The ability to stay connected and express themselves online is something very important to modern student-athletes. A Pew research study showed that 45% of American teens say they are online or on their phones almost constantly.
When you think about the day of a busy student-athlete, that phone activity translates to checking his or her calendar, looking up the day’s training regimen, talking with friends and family, AND connecting with content through social media.
Prior to the start of basketball season, we did a social media audit, looking for athlete followings and engagement insights, as well as numbers around top recruiting prospects and team accounts.
Twelve of the teams in college basketball’s preseason top 25 did not have a single top 100 prospect following their team Instagram account. Twenty had less than five top-100 recruits in their team-account audience.
Yet, the top 25 recruits in the Class of 2020 have more collective social media followers than 24 of the top 25 team accounts COMBINED.
Social media is the world where basketball, personal storytelling, and team storytelling comes together.
For college basketball, that athlete presence on social and the storytelling potential can inform so many potential benefits for the individual athletes themselves, the teams they represent, and can help drive recruiting conversations for the next generation of athletes at any program.
From a content standpoint, equipping players with both the high quality content and the education to represent themselves well on social will quickly separate basketball programs by the value they can deliver their student-athletes.
In a recent podcast interview with INFLCR CEO Jim Cavale, Marquette head basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski talked about the dynamics of social media, and how there needs to be a healthy approach to having student-athletes share stories about themselves and the Marquette basketball program on social.
That healthy approach comes from education and a consistent message that, regarding social media, “there’s responsibility that comes with it, and how you handle it is…equally important to what you’re putting out there.”
Having been grounded through education and a foundation on the proper use of social media, college basketball players can then reap the rewards of being active on social, using high quality content to tell their stories, and having the freedom to express themselves in their own voices.
Sharing Teammates’ Successes
High quality content delivered right after a big moment can be used by athletes to not only highlight themselves on social, but shout out their teammates.
Duke’s Director of Basketball Operations, Nolan Smith, was also interviewed this year on the “I Want Your Job” podcast, and spoke about his time playing at Duke and the benefits he’s been able to bring to today’s generation of student-athletes.
One of the things he’s loved most about getting the Duke basketball team more active on social is the potential for teammates to celebrate each other’s accomplishments:
“…That’s something that, obviously, we teach, but, obviously, our guys embrace it because they know…who we are as Duke, and our brand. And our culture, it’s not about yourself. And we’re a selfless program,” said Smith.
“To see our guys post [about] another player who might have had a big game, or a team camaraderie picture of a nice huddle, to get that right after, boom, post it out, it’s the coolest thing in the world. I mean, I wish I had that, to be able to celebrate my teammates that, you know, out there battling with me and show them I love them and show them I appreciate them each and every day we take the court.”
It’s not only the big win or the big play, but how a team’s community can talk about those big moments that can help a program build on their success.
The Logistics of Content in College Basketball
Creating the systems for college basketball players to receive great content, post it, and do so in a way that represents a program well takes time, and it takes deliberate steps to make happen. Student-athletes want to be part of the discussion and featured on social media, and that’s backed up by stories from basketball ops staff who are constantly approached by athletes for pictures.
“The thing that I always go back to is that the year before, I had so many one-off text messages about, ‘hey, can I get this picture,’” said University of North Carolina Director of Basketball Operations Sean May.
“When I saw what INFLCR was doing, it just made sense — the idea of helping our guys grow their brand by giving them content that we are already providing only helps us.”
Investing in building that system out can bring benefits to a team and to the entire program.
“For us, our guys are going to get the content from somewhere. We see all the time that they go on social media and repost different things that people are putting out about them. For us, it just made sense to be able to give them the content, and we see what it has been able to do this year,” said May.
Posting on social media is not only about celebrating big wins in the moment: in the modern day, it also serves as a foundation for future success and public identity. Companies today take social media presence into account when making decisions about one candidate or another, and how that candidate might represent their company.
A strong, positive social media presence and following can speak volumes and add value to any resume.
Duke’s Smith spoke about the importance of a social media presence for future opportunities, even for himself, saying that “one day when I do want to become a head coach and I go for a job…people are going to already know who I am, you know? They’re going to already have most of their questions answered before I even sit down to do an interview. And that’s all thanks to social media.”
The best storytellers for any college athletics program are the athletes who participate in the program themselves.
Their unique insight lets everyone in the community: parents, fans, recruits, etc, see what it’s like to be a part of the program and experience it through the eyes of an athlete.
“I’m incredibly proud of our guys because, you know, we give them the freedom to express themselves and to use it and, you know, knock on wood, they’ve, they’ve handled it incredibly responsibly,” says Wojciechowski.
“And…that’s important, because they do represent their families. And they represent our program, and they represent our university in a lot of respects. They’re the most well-known people. When people think of Marquette, it’s our guys. And so, if we’re going to be the front porch to the university, you know, our porch better be in order. And social media is a big part of that.”