March Madness is all about the country’s best collegiate athletes competing on the court for the right to go down as national champions. For the NCAA’s championship-supporting social teams, the process of getting to the title game is not so different from the dynamic athletes playing the games.
It comes down to planning as much as possible, but being ready to adjust. Pursuing perfection and catching greatness, never staying satisfied. And worrying about the best way to accomplish goals more so than the means.
The social media team behind @MarchMadness across platforms began several months ago and involves telling stories of games, of student athletes, and of everything the NCAA brand represents. The first step was plotting out the content – not the exact copy (can’t predict anything!), but how it would look and feel. What template-like creative could be prepared in advance or readied for quick deployment. And anticipating how an ideal collection of content would look.
“We work on a strategic story for the year…and talk about a context mix,” said Chris Dion, Assistant Director for Championship and Alliances, Social Media for the NCAA of the prep process for March Madness social media. “What is our content going to look like and what content are we going to find later?”
Dion went on to say that each preparation meeting was punctuated with a charge to innovate. Another year means another year to try something new. Look at the social platforms the Dion’s team is utilizing this spring and innovations abound – 360-degree video, Snapchat stories, real-time GIFs, videos, and graphics. Every year builds upon the previous year – just like this season’s senior laden Final Four squads!
They’re all driven by goals. The best kind of goals, especially in business and strategy (and social), are quantifiable. Dion’s team defines, and is driven by, their goals.
“Goals lead the conversation and platforms come last…Our measurable goals are really simple. It comes down to audience growth,” explained Dion. “It’s important for us to understand that we’re growing. Followers should never be a key goal, but it (is) a good barometer of the health of the community. Engagement is number two…then, last, is reach.”
This team knows what they seek and, therefore, can create content strategy to maximize those measurables. There are elements that increase the reach and the NCAA, by leveraging influencers, stoking specific fan communities, and sharing others’ creative and engaging content, are not just growing their audience, but doing so through engagement and excellent content from themselves, their fans, and others.
Dion went on to explain that it remains important to speak in a language others can understand as a reason that reach remains a KPI on the main report. It’s a metric that is still important to major media buys and, therefore, is part of the NCAA strategy, too. To get it all done, requires a plan, and, as unpredictable as March Madness can be (it earned that madness moniker for a reason), planning is still very much a part of the process.
“We spend so much time planning,” explained Dion of the process that begins several month before brackets are released. “One of the ways we do that is with content calendars…shot lists…daily content…We don’t know daily results, but we do know we have to be ready for every single outcome.”
Dion’s team goes through potential plays and stories. All of that madness that may occur and how the strategy and content and social team will play off of it, react to it, and be as prepared as possible for it. The more pathways you think through, Dion described, the more prepared you end up being for the unanticipated, too. Even if it wasn’t one of the imagined scenarios cooked up in early meetings.
Every March features a series of magic moments. And while Vegas consistently cashes in on the unpredictable nature of the weeks-long event, there is plenty of preparation the March Madness social team can and does do to make the most when the spotlight shines brightest on the NCAA. In the end, we all know March Madness will end on a Monday, cameras will flash, tears will flow, hugs will be shared, and we’ll stand captivated, reliving all the emotion, watching One Shining Moment.
A moment months in the making for Dion and his team as much as the team cutting down the nets.
PS: Listen to my interview with Chris Dion for more insight into March Madness and NCAA social strategy!