March Madness, the wonderful chaos that is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, is the most wonderful time of the year for many sports fans. A major appeal is when underdog schools make it into the tournament and even sometimes slay the Goliaths of basketball. Chris D’Orso of Stony Brook and Meaghan Fikes of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock presented the Cinderella experiences this spring of their respective schools.
A presentation that had its seed in this here publication, the lively session told how the main social media channels they run celebrated and created connections around their respective bids in the 2016 tournament.
D’Orso discussed how Stony Brook had continuously come up short of losing in the conference tournament to secure the bid to the Big Dance. Despite the heartbreak, the Seawolves’ social media account remained upbeat and while down by nine at the half in the conference tournament filal, Stony Brook rallied. One student who called the team a “fraud” to the university account even apologized as the game grew tighter.
Running the Stony Brook account, D’Orso became more and more excited as the team closed in on the win, culminating in the all-caps tweet “NO YOU’RE CRYING” which got picked up by media because of its very human and compelling nature.
Meanwhile, UALR was working on punching its own ticket, as the formerly downtrodden Trojans enjoyed an infusion of new people and energy, plus a rebranding to Little Rock Trojans, brought a new feeling to the program. The finished the season with the program’s best record at 27-4 and won the Sun Belt Tournament to earn their fifth trip to the Big Dance.
Well-known alumni like NBA star and coach Derek Fisher started tweeting their enthusiasm, which led to more attention. But facing perennial power and fifth-seeded Purdue in the first round, Little Rock went down by nine and Fikes, running the college’s main account, had all but given up on the game. “We need a paper sack to breathe in,” she even tweeted during the tense finals.
The Trojans sent the game into overtime and then double overtime — “and I was just freaking out,” Fikes said — before pulling out the victory. “THAT’S WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT,” Fikes exclaimed on Twitter and famous athletes from Aaron Rodgers (who misspelled their name) to Scottie Pippen posted about the little school that could.
The 12th seed Little Rock couldn’t overcome fourth seed Northern Iowa, but that didn’t take away the joy of a magical run.
Planning is key
D’Orso said they planned around the big moments, knowing what was happening and when and where — such as on-campus and alumni game watches — planning across all media to all constituents. While they didn’t know if they would win or lose, Fikes said, they prepared banners in case they won or lost ready to go, as well as a stash of high-res images they could use in any situations. Reaching out to find others who could help was another key. Fikes noted her office’s writer caught video of students enjoying the victory and Fikes happily shared it on social media so people could share in the joy. The college trended on Twitter and gained more traction (and fans) than she could ever have expected — but it showed the need to have more backup to address these winning moments.
D’Orso noted that an advantage of the length of the basketball season is that Stony Brook was able to tell stories throughout the season so they had plenty of content that focused on the program and college as well as its outstanding student-athletes. D’Orso even had an opportunity to fly out to Iowa and cover everything from the ground. This provided behind-the-scenes gold like practices, the band rehearsal and moments that captured the emotion and made for great social content.
While Fikes couldn’t go to the tournament, she did have the ability to prepare and receive posts from her boss, who did go and sent content that showed the excitement of the team and its teams.
D’Orso said that schools that appear in the tournament get a bump in applications that year and the following year, and Stony Brook saw an upswing in interest from high-school juniors in an active phase.
Littlest big fan
Fikes explained that perhaps the greatest part was a tweet from a man in Wisconsin, Mitch Teich, who said his 7-year-old son predicted Little Rock would win it all because he was little and liked Rock. Fikes and the Twitter account communicated back and forth with Mitch and his son Charlie, the team’s new biggest fan. He drew the Trojan logo and signs of encouragement. While Charlie was disappointed when Little Rock lost, Mitch — who is a sportswriter — recognized how important it was for the Twitter account (Fikes) to go beyond just a like or a retweet to make a genuine connection, even friendship.
The Little Rock coach even called Charlie after the game and apologized for not winning but thanked him for his support. Fikes sent a care package to Charlie, who responded with a sweet hand-written thank-you note. Fikes said it shows that any interaction or act of kindness can have far-reaching and wonderful effects. She even created a Storify chronicling the wonderful tale.
In addition, Fikes said the college’s website saw a large spike of new visitors — and was happy to answer questions about how new fans could buy Trojan merchandise — while D’Orso saw a very large influx of traffic for Stony Brook. These are reminders that your website should be in good shape and ready to seize great opportunities when they come.
Their conclusions were: Know that you can’t plan for everything. Be human — and have a sense of humor. Share your success. Know that it can be a gold mine of human content. That way, any school that gains success can transcend one shining moment into a lifetime of happy memories.