Kentucky empowers its athletes to win on social media

When University of Kentucky football players arrived in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference’s annual media days, they told their personal stories on social media.

And they had a bit of high-tech help.

Thanks to Kentucky’s subscription to the Influencer (INFLCR) software, UK players have easy access to all the great digital content produced by the creative team at UK Athletics. Via the INFLCR mobile app, the players can easily share all those photos, videos and graphics across their own social accounts such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more. INFLCR helps UK and its athletes grow their brands together while reaching a much larger collective audience with the content, which UK can track through dashboards in their INFLCR account.

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said he has come to embrace social media for his program, and he wants to empower his athletes to tell their own stories within the context of their experience as Kentucky football players.

“It’s absolutely important,” Stoops says. “As you learn more about social media, you learn all the positive things it can do. … I always get a kick out of coming to media day and (players) getting exposed to so many national media and the media getting to know these guys. They all have unique stories. They’ve all come from different backgrounds and are incredible young men.

“This is just another tool to get the positive message out there.”

The INFLCR software allows UK Athletics unlimited terabytes of storage to upload photos, videos, graphics, GIFs, story links and more in to a cloud-based INFLCR account.

The staff can send them that content directly to the cell phones of their brand ambassadors — players, staff, recruits and prominent alumni — who can then share the images organically in their own storytelling across social media.

“By partnering with their players, both Kentucky and the players are able to grow their audiences together and reach a much larger audience than they would on their own,” says Jim Cavale, founder and CEO of INFLCR.

Athletes can access a customized gallery of digital content produced by their team via the INFLCR mobile app. This allows the athlete to easily share the content across their personal social accounts, helping grow both their personal and the team audience.

Kentucky views INFLCR as a tool to empower its student-athletes on social media. Rather than tell them what not to do, UK has decided to help those athletes become better on the platforms, according to Guy Ramsey, director of strategic communication for UK Athletics.

“It is important to note that we work at a university and with young people between the ages of 18-22,” Ramsey says. “That means education is a core part of our mission.

Our athletics director (Mitch Barnhart) talks about it often — athletics and the sport you play is really functioning as another major.

One of the courses of study within that major is branding and social media. They are afforded a platform while they are here. It might be exceeded when they go to the next level, or it might not when they go into the real world.”

The opportunity to help their student-athletes leverage that platform, while in the spotlight of the SEC, has led UK to adjust its philosophy about social media.

“In the past, until the past couple of years or so, our primary goal would have been to protect them and make it so that they don’t do damage to themselves on a social media,” Ramsey says.

“We now want to teach them how to best take advantage of the platform they are afforded and to build that for whatever comes next for them. We want them to take advantage of the content that we produce and the resources that we have and our huge fan base. It’s quite a change. …”

What sparked that change?

“We saw the massive opportunity that exists in social media,” Ramsey says. “We’ve been tasked with being innovative and coming up with new ways to connect with our fans.

We recognized that we’ve got a great following on all of our brand accounts but our athletes far exceed that. They’ve got much greater reach and we can reach a completely different demographic than we would otherwise. … We realized we were doing our student-athletes a disservice if we were not teaching them the positive side of things.”

This is precisely the reason Cavale, a former collegiate student-athlete himself, created INFLCR. Seeing the product in action at the SEC Media Days — three SEC football programs are clients — had him beaming with pride.

Cavale believes the programs that embrace social media and empower their athletes will gain a competitive edge. This is particularly true as they hit an age of prospective recruits who have never known the world without social media as a personal platform. Kentucky is one of the schools “ahead of the curve,” Cavale says, but there increasingly are others. INFLCR, for example, is working with multiple SEC programs as well as programs from the Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mountain West and other FBS conferences.

Teams can reach a significantly larger audience by partnering with their players and other brand ambassadors on social media

“You see some leaders embracing what Guy is talking about,” Cavale says. “You see Coach Stoops embracing it, with ‘hey, our Twitter account for Kentucky football has 150,000 followers but our players in this room have 1.4 million. They really hold a lot of the keys to the brand and we need to work with them.’

“And then you see some of the powers that be pushing against it. It really reminds me of the turn of the century, when Napster came out. All the record labels, they could have easily taken Napster, repackaged it and had their own streaming service.

Instead they fought it and it ended up falling apart. I think you are going to see the same thing here. You are going see some big winners in the (social media) arms race and you will see some losers in college sports, because it really impacts recruiting. The young kids do care about programs who are going to help them with branding.”


Jim Cavale

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