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Starting in 2013, Clemson began building out its social media presence. By 2017, it had arguably the most impressive social media presence in the entire country – buoyed in large part by the university’s national title run in 2015-2016 and eventual national college football championship in January 2017. Clemson now has the No. 1 most-followed college football team account in the nation, but how did it get there?
#1: Focus on stories and moments
According to Clemson’s social media team, the key is to tell stories around the university, the team and the athletes. For college football, the idea is to capture everything surrounding game day – not just the action on the field, but also all the student and alumni passion. Thus, it’s just as likely that on social media you’ll see images of players warming up for a big game as images of students at tailgates or in the stands dressed in orange. The idea is to show exactly what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.
#2: Go for strong visuals and lots of short video clips
The Clemson social media team doesn’t take inspiration from journalists or sports beat writers. Instead, they encourage each other to think like a Nike copywriter (lots of powerful emotion) or to act like an advertising agency. Thus, many social media posts are intentionally short. Videos are short and punchy – usually no more than 6-7 seconds apiece – a legacy of Clemson’s early embrace of the Vine social media platform.
#3: Understand what your audience wants
The emphasis at Clemson is on strong visuals and hashtags that students and recruits can identify with. For example, the Clemson social media team readily admits that they are influenced by the world of rap music. Often, videos are scored to popular rap songs. Or visuals reference new albums that have been released recently.
In terms of hashtags, Clemson has developed some that are now exclusive to the university – such as #ClemsonCulture and #OrangeBritches. Other hashtags reference famous inspirational quotes from the football team’s head coach, Dabo Swinney – such as #ALLIN or #BYOG (Bring Your Own Guts).
The goal here, says the Clemson social media team, is to “speak recruit.” In other words, the social media feeds are intended to capture the same tone, nuance and idiosyncrasies of how Clemson recruits might talk. As a result, there is an undeniable bond between athlete and university – they feel like Clemson is a place where they will feel at home.
#4: Be true to the brand
Ultimately, the Clemson “brand” revolves around being a college football powerhouse. It helps, of course, that the university won a national championship – and did so in spectacular fashion, against an all-time foe. It helps that the university had a Heisman Trophy candidate and a social media-friendly coach who often talks like a motivational speaker.
The goal of the social media team is to transform all this raw material in a way that is consistent with the overall brand. Clemson is not just about being a winner – it’s also about having a unique culture that other universities simply can’t emulate.
There’s a lot here that any brand can learn from – especially the need to connect the social media presence to the overall brand. And, just as importantly, it’s important to understand that there is a very different approach that a journalist and an ad agency would take to covering a brand. In the case of Clemson, they made the right choice – they now have an inspirational, effective social media presence that unites not only current students but also future recruits.
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