ATLANTA, Ga. – In today’s instant access world, there’s a demand for visual imagery to help tell one’s story. INFLCR (pronounced Influencer) helps replace the question “Where can I get my photos and videos?” by delivering them to an athlete’s fingertips within hours of a game, practice or event. And it’s only going to get easier.
More than 100 visual storytellers who work for college athletics brands of all sizes, gathered June 19 for the inaugural INFLCR Storytellers Summit at Turner Studios’ “NBA on TNT” Studio J.
These early adopter users of the INFLCR product, shared ideas from stage, built new relationships with one another and experienced the new INFLCR version 2.1.3 product release.
“It’s a rite of passage as a software company to have a user conference,” said Jim Cavale, CEO and founder of INFLCR.
“To create a product that solves a significant-enough problem in the market, that people will write a check to use it, is hard enough. But to continue to listen to the marketplace, to take your product to a place where it’s a ‘must-have product’ that they cannot live without and they’ll travel from all corners of the U.S. to come together like this — that’s something we take a lot of pride in as a company.
We created the INFLCR Storyteller Summit for our user community to come together to talk about the problem we face and the solution we’ve created, to see new product features and versions that they’ve helped speak into, and for them to experience thought leadership and education from people in their industry who can help them not only get better in using our software but improve in doing their job each day.
This annual event will only grow in 2020 and beyond, and we’ll continue to do it for our clients to help them be better day-to-day and help us make our product and our brand bigger and better for them to be a part of.”
The five key themes of the 2019 INFLCR Storyteller Summit:
1. #Ath1etes Matter
The value of athletes was at the core of every theme at the summit.
In the opening keynote address “Why Do Athletes Matter?”, Teamworks founder Zach Maurides reminded those in attendance that athletes have been on the forefront of some of the world’s most historic moments during their careers and hold some of the world’s top positions of leadership after their playing careers.
“We are so eager to create reasons to separate ourselves (today) that we forget our shared destiny,” Maurides said. “Athletes are trained from very early on that only two things matter: your merit and your character.”
Maurides revealed studies show 73 percent of children have said athletes are a prominent role model. The same study said 96 percent of children believe athletes teach the importance of dedication and hard work. In the last 100 years, 72 percent of U.S. Presidents were former athletes, and today 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by former athletes.
With billions of sports fans worldwide, eyes are on athletes now more than ever. The data collected in INFLCR’s first full year of its mobile app supports this claim. More than 68 percent of a pro or college athletic team’s social media reach comes from non-owned social media accounts — most notably, the personal social media accounts of their athletes.
Since the INFLCR app launched in February 2018, athlete users have seen a 52 percent increase in social media followers and team accounts have grown by 21 percent, according to Cavale.
The value is clear.
2. Empower and Involve the #Ath1ete
INFLCR was created to empower athletes to become brand ambassadors for their team, but client schools shared at #Storyteller19 that student-athletes are more than just a medium to share a message, they’re also helping to shape the message.
“The players are the best storytellers for us,” said David Bradley, creative director for Duke Basketball.
Duke’s storytelling comes direct from the student-athletes through its show Duke Blue Planet to capture individuals’ personalities and grant fans unique access.
Whether it’s the University of Kentucky, University of Miami or Bethune-Cookman University, directors of communications and digital or creative content are involving their student-athletes.
“Students are my lifeline. They’re my digital media team,” said Jasmine Alston of Bethune-Cookman.
However, North Carolina’s Dana Reynolds says involving student-athletes means meeting them where they are and teaching them best practices.
“Some may not feel comfortable, others might,” Reynolds said during the Blue Blood Storytelling panel.
Former University of Alabama and NFL Super Bowl XLIV champion Roman Harper reminded attendees that while asking students to tell their story, you have to be willing to share your own stories with them and get to know them outside of the normal settings.
“Athletes are like an onion. We have layers to us,” Harper said. “You have to want to get to know us and have our best interest in mind.”
Eric Lindsey from Kentucky pointed out it’s important to remind athletes, especially as they move on to the professional level or begin their careers that “we’re not here because we need something from you, we’re invested in you personally well beyond your years here.”
3. Equip the #Ath1ete
In 2016, the UAB football program was preparing to return to the field in 2017 after having its program cut at the end of the 2014 season. The story that was building was beginning to gain a buzz in a media market is home to the SEC office and focuses more on Auburn and Alabama than the home team.
“We had to find our niche in Birmingham, and I went to social media for that,” said Ted Feely, UAB associate athletic director for communications. “I wanted to make sure we had as many eyes on social media as possible.”
To help equip his student-athletes with tools to help in the social media push, Feely was one of the first clients to sign on with INFLCR before #theReturn season in 2017.
