los Angeles. The antics of Nigel and the stenographers was a huge hit on social media. It also spun off into a big Twitter event for Nigel himself as his mentions were inundated with people offering vocabulary words. His personal highlight was dictionary.com following him and allowing him to select the Word of the Day.

2) Frank the Tanks: Frank Meets Will Ferrell
We used social media to share a secret meeting that quickly came together in which Frank Kaminsky was invited to attend the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony for Will Ferrell. One of Kaminsky’s nicknames is “Frank the Tank,” so it was fitting to have him come and interview for Access Hollywood the famous comedian who played a character known as “Frank the Tank.”

This came together quite quickly one morning when the team was out in Los Angeles, so Twitter became the best way to quickly share and get out photos of the two meeting. Having a good hunch that this would get play online, we also watermarked the photos with “@BadgerMBB” so that the original photos would be traced back to the account. The photo ended up being featured everywhere from SportsCenter to Good Morning America and our Twitter handle was always readable.

3) Skip Bayless
Sometimes it’s fun to be a little snarky on social media. When ESPN personality Skip Bayless tweeted out his disappointment in Kentucky and Duke not meeting in the national championship, Patrick chose to retweet and respond with simply, “Sorry.” Lots of fans and national media seemed to enjoy the playful banter in that brief Twitter exchange.

>Honorable Mention) Baby Black Mamba Nigel uses Kobe’s Locker
When the team was in Los Angeles for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, they used the locker room of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. One of Nigel Hayes’ favorite athletes is Kobe Bryant, so when he was given Kobe’s locker to use, needless to say he was excited. With the Twitter mirror at our disposal, Brandon approached Nigel in the locker room about taking a selfie in the locker and to tweet.

 

What did your social media team look like during March Madness? How many people were helping out with the accounts?

Our social media team sort of evolved as the tournament went on. While the two of us were the consistent voices of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball social media accounts, we also had lots of help graphically from our designer Julia Hujet off-site. Once we reached the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Director of Athletic Communications Brian Lucas joined for our trip to Los Angeles, then both Lucas and Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Brian Mason traveled and contributed on-site at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

We find social media is at its best when you can collaborate and brainstorm with a group. Having extra sets of eyeballs and fingers available is great, too, for being able to jump in and make sure we’re not missing out on engaging in a moment or sharing something from our end.

 

When your team makes it into the NCAA Tournament, it’s important to take advantage of the big stage from a social/digital perspective like you did. What were the three biggest keys to maximizing your platforms during the tournament?

One big thing was to be conscious of surroundings and always be thinking, “Is this something we can share?” If so, how? A few seasons ago, Patrick developed the #FieldofXX hashtag for use during the NCAA tournament. There’s so much surrounding a team’s journey during the NCAA tournament and March. This hashtag evolves with the number of teams remaining in the tournament. So at first, it’s the #Fieldof64, and the goal is to provide 64 tweets that share tidbits, insight or moments about the team counting down until tip (it becomes #Fieldof32 if you make the second round, etc.). This has really helped us have constant awareness when traveling with the team and to always be thinking about how we can share. Coming up with 64 tweets can get tricky in the span of 2-3 days, so we literally always have to be thinking in terms of sharing socially.

Emotion was another key for us this season. More than years past, we aimed to try and capture the emotion of moments. When you reach a stage like the NCAA tournament, we didn’t find it as necessary to constantly be sharing play-by-play, but rather mix in the emotion and feeling of moments. Most followers on social media are watching the game in unison with us, so relaying play-by-play and updates is less important. We aimed to find a mix between informative tweets and emotional ones. For example, during the national championship game one of our in-game tweets that drew the largest engagement was one that simply read, “Let’s. GOOOOOO! #MakeEmBelieve #Badgers” after the team went on a big run.

Another key was letting the team be part of the content. When the athletes felt a part of the coverage we were creating surrounding them, they were much more interested in jumping in and helping us tell the story. The team would want to take selfies together and have us tweet it out to fans or they’d want to tip us off on fun things they had planned like a video game tournament in one of the hotel rooms so that we could come and get footage of it. Encourage the athletes to get involved and help you create content that features them.

 

One of the things I really loved about your coverage during the tournament was how personal it was. Fans really got to know the players and the accounts offered a great look behind the scenes. Why is access so important in sports? And, what’s the key to getting this type of access?

Touching back on the last question, what helped our coverage remain so personable and fun was that the team was made of characters and personalities. We’ve been lucky to have engaging and colorful athletes to work with, so being able to bring out their personality is always a goal. Rather than just cover our athletes, we want to humanize them and show that they’re more than just basketball players. Social media is great for this. When you can take fans behind the scenes and show them what athletes are like off the court, that’s content worth sharing.

 

Let’s talk the Twitter mirror! How did the Twitter Mirror fit into your content strategy, and what was the response from both players and fans?

The Twitter mirror was a great addition for tournament time. One of the most engaging uses was when the team would take a selfie together after a big win. The selfies taken down on the court after winning the Big Ten tournament and up on the podium after defeating Arizona and advancing to the Final Four were two of our bigger posts in March.

It was also great having the Twitter mirror along for spontaneous moments when the team just felt like capturing a moment on the trip and sharing. The team quickly formed the habit of taking a team selfie on the plane before takeoff for a round of the NCAA tournament. They also took a selfie together when out go-karting in Omaha, helmets and all, which went over well, too.

 

You all handled your loss in the Final Four with such grace, which is certainly no easy feat. What’s your advice to other social media managers when handling a loss online?

Don’t play off frustration, but rather play off pride. Immediately after the team fell short in the national championship game, we wanted to direct the focus toward the seniors on the team and all that they accomplished. Social media can be a great way to help direct the tone of fans in defeat. If we would have simply tweeted a final score and then perhaps live-tweeted the postgame press conference, odds are good the tone would remain bland and sorrowful. Instead, take a step back and help the fans and followers appreciate all that a team has accomplished.

 

Finally, in its simplest form, what does it take to be successful in social media?

1) Be aware and involved.
When you return to the team hotel after beating Kentucky and fans treat the Badgers like The Beatles getting off the bus, don’t get completely caught up in the moment, but take it in and share it with others.

2) Get creative with your message and content.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the words you use, but also the content you share. Being clever and punchy with your 140 characters can shape your “voice” but noticing moments, photos, quotes that are colorful can do the same thing.

3) Be flexible with your plan and don’t be afraid to be spontaneous.
It’s valuable to have a strategy and some scheduled ideas, but the best moments and tweets are often the spontaneous ones. Be prepared, but be flexible and share the moments.

 


 

Patrick Herb, an alumnus of UW-Madison and seven-year veteran of the Kansas City Chiefs public relations staff, is in his sixth year with the UW Athletic Communications department. He is the primary contact for men’s basketball and serves as the editor of the national-awarding winning football and men’s basketball game programs. Give him a follow on Twitter at @PatrickHerb

Brandon Harrison is in his first year as an athletic communications assistant at Wisconsin. He serves as the secondary media contact for men’s basketball and the primary contact for men’s and women’s soccer and swimming and diving. Give him a follow on Twitter at @BrandonHarrison.

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