Tricks for "Tweeting": Leveraging Social Media to Promote the High School Athletic Program
I have to make a confession: over the past six months, I have become addicted to using the social media tool known as Twitter. In addition to operating a personal account to promote my own high school athletic program, I also manage all Twitter communications for my state athletic administrators association. Between the two accounts, I average sending 15-20 tweets every day to the audiences that I serve. Since starting this initiative, I have garnered somewhere in the neighborhood of 625 followers and have discovered that a number of my posts are routinely "retweeted" by others to their followers.
My conversion to using this form of social media as a means of communication came after years of stubbornly resisting it. I have strongly believed that people today spend too much of their time staring at computer or iPhone screens and not enough time interacting with each other. I have also been frustrated by the lack of civility that commonly exists in social media and the meanness that young people demonstrate towards one another in cyberspace. Having had to address inappropriate on-line behavior on more than one occasion within my school, I decided that the best way that I could make a positive difference was to join the world of Twitter. By serving as a role model and demonstrating how social media can be used to celebrate people, not disparage them. In turn, I have learned that there is a lot that can be communicated in 140 characters, and I also use this resource to promote the accomplishments of my student-athletes, to follow the work of my colleagues, to receive the latest news headlines, and to learn updates on the weather.
Utilizing this emerging form of communication also entails that users demonstrate responsibility, accuracy, and consistency. Once an athletic administrator begins gathering followers, he or she becomes a major on-line voice for a school. The public that routinely uses Twitter relies upon this medium for the latest news about the athletic program and will quickly dismiss it if information is not communicated regularly and accurately. Just as it is possible to create great momentum for the school's on-line presence by pushing a great deal of information via Twitter, it is also equally plausible that this momentum can be derailed by failure to tweet.
Athletic administrators are advised to devise and implement strategies for utilizing all electronic media, particularly Twitter, to maximize its effectiveness for accomplishing the objectives of a school's social media plan. The approaches that may be employed may vary from school to school based upon size of school, number of athletic programs, availability of human resources (such as administrative assistants or sports information directors), and multiple responsibilities held by the athletic director (impacting the time required to perform this function). Athletic administrators are also advised to consult their school administrations to ensure that they are comfortable and on board with the strategic components of the Twitter plan. It may also be helpful to have upper school administration "follow" the athletic department's tweets to ensure that they receive and support those messages being sent.
What Is The Score?
One of the most commonly used strategies for employing Twitter in high school athletic programs is to tweet out scores of contests. The days of cell phone calls to get the most current game score or checking out the morning paper for results are practically obsolete. People's need for current information and the capacity to communicate it through social media have changed the paradigm of sports news distribution, even at the high school level.
As a result of this need to communicate current information, many athletic directors may find themselves tweeting as many as two dozen or so live scores of a contest that they are watching to their followers. In addition to sharing the current score, period, and time, other information about the contest, including key plays or players, may be communicated within these posts. Many athletic administrators will take pictures using their cellular devices and share images of the game venue and action with their followers. Twitter, in essence, has become one of the best alternatives to being at the game itself.
Tweeting out game scores and information, however, comes with a few caveats that athletic administrators must examine when deploying this strategy. Among the issues that one must weigh when deciding to utilize Twitter for sharing results are:
Personally, concerns about equity and consistency cause me to be both cautious and strategic when it comes to tweeting out live scores. I am fortunate in that I have the services of a part-time sports information director who uses Twitter for communicating information about the games that he is able to cover. One of the expectations listed in his job description is that he schedules his coverage equitably among programs and teams of each gender. Just as Twitter can be a positive public relations coup for a high school athletic program, it can be create negative impressions if there is a perception that all activities are not valued.
