Inside Social Strategy with @GoBEARCATS Digital Media Director Carl Schmid

We’re lucky enough that there are many social media professionals who use their own personal accounts to give an inside look into their craft and offer insights into social strategy. Carl Schmid (@CarlSchmid) delivers one of the most candid glimpses at what it’s like to be engrossed in digital media on a daily basis.

Carl currently serves as the Director of Digital Media for the Cincinnati athletics, a department that he’s been involved with for the last five and a half years. Throughout his professional experience, he has taken the @GoBEARCATS to the next level. Their graphical content is some of the most original and inspiring in the game. Cincy’s creative process is unparalleled.

Here are a few examples of their recent graphics that pop:

 

 

 

In the meantime, his inside look into how the Bearcats’ digital team blueprints their game plan by creating eye catching graphics and attention grabbing engagement makes him a must follow for all current or aspiring digital professionals. Here are just a few examples of the ways Carl offers his wisdom and acumen for digital:

 

 

Like many of us, Carl lives his life hashtag to hashtag.

1. Between recruiting, alumni relations, and a more concentrated audience, would it be safe to say that college athletics have more to gain from social media than pro?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that college athletics has more to gain than pro teams. I think that the difference between pros & college is the various constituents that are kept in mind when content is created.

At the collegiate level there is a delicate balance when it comes to content that appeals to the younger demographic (recruits/current students) vs. the older demographic (alumni). A lot of times when approaching content, we have to think “who are we targeting with this?” If the aim is a younger demographic, maybe Facebook isn’t the right answer and on the flip side if we are targeting an older demographic, maybe Instagram isn’t the right answer. If we have a very narrow audience that we are trying to reach, maybe using the conventional social channels isn’t the best approach when we could send a direct email.

Where I believe collegiate teams are leading the way is in the raw/behind the scenes content that gives fans the feeling of being part of the team, but pro teams are quickly catching up. There has been an increase, at both levels, in videos created that showcase games, events and even the off-season in a more cinematic look. This allows content teams to pull back the curtain for fans and connect them with the team and players on a more personal level, with the added benefit of exclusivity.

2. In your own experience, how easy or hard is it to convince coaches and administration to buy into digital?

In the past, it could be difficult, but I believe that the times of convincing coaches and administration of the benefits of digital is slowly beginning to change. As more teams and organizations begin to invest in the social/digital world, it’s becoming easier to explain and show the benefits. When I first got my start in the social/digital realm, there were very few teams producing content anywhere near the level of what is being produced today. In recent years there has been an arms race around content creation/creatives and as a result many organizations are creating groups or teams of people to achieve their goals.

As this arms race has ensued, administrators and coaches are beginning to see and understand the benefit of a strong social presence. Many talk about how athletics is the front porch to a university; well I’ve often referred to social media as the landscaping that catches your eye as you drive by. The power of social media allows recruits from the other side of the country to see what a program is doing at any given time or alumni to stay connected. This shift in thinking is what has made the conversations about the benefits of social media much easier.

When talking with coaches and administrators, it’s best to talk about the benefits in areas that directly impact them and their programs. For a coach, maybe it’s highlighting the benefits when it comes to recruiting. For administrators, maybe it’s talking about the revenue generation and the connection with fans. At the end of the day you can toss out stats, terms, trending topics or buzz words, but if they aren’t connecting with the conversation at hand, is it even worth having?

The tougher conversation to have is one that is more focused on the strategy behind posting. I think where things get hung up is that because they use social, they understand the little nuances of the platforms or that we should post anything and everything to social. Trying to explain algorithms, peak times to post or image optimization for various platforms can be difficult. Additionally, trying to change the perception of posting every little thing in favor of fewer, but more impactful content can be difficult.

As social media becomes more ingrained in our everyday life, the conversations about the benefits will become easier and easier.

