Athletic administrators may be expected to move their departments into the digital era of connecting with the community. Social networking platforms have transformed over the years, but no application may be more important, or impactful, than Twitter, which defines itself as a social networking program that allows account administrators to broadcast short messages to other individuals. This collection of short, purposeful messages containing 140 characters or less has become known as “microblogging.”
Twitter broke the social networking stereotype of socialization and became a powerful resource for the marketing of countless individuals and corporations. With more than 1.3 billion Twitter accounts and 310 million active users monthly, it is impossible to ignore the benefit that athletic administrators can reap for their athletic department.
The Advantages of Branding
What is it that is important about your athletic program and what do you do now to communicate that message? Prior to Twitter, athletic departments depended on handouts to student-athletes and parents, posters around the building, messages during community programs, etc. Twitter has given athletic departments the ability to not only change how that message is delivered, but also provide a platform to promote these values clearly and consistently.
Sportsmanship – One of the most common myths is that coaches are the only ones who can properly enforce sportsmanship values. An effective Twitter account allows athletic administrators and sports programs the ability to demonstrate multiple depictions of how their athletic department and the school district value sportsmanship principles. Twitter can showcase student-athletes, parents, coaches, programs, school leaders and other individuals incorporating various positive practices of sportsmanship into their daily routines.
Education-Based Athletics – A common mistake is to compare high school athletics to the models of the professional sports world. A high-quality Twitter account allows high school athletic departments the ability to stress the “student” in “student-athlete.” Twitter accounts need to convey the importance of hard work and determination not only on the court or field, but in the classroom as well. Advertise the success of your student-athletes’ academic achievements, as well as their athletic achievements.
Marketing – Twitter is a platform that allows athletic administrators and school personnel the opportunity to place importance on the brand that is specific to their school. It can assist coaches and other members of the school community in the creation of sub-accounts that not only communicate the primary messages of their athletic department verbally, but visually as well. To be successful, athletic directors should devise a plan with other school leaders and be consistent in brand messaging.
Profile Importance – Once a Twitter account has been created, take the time to fill out all biographical and descriptive information. Connect Twitter to your school district website, promote your personal message, identify the location of your school and think critically about the profile and background photos that you want to represent your school district. All of these items will assist in the public growth of your athletic department’s brand.
Building a System of Followers
Following the Right Accounts – When you follow another account on Twitter, it means that you are subscribing to view that individual’s ongoing “tweets” or messages. Also, you have to decide whether or not the Twitter account is going to become a direct reflection of the athletic administrator, or the athletic department itself.
It is OK for the account to communicate something personal about the administrator. However, you need to realize that the accounts you follow are public and your followers may have an opinion
about the people whose information you are tracking. As a general rule, avoid following anything controversial and block contentious things that reflect poorly on your account.
Follow Professionals – The athletic department can serve as the keystone of the school district, and thus, the Twitter account should do the same. Avoid following students, but feel free to follow district colleagues who are communicating the successes of these young people. Use the platform as a way to endorse their achievements and promote classroom accomplishments.
Connect with the Community – Join with recreational departments, local organizations, community charities and other associations that are instrumental in defining your school population. Display messages that positively promote these activities and build an account that is focused on defining collaboration.
The Value of “Tweets”
The Tweeting Philosophy – Every school will differ in their needs and, in turn, athletic departments will develop different “tweeting philosophies.” Create a Twitter account that is interactive and personal. If the community engages with the account, then it has avoided the pitfall of simply becoming an electronic billboard. Members of the community should want to “retweet” messages and see the value behind the words expressed in the account.
Post Articles – You will be surprised by the media coverage written about your school and the wealth of information that may empower an individual within your district’s athletic programs. Include articles that promote the school brand. Create links that highlight the successes of student-athletes in the classroom and on the field. Share articles and media promotions that speak admirably about the district and encourage others to share this information as well.
Advanced Engagement – Experiment with some of the utilities that Twitter has to offer. Post short surveys, create fun voting posts and try out some school promotions aimed at increasing school pride. Work with Twitter analytics to see if your account is growing and take notice to what the community views as interesting or meaningful.
The last and most important step for effective and practical communication by athletic department Twitter accounts is to integrate the account into the district’s overall digital marketing plan. Work with upper-level administrators and other school personnel to advertise “Follow” buttons on school district websites, and ask that the athletic department handle be advertised in emails and community messages that are dispersed on a routine basis. Encourage other accounts within the district to use direct tags and hashtags that relate to the messages your account is trying to communicate.
Work tirelessly to create online collaboration that is active and dependable. The community will ultimately recognize that the athletic department’s vigorous work to build character online only means that they are also working diligently in person to create better students, future citizens and lifelong learners.
Dr. Daniel Uszaki, CMAA, is the assistant principal of athletics for the Northern Burlington (New Jersey) County Regional School District and the president of the Burlington County Scholastic League. Follow him on Twitter at @NBC_Athletics.