To be consistent in utilizing my own account to communicate information, I tweet scores on a daily basis once the game is completed. Whether at the end of a given activity day or during the following morning, each score for every sport (at all levels of play) is posted. Coaches whose games may have been played on the road and may not return to the campus until late are expected to communicate their results as soon as possible. The net result of this practice is that:
Twitter and Program Culture
Twitter is also a great vehicle for communicating information about the culture of the athletic program. In particular, it can be utilized as a means of teaching followers, including spectators, the news media, coaches, and student-athletes, about the history of an athletic program and the individuals who have shaped it. An athletic administrator's ability to take advantage of this promotional opportunity will depend upon the availability of archival materials, such as game clippings, score books, or scrapbooks, that can may be used.
Our athletic program has used Twitter extensively for this purpose since establishing an account and has employed a number of regular features that have proven popular with our followers. For example, on a daily basis during the regular season, we post a number of "This Date in Thornton Athletic History" tweets that promote the anniversary of a game score or significant event from the past. I use a database of scores that I have kept during my tenure as our school's athletic administrator (to appeal to current students or recent alumni) as well as extensive materials that I have that date back to the athletic department's genesis in 1893. Many local media members have caught on to these tweets and enjoy retweeting some of the older or more obscure events. When practical, I will accompany these tweets with photographs of a person or place associated with the event.
Another feature that I will utilize from time to time is "Did You Know?". Like the "This Date" tweets, the "Did You Know?" items are designed to communicate facts about the history of the athletic program that the current generation of our athletes and fans may not know. Whether it is information about a home athletic venue that the school may have used in past or an item about a former coach or athlete, the goal of the feature is to connect our followers with the rich 120-plus year history and culture of our athletic program.
Twitter can also be employed to observe the history that is created by an athletic program on an ongoing basis. Significant milestones (such as coaching wins or school records) can be easily and effectively shared within a 140-character tweet and celebrate the accomplishments of students and coaches. Once again having accurate records and an open network of information so that people are not forgotten is essential to this end.
Alumni and Twitter
It was once stated that "the past is the key to the present". The school where I serve as athletic administrator relies upon the financial stewardship and on-going support of our alumni base for it to support the breadth and quality of programs that we offer. As a result, engaging alumni through a variety of means is essential for the operation of the institution.
A school's athletic Twitter feed can be a major means of ensuring that alumni are connected with their alma maters. In addition to allowing them to follow the game-by-game results of the athletic teams that they either played on or cheered for as undergraduates, this social media mechanism serve a number of other purposes as well. Our Twitter account meets this need to engage alumni in a strategic manner through several means:
The success of this initiative has been palpable. Student-athletes who follow the account are genuinely interested in the accomplishments of some of those who preceded them and are inspired by their example. Former student-athletes and their parents appreciate the fact that they have not been forgotten and routinely retweet our recognition of their accomplishments, whether as a current collegiate student-athlete or in the private sector.
Athletic administrators looking to recognize alumni currently competing at the collegiate level must develop a process for knowing where these individuals are. At my school, I connect with each departing senior student-athlete to identify where he or she will be playing at the next level. In turn, I use the accompanying college athletic websites to follow their careers and to communicate their accomplishments. Just as tweeting out game scores is part of my daily activities, checking the latest results of those teams on which our alumni play is an equally important component of my routine.
Having a Twitter presence for an athletic department is a lot of work. Athletic administrators seeking to tweet out information about their schools' athletic programs must carve out time each day to perform this task. In my case, I will tweet out information first thing in the morning; I find that I can get this work done without interruption and as part of a daily routine. In turn, many of our followers begin their days by learning the latest happenings in our athletic department.
However, I have also learned that Twitter is a powerful tool that can reach a wide range of audiences. My conversion from being a cynic a to convert is complete. It is a great means of teaching the current generation of high school students about how to use social media in a constructive manner that treats people with respect. It can also help communicate the latest weather-related cancellation using a medium that has instant impact. It is also a tool that can bring an audience to your athletic department, the "front porch" of your school, and draw their attention to the positive things that are occurring in education-based athletics.