“Investing in INFLCR is what helped our student-athletes the most. I’ve kind of created a monster. They know if I’m out there with my camera it’s going to be on INFLCR,” Feely said. “Recently I came off the practice field straight to the locker room and had a player asking me why the photos weren’t up yet.”
With the app, the days of SIDs texting and emailing photos and video to coaches and athletes are in the past. The INFLCR upgrade 2.1.3 will enhance the API connection to asset management platforms and servers where teams currently store their content (ie. Libris, Dropbox, etc.) to automate content uploads from teams and media partners right into their INFLCR platform, as well as improved Artificial Intelligence-powered tagging of each piece of content with facial and jersey recognition to identify athletes more efficiently.
Multiple content sources will also be a function for the athlete user to toggle between team and media company-produced content galleries of themselves; something that will help college teams continue to work with athlete alums on INFLCR, as they go on to continue playing professionally.
“Within a few years, the entire landscape of athletes will be people who grew up social first,” said David Schwab, executive vice president at Octagon.
Finding products such as INFLCR to help provide a tool for content, as well as education of best practices, helping athletes clean up their social media is helping turn student-athletes into social media brand ambassadors, not simply users.
“You are teaching people how to leverage social media and a skill that every company is seeking to hire for the next 20-30 years,” said Pete Scott, vice president of innovative and emerging media at Turner Sports.
The skillset leads to increase followers for the individual and team, if the athlete chooses to buy in and use it. For athletes who turn pro, the opportunity to increase a following in college can lead to more sponsorship opportunities as a rookie than those who do not embrace their social presence.
“A lot of talent wants to work with Turner Sports, but now more and more the question we ask is “how many followers do you have?” Scott said.
4. Unlock Data to Drive Revenue
When asked the most important role of digital and social media, athletic directors responded, “Revenue.”
Various speakers touched on how to generate revenue and how to talk with administrators about using revenue to invest in their student-athletes and digital platform through INFLCR. All roads lead to collecting data.
“It’s a long run. You’ll see that (social media) works, but you have to have patience,” said Scott who has grown Turner Sports’ social footprint during his tenure.
“You hold the keys to the data. How you use it is up to you, but you have to unlock it,” said Jeff Rubin, founder and CEO of SIDEARM Sports.
Rubin encouraged those in attendance, many of whom are amongst the approximately 1100 SIDEARM college athletics website clients, to think beyond banner ads on the website. Revenue opportunities are available for digital content for sponsorship, ticket sales, donors, auctions, merchandise, camps, paywalls and more, but data is a driving force to not only be able to speak in numbers to businesses and school administrators, but to learn your audience.
“Every single organization here is a direct-to-consumer brand. Educate yourselves about your user,” Scott said. “Know your data and find companies who can help you. Get savvy on the users you are acquiring through social.”
5. Engage Your Audience
Whether it’s the fans, recruits or alumni, leaving the door open for engagement is key.
Rubin introduced the idea of using long codes at events to provide two-way communication with fans, as well as establishing a push notification strategy to send your message straight to the fans’ phones.
Fan involvement is common following a big win, but what about following a difficult loss. Kentucky decided to not shy away from social media after a disappointing loss, instead continuing to show insight to the team facing adversity.
“Because we told the full story, when we win, everyone wins big,” said Lindsey.
This buy in from fans begins with week-long preseason introductions to new players through various social media posts, videos, wallpapers, etc.
For Morgyn Seigfried, associate AD for creative and communications at Kansas, her previous role at Temple helped expand her ability to tell a story for the fans.
“Being at Temple prepared me to think outside the box of wins and loses and tell a story in a full 360,” Seigfried said.
In order to think 360, you have to appeal to multiple levels to consider not only what works for current athletes or recruits but to know what parents and alumni like to see.
Adam Prendergast, associate AD for communications and creative content at Troy University says the way they keep engagement in the forefront is to keep all posts open-ended.
“We try not to end tweets on a period and try to make it a reason to not just retweet or like, but to interact with us,” Prendergast said. “Before we hit submit, we have to figure out, ‘is it conversational?’ We’re not talking to somebody, we’re talking with somebody.”
Once engaged, Jeremy McClain, the new director of athletics at Southern Miss, says it’s important not to get lost in the content and storytelling through social media so much that you forget to have a call-to-action to invest, so a team’s fans and consumers can reinvest in the program.
OVERTIME: Tips for Coaches and Staff
– Help coaches remain in their comfort zone. If they do not have a social, don’t force it. When they do post, make sure it is authentic and within the coach’s brand.
– Get past the “Wall of Doom” that may be present between a coach’s office and communications office. Educate assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators the importance of social media and inform how INFLCR can help.
– Communicate with all members of the staff when you plan to release content that may support their job roll (ticket sales, merchandising, etc.)