The Sports Strategy of Social Media Influencers: The Miami Hurricanes #USocial Suite

#USocial Suite logo

Whether it’s space or sports, the strategy of social influence remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth.

It’s time for college football, and who better to tell the season’s story than fans. Really, really dedicated and passionate fans.

So it’s refreshing (and about time, frankly) that college football realizes the value of fanvocates — those extremely invested followers of their team.

The groundbreaking honors go to the Miami Hurricanes, who will host “fan reporters” and select bloggers for three football games during the 2013 season inside the team’s #USocial Suite, a spot set aside in the Sun Life Stadium press box.

The athletic department hand-picked some #USocial participants, but also held a casting call (via social media) for superfans seeking spots in the suite as #CanesReporters. All will be expected to share their experiences across social media during Hurricane home games vs. Florida, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

“Social media is a part of our culture,” Hurricanes’ Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Chris Yandle tells FourthAnd140. “Research suggests social media users are most active during sporting events. It’s a great combination. These are the people that – over time – will be the ones fighting for us online. Thanks to the TMZ culture and camera phones, everyone is a reporter.”

#USocial – and other on-site, in-game social media experiences (like the Cleveland Indians Social Suite) – help teams build stronger relationships with fans and their sports brands. Adopting a social media influencer strategy is becoming more mainstream among sports brands – at the professional (and now collegiate) level. A social suite is a smart, low-cost tactic.

“Everyone wants to share their experience. Everyone’s experience is content,” Yandle says. “Sharing fans’ experiences makes our jobs better. We want to be able to adapt and provide the best social, digital and entertainment experience possible for fans. [#USocial] could be the start of that.”


During summer, Miami’s athletic department solicited fan tweet and video submissions to earn #USocial Suite access. Yandle says athletics staff members and fans alike recommended participants.  Some came from blogs or websites the university doesn’t credential as media for games.

“This will serve as a ‘test drive’ for them,” he says. “It’s as much as an interview process for us as it is them.”

#USocial Suite digs are more about function than luxury, but I doubt you’ll hear too many complaints. Participants will make their home in a suite on the second floor of the main press box at Sun Life. While Yandle says they won’t have post-game interview access, #USocial Suite will offer media materials, food and stats.

What more could a superfan need?

When it comes to college football, the amount of content available is overwhelming. Fans sites and home-grown blogs are plentiful, and Twitter streams clog on Saturday afternoons with play-by-play and fan commentary. Imagine having the opportunity to showcase your blog, website or fan forum by earning a spot at the big show. For influential fans, #CanesReporters provides a chance to set yourself apart even more, and up your street cred with other fans (not to mention grow your following).

It’s also just plain cool to see and report a major sporting event from a vantage point few ever see. (Trust me, it’s a blast.) Access is part of the deal, according to Yandle, who says several university leaders, including the school’s athletic director, will visit the suite, chat with participants and host Q & A sessions.

The lessons of brand advocacy and influence aren’t new to social media. Surprisingly, sports is playing catch-up. NASA has hosted tweetups for years. (I was fortunate to attend the NASA tweetup for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.) But, whether it’s space or sports, the strategy remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth and authentic buzz.

“Social media is vital,” says Yandle. “It’s free. No one can tell our story as best as we can. We want to take advantage of social media, while remaining as one of the trendsetters in social media among college athletics.”

The Hurricanes are leaders in social, and part of leading the way is taking risks and trying new things. Being first is OK, but doing it right is strategic (and smart). Yandle and his team nailed all three.

“My goal is to create a  great experience for this group, while building these relationships that can help us in our social brand moving forward,” says Yandle.

Social media is about relationships. It’s about connections. It’s about conversations. It’s today’s digital handshake, and in sports – especially college athletics – it can’t be ignored, vilified or downplayed. Through leadership and calculated risk, the Hurricanes will reap the benefits. But more importantly, so will their fans.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports Strategy of Vine

Vine logo

Vine’s rapid rise hasn’t caught the full attention of the sporting world. Lack of strategic thinking could be keeping teams, leagues and athletes from jumping on board.

It didn’t take long for 2013 to bust out its newest, must-have social network. Vine debuted in January, providing a new micro-video service for its partner and big brother, Twitter.

If you haven’t heard of Vine, here’s the six-second explanation: You use your iOS device to record six-second video snippets and share them on Twitter. (You can also post Vines to Facebook, though the in-stream experience is not optimal.)

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd. Vine is hot, especially among 18- to 24-year-old iPhone and iPad users who already share short video bursts with friends through services like Viddy and Snapchat. Though there is no official count for Vine users (and no API or admin panel to tap into yet), the app took off. Just this month, Vine topped the charts among Apple’s free apps. (Now Android users patiently await the app in the Google Play store.)

Sports teams, leagues and athletes began using Vine immediately, including major professional sports leagues (and teams) from Major League Baseball, the National Football and Hockey leagues, and more. It was the new thing, and seemingly everyone gave Vine a try.

Vine is not spreading
However, like many shiny new social media tools, Vine withered (sorry, I had to go there) even before some teams gave it much of a chance (right, Dallas Mavericks?). Still other teams with impressive social media followings across several networks took a complete pass on Vine (right, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers?).

What are the barriers? Similar to longer-form videos, creating Vines (good ones, anyway) requires planning and creative execution — two traits not synonymous with fast-paced, in-the-moment sports marketing, which is often done on a shoestring budget along with 100 other digital marketing/social media tactics. Simply put, snapping a photo is easier than shooting a succession of video clips.

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd.

Vine requires a strategy
It’s unfortunate Vine isn’t catching on more in sports. Not because Vine is a new and fun thing in social media (though it is), but because Vine provides value to fans. Vine complements content in a way photos and traditional video can’t, and that’s how strategic-minded teams, leagues and athletes use it. Vine is a chance to do more with less. It’s a highly creative and super-portable way to tell your brand’s story in social media. From a variety of angles, Vines can highlight day-to-day activities in ways text and photos can’t.

So Vine can and should fit into an overall social media strategy, but for some reason, it’s not catching on. I imagine some teams look at it as just one more social media account to maintain. One more beast to feed in the daily content grind. One more activity among a litany of others. This tactical point of view is short-sighted because Vine is so entwined with Twitter, much the way Instagram is baked into Facebook. These new visual mediums are not so much social networks as they are engagement sources and content feeders for the larger, flagship accounts.

Who’s doing Vine well in sports? Check out SportTechie’s solid review. Which teams and players do you follow on Vine? Leave a comment (or better yet, tweet me a Vine).

Thanks for being a fan.