Nuts & Bolts: How the Most Socially Engaged Fanbase in College Athletics was Built

Patrick Kindig, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Assets at The Ohio State University, outlines the social media strategy he uses to dominate.

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College athletics administrators know that creating content that engages students is a big win, but creating a social media strategy that dominates? That’s nothing short of amazing. In our fourth installment of #GamedayInsider, Patrick Kindig, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Assets at The Ohio State University, tells us how the Bucks do social media in a calm, cool, Q&A style interview. Get your pen ready. This one has gems.

AS: According to Sports Business Journal, Ohio State has been recognized as the most-engaged social audience in the NCAA for 2018. What does this mean to you?

PK: I think this validates our efforts to always be audience driven. We want to give Ohio State fans what they want. We keep a close eye on what they react to. Our goal is to ‘insightfully incite.’ We want to put stuff out there to our fanbases over social and digital that gets people talking about us to each other. When the wrestling team wins the title, or our synchronized swimming team has a great meet, we want those conversations to take place on our social channels. Accolades like this show that we are giving the fans what they want, and that means we are doing our job.

AS: How would you debunk the presumption that Ohio State earns these accolades based solely on their size?

PK: A lot of people will say that we don’t earn our fans, and look, we have 600,000+ living alumni and that’s a lot. You have people who didn’t go here who are Ohio State fans. So yes, we should have great numbers, but because we are so big, we are actually competing against thousands of other media entities where people can choose to read about us. We are competing against national entities to get people’s eyeballs. That’s where the misnomer ie have to work hard to drive people to our platforms instead of ESPN, FOX, Yahoo, etc. That’s something we deal with every day.

AS: Exactly how expansive is your social media presence?

PK: We have 150 accounts across 36 sports. That’s how big it is. Teams average nearly three accounts each. These channels are across the board, everywhere. Our football accounts are very highly followed. Wrestling has a fantastic following. Those niche audiences are very good. A lot of our teams are recruitment driven which means they don’t promote to the fan bases as much. So that’s what we do. Each sport is a different animal. Each fanbase is different, and we have to know that. We have to know the nuances, and we do our best to reach each set of fans in their own voice.

AS: What does a day in the life look like for an Ohio State athletics social media marketer?

PK: What’s great about athletics is that there’s no day that’s ever the same. With 36 sports, they all clash and collide into each other. With sports being a breaking news entity, we will usually meet on a Monday, get a skeleton schedule together for the main channels and by Wednesday that’s pretty much blown to smithereens. The ability to be ready to call that audible when you had a plan,that’s pretty much our process. We are always shifting and moving things around. Everyone we hire is usually at least a four tool player - maybe a five tool player. They can shoot video, take photos, edit, be able to write. We like to say that we’re masters of none but proficient in everything.

AS: What types of content are the most successful on social for Ohio State?

PK: Pretty much whenever we make fun of Michigan. That is without a doubt the sweet spot for our fanbase. Whenever we beat them, we post a graphic. Those are the things that always get our fans going. I’d love to say there are other ones, but… this past year, we scored 62 points on them, so we created a 62 second “fan melt” video of their fans’ reactions in the stands that we called “62 seconds of sadness.” That’s been our bomb for the year.

AS: How did @Brutus_Buckeye become the most-followed official mascot in the NCAA?

PK: We’ve had @Brutus_Buckeye up and running since 2009, so that helps. It also helps that our team in athletics oversees it. That’s a true differentiator. Owning that channel gives us the opportunity to have fun on social with our mascot and his “bandit” persona. The “bruti”, an army of three to four student athletes, support the output. They send us ideas for @Brutus_Buckeye posts on Slack and we choose what to share out on social media. It’s a collaborative effort. It gives us that conversational touchpoint that we don’t have as a department or a university. It allows us to make fun of ourselves and throw barbs at other teams. Remember, this is a walking nut, so there are a lot of directions we can go with him…. Things that maybe an animal mascot can’t do. We have a lot of fun with it.

AS: Explain the strategy and success of the Brutmojis?

PK: Our student designers created these about 5 years ago, and they have really taken off. We have a dedicated page on the website where fans can download them. We emulated what Major League Baseball was doing with their player emojis… so we can’t take all the credit, but I can say that the Brutmoji page on our website is number one in time spent at about four minutes per visit on average. Our football schedule page is second at just over 2 minutes. That says a lot. That’s the whole point though, right? We have our students build things like this because that’s our relatable audience. That’s how you stay young and how you stay fresh too.

@Brutus_Buckeye is currently a Twitter-verified account with over 184,000 followers.

@Brutus_Buckeye is currently a Twitter-verified account with over 184,000 followers.

AS: In your view, what does the future of social engagement with sports fans look like?

PK: I think maybe it’s a step back in time. A departure from aggregate news feeds. Today’s social media feeds are so jammed with so many things, and I think eventually people will come back to destinations to get their news. That’s where we put a lot of emphasis -- on our owned platforms, our website and our mobile app. We’ll always be on social, without a doubt, but we want to make our destinations and landing zones as customized as possible to the individual user as they can be, because we want to be the place they turn to when they’re tired of scrolling through the feeds.

 

Amie Sheridan (@amie_sheridan) is a content strategist serving sports tech startups.