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How to Win March Madness Outside The Basketball Court

What should you post after your team has lost? Does social media success depend on actual success on the basketball court? And what’s the easiest way to get your audience involved? We recently had the honor to offer Klear as a social analytics tool to Commerce students at the University of Virginia. The following article […]

Yuval Maoz
May 18, 2016

What should you post after your team has lost?

Does social media success depend on actual success on the basketball court?

And what’s the easiest way to get your audience involved?

We recently had the honor to offer Klear as a social analytics tool to Commerce students at the University of Virginia. The following article is a guest post by Susannah Derr, Jason Feng, Lucy Nguyen, and Allison Wong, who analyzed the social media strategy of NCAA teams and offered answers to all of the questions above and much more. Here are their insights.

Managing the March Madness

Each year, tens of millions of viewers cheer on their alma maters in the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Win or lose, March Madness provides a huge opportunity for athletic departments to drive brand awareness for colleges and universities.

We followed social media accounts for 14 basketball teams in the West bracket to identify best practices for athletic departments to develop their social media fan bases. This post also includes findings from the other three brackets. Let’s dive in.

1. It’s All About Your Goals

Social media is all about goals. Athletic departments play a crucial role within colleges and universities by driving brand awareness. A 2008 study found that making it into the men’s NCAA tournament alone produces a 1% increase in applications the following year. Each round a team advances amplifies this increase, with the winning school seeing as much as an 8% increase in applications! More applications allow colleges to be more selective in admitting high-quality students.

Okay, great – being in the March Madness tournament can help you drive your school’s academic prominence. But participation alone is not enough. To take full advantage of the media attention from March Madness, athletic departments must move to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight their successes.

How to get started?

Different schools are going to have different goals for their social media – start with those! Look at each social media platform, which are all built differently. What are your goals for Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Should they be integrated? Cater these platforms to your goals. For example, Twitter can be used for quick and live updates and all three for highlights.

Pro tip: If your team doesn’t have a social media account, start with Twitter. Twitter remains the predominant space for fans to give and receive quick updates on games, players, coaches and arenas for all sports. Furthermore, it’s the easiest platform for scaling activity.

Also, while large schools can hire a Social Media Coordinator to manage individual accounts for each sports team, small schools might lack the resources. But, small schools can get the results too. They can crowdsource that social media by actively encouraging fans to retweet and interact with their team’s social accounts. This will help grow the fanbase and get more attention on social. Small schools can also coordinate with all athletic divisions and teams to build a larger fan base that supports all aspects of the school’s athletics and not just one team.

2. When should I post?

Post often! Most of the fanbase growth comes during March Madness, so take advantage of its sweet, sweet 3-week window.

Furthermore, post on and before game days. Here you can see peak social media activity on game days:


Athletic directors may take advantage of already increased engagement by posting more frequently around game days.

Teams with established social media accounts, like Duke, post frequently the day before and day of games to hype up students, alumni, and local fans. Though it’s not a hard and fast rule, we found a moderate correlation between average posts per day and engagement per post, indicating that posting more is better.

3. What should I post?

Know your fans

Before posting, you have to know your fans. Some basketball teams draw most of their audience from alumni while others draw from the current student body.

After conducting fan base segmentation, provide content that caters to each group, as different fans participate and engage in different ways. Millennials are the most active social media users, but you can also target even younger age groups (12-17) in an effort to attract more prospective students. And don’t forget about your older alumni!


Show school pride

Most of the thrill of March Madness is cheering on your favorite team, which in many cases is your alma mater. Use unique hashtags to earn long-term engagement from fans! These kinds of hashtags give the school a single voice and brings the community together.

For instance, Kansas uses many school-specific hashtags (highlighted in orange) to drive greater engagement:

NCAA hashtags

On Instagram, Villanova uses fewer school specific hashtags (highlighted in orange):

NCAA hashtags 2

Here is the engagement level for Kansas, Villanova, and Maryland over the time span of three days. Villanova’s generic use of hashtags attracted band-wagoners rather than true fans – good for short-term engagement but maybe not so much for long-term engagement.

engagements basketball teams

Pictures are worth > 140 characters

Pictures, videos, and links drive greater post engagement than plain text. Pictures and videos present great opportunities to introduce more personal content – make your fans feel like a part of the story by showing them the inside of locker rooms, hearing star players’ background, or watching a coach get ready on game day.

Content mixture on social media

If your team has a track record, leverage it! History is also a big selling point. Here’s Wisconsin’s most popular tweet:

Take Advantage of the Kodak Moments

Don’t forget to take advantage of those “Kodak moments.” What are “Kodak moments” exactly? Here are some examples:

  • Buzzer beaters
  • Upsets
  • Championships
  • High profile matchups
  • Games that set records
  • Full-court shots/crazy “circus” plays
  • Rivalries

There is a huge difference between the “kodak moments” and ordinary wins:

Kodak moments on social media

Dreams cut short?

Now, you may be thinking that a lot of an athletic program’s social media success depends on actual basketball success, but from our study, more factors can be at play than just winning. Despite being knocked out of the tournament sooner than some schools in the West, Duke experienced the largest increase in fan base size out of all schools in the West region. Additionally, Oregon, Duke, and Oklahoma continue to see some spikes following their exits of the tournament when major sports related events occurred such as when Tony Allen announced returning to Duke or Buddy Hield announced winning the Naismith College Player of the Year award. So schools should take advantage of social media presence to announce big sports department related news even if they have a losing record.

Kodak Moments on social

You might be wondering “But, what should I do when my team loses?” How should I manage post-loss publicity? Sportsmanlike conduct and showing gratitude makes all the difference after a loss, and can even inspire others to post on your behalf.

Take a look at the post-loss tweets and a facebook post for the University of Utah:

Tweets and posts

Go for forward-looking posts, highlight your players, and highlight your team accomplishments.

4. To whom should I post?

The data showed us that the key demographic for most schools are males from the 18-34 age range. Schools can focus on determining what their key demographics are and cater social media posts to this demographic.

Schools should be careful not to alienate portions of their fanbase. For example, females often make up a significant portion of athletic teams’ followers.

Here’s a demographic breakdown of Oregon, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Duke’s social media fanbase:

Basketball demographics


After knowing who your audience is, don’t be afraid to start conversations with them! Reply to tweets and comments. Again, Duke University is a great case study. Looking into a breakdown of their activity, we see that replies represent 15.5% of Duke’s twitter activity!


Twitter social Content analysis

Additionally, we examined each athletic program’s network of power users, celebrities, and influencers. What we found was that big name college basketball players, NBA players, sports casters, and sports news agencies, were all part of certain networks. These high profile influencers, however, did not have much interaction with these programs in terms of mentions and conversations.

To properly utilize these expansive networks, we suggest interacting with these influencers through retweets, replies, comments, and material aimed directly to them.

The Easiest Way To Get Engagement

Really, the easiest way to get engagement from your followers is to ask for it. When comparing Indiana and Kentucky, Indiana had a higher engagement than Kentucky even though Kentucky has a larger fanbase than Indiana (926k > 499k). One practice that helped was that Indiana’s Facebook account specifically asked for retweets and comments from their followers.

engagement levels on social media

RT for engagements

Need a lift for a social marketing slam dunk? Meet Klear: