The 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament generated millions of social media engagements, including 63 million from official March Madness handles. And if our INFLCR look at the first two rounds is any hint, that number may get blown out here in 2018.
As the 2018 NCAA Tournament enters its second week, already one of the most bizarre tournaments in recent history, it does so with a minimum 5 million following the action on Sweet 16 teams’ official men’s basketball Twitter accounts. Ten of the 16 remaining schools’ team accounts already have a broader reach than the overall university account, but when you factor in the individual brand ambassadors for each of these Sweet 16 teams (coaches, student-athletes, alumni, etc.), those numbers explode to a level that team accounts will simply never touch.
The proof is there. Win or lose, people follow people, not brands. And March Madness has been no different.
BRAND AMBASSADOR EXPOSURE
Syracuse University and the University of Kentucky are two of the best examples of how the college hoops teams’ ambassadors can multiply a team’s reach. By including the total reach of affiliated accounts, @KentuckyMBB increases its reach from 762,000 followers to 14 million unique followers – the largest reach of any Sweet 16 program, according to our INFLCR data. One example is NBA forward Anthony Davis’ pregame tweet on March 15, which produced more than 8,000 engagements from his 1.54 million followers.
Syracuse is another Sweet 16 example with a 9.4 million total following compared to 256,000 team account followers – a staggering rate of 35.7 times (3,570%) more than the team account alone.
No March Madness story feels complete without including Duke, and the same is true for the Blue Devils on Twitter. @DukeMBB has an industry-leading 2.25 million followers alone. Imagine the footprint it has through its brand ambassadors.
The engagement is not tied to winning. When Oklahoma was upset by Rhode Island, 83-78, in the first round, the @OU_MBBall account, which has a following of 2,423, received a combined 3,084 engagements. In contrast, Oklahoma freshman Trae Young eclipsed the team account with each of his two tweets on game day with a pregame tweet garnering 3,698 engagements and his postgame tweet, raking in more than 14,500 engagements.
At first glance, one may say this model only applies to long-established programs with storied success, but the same is true for others, such as Loyola. The @RamblersMBB account saw a 67 percent increase in followers between March 11-18, and with the addition of some players’ March Madness star status, the Twitter reach of the Loyola roster alone shot up to 20.9K, a 44 percent greater reach than the team account.
As with most social media growth, a catalyst is needed. For some, it was a star player’s tweet. For others, it was the result on the court or even the announcement of making the tourney.
DID ENGAGEMENT UPTICKS PREDICT UPSETS?
Filling out the perfect bracket is near impossible, and it certainly didn’t happen in 2018. But could several of the upsets have been predicted by looking at Twitter data?
When first gathering notes before the tournament, we looked at how the team and fans reacted on social media by looking at all 68 selection announcements, compiled by @SkullSparks. Looking at the numbers, we immediately circled teams we wanted to keep an eye on in the First Four – St. Bonaventure & Syracuse, as well as first round potential upsets: Loyola, Rhode Island, Nevada, Houston and Buffalo.
Why these over others? The numbers – plain and simple.
St. Bonaventure’s announcement, a simple ticket graphic, received more than 3200 engagements, good for 33.3 percent of the @BonniesMBB’s 9,719 followers on March 12, compared to merely 721 engagements on UCLA’s post. Loyola’s announcement spanned 21.5 percent of its total following, while Houston collected 9 percent engagement. Rhode Island, Cincinnati, TCU and Auburn each had a more than 7 percent engagement on its team account. All of the other teams were below 5.5 percent. Buffalo’s video collected the second-most of a video announcement at nearly 84,000 views by March 12.
However, it was Syracuse’s @Cuse_MBB account which led the field with more than 17,500 engagements and 451,000 views (now up to 494K) in this video of the Orange erupting in celebration.
That feeling when you’re going dancing pic.twitter.com/VaGEPR2qaR
— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) March 11, 2018
It was the first of many behind-the-scenes videos promoted during the week, collecting more than a million combined views – everything from the announcement celebration, packing, loading the plane, open practices, warming up in the hall, pregame on the court, player interviews and highlight videos.
BIG DOG ON CAMPUS
No 2018 March Madness social media analysis will be complete without addressing the Retriever in the room.