3. Other than analytics, what are some measures that you look at to define success?

When looking at measures of success, analytics are an obvious answer to show performance because we can justify the work put in to a project with definitive numbers. Other measures of success can be far more intangible, but they are just as valuable. You can’t quantify “buzz”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a measure of success.

When [football head coach Luke Fickell] was first hired at the University of Cincinnati, there was a buzz around the city. With a new coach it was the chance for us to reinvent ourselves socially and that’s exactly what we did during the first week of workouts. We got the approval from Coach Fickell to film the first team meeting, but didn’t have firm plans on what to do with the footage. What followed became a series of videos documenting that first week of intense workouts, called Attention Training (link). These videos, narrated using Coach’s messages to the team, took off like wildfire. We pulled back the curtain and showed what was going on in a very raw format. The message boards were lighting up and a local radio personality spent part of his show playing clips and talking about the team. In a part of the year when most weren’t talking football, we had everyone buzzing.

This past season our men’s basketball team captured the regular season conference title. To celebrate this, in conjunction with other content, we created phone wallpapers for our fans. The following week we released updated wallpapers as our team captured the conference tournament title as well. Following the conference tournament game, I boarded a plane to head home to Cincinnati. As I sat down I happened to glance over and notice that the person sitting next to me had our regular season champs wallpaper displayed proudly on their phone.

These are just a few examples of instances where I would categorize a project as a success, but might not necessarily have numbers or data to back up a claim. Sure, we had analytics that showed how well those posts performed on various social channels, but data alone doesn’t prove if the content achieved it’s goal.

4. There can be a lot to gain from a sound digital strategy in college athletics. We see prime examples with schools like Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, just to name a few. Why don’t smaller programs, even in Division I, seem to realize the importance of investing in social media if the gain clearly outweighs the cost?

While many of the traditional powerhouses in the social/digital realm get a lot of coverage, there are some schools outside the “Power 5” that deserve credit for the job that they’ve done. In many cases, those outside the “Power 5” dedicate the bulk of their focus to football, men’s/ women’s basketball, baseball or another revenue sport, but schools like UCF, Colorado State and BYU continue to punch above their weight class in all aspects of the social/digital realm. What sets these schools apart is their commitment to consistency across all sports.

I truly believe that smaller programs can see the importance of investing in social media, but there’s a few different factors that could keep them from investing. Among those factors are resources/what is a priority and finding ways to do more with less. It’s not hard to look at the current college landscape and realize that the gap between the larger programs and others is growing at an exponential rate, this leaves the smaller programs having to make budgetary decisions about what’s necessary and what’s not. The social/digital realm can come with some pretty expensive investments in technology, camera gear, software and workforce.

Many smaller programs can’t afford to keep up with the larger programs, so they have to determine what is a priority for them. In some cases, specific sport programs are hiring their own creative staffs. These sport specific creative staffs are able to focus their time and efforts on keeping up with larger programs that they face not only in competition, but on the recruiting front. For those programs that can’t afford to hire their own staff, they might work to find ways to do more with less.

Whether it’s Sports Information Directors creating graphic/video content or graphics departments creating templates, sometimes programs have to get creative to keep pushing high quality content. If a program has a well staffed graphics department, they might be creating graphics templates that can be handed off to SIDs to execute, but often times those graphics departments are stretched thin with a multitude of other requests. This is one reason that we are seeing more teams turn to companies like Team Infographics or Box Out Sports to help offset the demand for graphics with the resources that they have available.

The role as an SID has drastically changed with the advent and explosion of social media. SIDs of today are now focused on handling all the traditional duties as well as the team’s social media presence. They are spending more time in Photoshop, Premiere and even After Effects. As these staff members begin to branch out and become more valuable, they are often times snatched up by larger programs.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that social media and content creation has become the second leg of the arms race in college athletics. The bigger programs are building up teams of people to bolster their content creation efforts and often times are hiring away talent from smaller programs.

That’s not to say that smaller programs don’t realize the importance and benefit, but rather, due to resources, must find creative ways to achieve their goals while maximizing their investment in the social/digital space. #

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