When “the experts” talk about social media, invariably the terms “engagement” “authenticity” “community” and more are thrown about. While these words are overused and are now buzz words, they actually are important aspects to a good social media campaign. As my friend Gregg Gallagher likes to say, I typically like to call the naked emperors out here (brands doing social media the wrong way), but this post is about a brand that “gets it” and is doing it right.
That brand is the University of Miami Athletic Department.
*waits for collective groan*
Listen, folks. It’s no secret I’m a die-hard Hurricanes fan. If I thought they were doing it wrong, I’d just say nothing publicly. I rarely (if ever) get pitched by fellow PR pros and have never *ever* written a PR-pitched post here. Not that I’m against it per se. I’m just saying that I’m not writing about The U here because they’re pitching me or giving me something in return. I’m talking about this because I’m truly impressed.
Last Friday The U’s Associate Athletic Director Chris Freet declared it was “social media day.” On that day, the U posted video, interviews, live chats and more via its various social media sites and encouraged the fan base to participate, share and get involved. If you visited Hurricanesports.com, you were directed to all of the content that was being created dynamically throughout the day – a “shut-down” of sorts of the department’s Web site. From a PR person’s perspective, this is a great way to get followers on your social media platforms. But it was a great deal more than that: it was an ode to the fans, a testament to the proud tradition of the University’s athletic programs, and a rallying cry for Canes fans to get excited and involved. (Read what Freet had to say about Social Media Day here)
At an important time, I might add.
Last football season at the U was brutal. We suffered some tough losses and were inconsistent on the field. Ultimately, we fired a coach I loved. (I still get grief, and am not apologetic for, liking Randy Shannon. However, I really do like the new coaching staff, too.) I can’t say it was an enjoyable season for me but I am really happy about one thing: the community of hundreds of Hurricanes fans I’ve met on Twitter and Facebook. We call ourselves the #CanesFam, and we’re proud, passionate, opinionated and LOUD. Just spend some time following the Twitter list I’ve created here. Throughout the season we cheered, celebrated, griped and cried together. We say good morning and good night, check on each other’s lives and make plans to get together at a game one day. And through the roughest times last season – particularly coaching and quarterback controversies – we’ve even argued with each other. I have to say it got pretty heated in there some days.
So now imagine what it was like for the Athletic Department, and the PR and social media teams. There was serious heat on them – to answer questions, provide public explanations and more. Remember the part about Canes fans being passionate? Some weren’t kind or polite as they voiced their concerns or asked questions of the UM PR and social media staff in the heat of the moment.
I’ve seen lesser brands respond to similar heat either by ignoring the commentary, firing back inappropriately or responding with non-answers. But not Freet and his team, despite the fact that it was a time filled with turmoil for them. Via the @Hurricanesports Twitter account as well as his own (@Chrisfreet), Freet was responsive to questions, comments, rants and more. Sure, there were times when questions couldn’t be answered and he stated honestly that he couldn’t. The department’s handling of a tough situation was a great example of authentic engagement of a community. (Like how I did that? Do I win Buzzword Bingo?) Another critical point – it was all handled with complete respect and empathy. The department understands that the #CanesFam is loud… because we are the Canes’ most passionate fans. Yes, we whined, complained and more. But we did it because we CARED.
The U listened, and they do every day. Yes, the athletic department hosted Social Media Day. But in my view, every day is social media over there. We’re mostly past all the controversy, and now the athletic department’s job is to “engage” the community. They need to get us to view and share their content, to get involved in campaigns, and to create our own “content” (and I did here). They’re also doing all they can to get our input on the new Web site, new programs, brand positioning statements and more, all the while still serving as “customer service” to the fans.
Folks, we have here a case study of a brand that did its best to communicate with its “core audience” during a time of crisis. A brand that could have retrenched and shut down communications during the coaching controversy and more, and simply stated: “These are confidential employment contract matters.” This is a case study of a brand that had difficult public conversations with some very passionate “customers” instead of running scared from the tough questions. The approach earned the brand respect, admiration and loyalty. And now the #CanesFam is ready and willing to help the brand push out its marketing messages. Yes, because we love the brand. But also because we know that we’re helping to shape those messages.
And that makes all the difference. THIS, my friends is what social media is all about. THIS is what good PR is all about.