Sixteen-seed University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC) shocked the nation on Friday when it beat the overall No. 1 seed University of Virginia by 20 points. We’d love to say we saw it coming, but this is one case where the announcement numbers weren’t even tallied on Day 1, because the engagements were below 500 and after all, it was a 16 seed vs. No. 1.
But the numbers apparently don’t lie.
@UMBCAthletics only collected 488 engagements on its #ShockTheWorld announcement graphic, but a deeper dive would have revealed that to have been nearly 10 percent of the account’s total following at the time, which was around 5,000. The only teams with a better engagement percentage on their announcement were St. Bonaventure, Loyola and ironically, K-State at 10.2 percent. Yes, UMBC blew past Virginia in this category also.
By the time the Retrievers’ completed their first round win, with the aid of the snark of Zach Seidel at the keyboard, @UMBCAthletics’ following grew by 58,000 in a 12-hour overnight period. By the time UMBC was eliminated by K-State on Sunday, March 18, the account had more than 109,000 followers, an increase of around 21-times its original size in three days.
“From our account, we’ve gotten so many notifications, so many followers and tweets, it’s blown up,” Seidel told INFLCR on two hours of sleep Saturday morning.
Seidel said the increase really began after Jairus Lyles hit the game-winner to beat Vermont in the America East Conference championship to clinch their bid, and then saw another uptick on game day with a screen grab tweet of ESPN’s 1.5 percent chance to win. From there, the account’s personality do the rest.
“It’s the personality the account has always had. More people noticed it last night,” Seidel said. “Making sure we’re having a fun, friendly time. Keeping it fun and clean and making people want to follow you to see what the next interesting thing is going to happen.”
Unlike the breed of its mascot, the Retrievers’ tweets were golden.
The engagements skyrocket when you add in mentions from the Baltimore Ravens, Wendy’s, Under Armour, other brands, celebrities and national media – such as this week’s Sports Illustrated digital cover.
Seidel admits one of the challenges of riding the wave will be keep an eye on what is put out by others pretending to be from UMBC in the early days after their run. Take Lyles for example. The star guard, previously not on Twitter, had two fake accounts develop overnight before starting his own, @_jlyles, developed March 17. The UMBC brand ambassador has expanded the program’s reach by 6,000 in three days, more than the school’s athletics account had on March 11.
“We’ve got to make sure we stay on top of that and make sure there’s no fake accounts or someone pretending to be someone they’re not. We’re going to have to be a little more diligent in looking through Twitter on a daily basis or Instagram and doing more searches for UMBC basketball during the day and making sure the information that’s out there isn’t casting us in a negative light,” said Seidel, UMBC Athletics’ director of multimedia communications.
Influencer (INFLCR) is a solution.
“This is exactly why INFLCR was created,” said Jim Cavale, Founder and CEO of INFLCR. “Our SaaS alleviates the time-consuming workflow of storing, delivering and tracking your digital content assets on social media across all of your brand ambassador channels and not merely your team channels.”
“Teams need to be positioned to capitalize on opportunities like UMBC has right now instead of having to backtrack once the unexpected, good or bad, happens” said INFLCR VP of Client Strategy, Liz Ballard. “To go into the season with a digital and social strategy that centers around influencer marketing with your brand ambassadors (current student-athletes, key alumni, relative media, etc) is essential.”
Entering a championship situation with a plan that your INFLCR account streamlines, not only prevents you from losing momentum but also combats the chance that your brand might lose the opportunity all together in such a fast moving news cycle.”
Seidel says he believes the success UMBC has seen on social media is founded in it’s desire to be intentional, such as deciding to tweet from the more widely followed athletics account instead of the team account, and to move the full-time social media guy into the role of in-game tweeter instead of the sports information director, who had other responsibilities for the game.
“I think it’s important for pro teams, companies, colleges (to have a social media person). It’s tough if you’re doing multiple things. I don’t know how last night would have gone three or four years ago. It’s the day and age in which we live, where you need somebody ready to go on social media at all times,” Seidel said.
Combining that talented person or team, with a social media CRM to manage and execute your team’s influencer marketing strategy, is why our company INFLCR exists. The digital content assets generated from events like March Madness, need to be stored, delivered and tracked in a way that cultivates participation from your brand ambassadors, to grow their brand and yours simultaneously.