How Schools Owned The Early Signing Period On Social Media

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From strategy to execution, social media professionals across the country pulled out all the stops.

College football programs highlighted their new players with some fire content. (image via @ut_creative on Twitter)

2017 brought a significant change to the college football recruiting world with the addition of the early signing period. Now instead of waiting until February to announce the latest crop of players to join the program, NCAA teams were able to officially sign high school seniors starting on December 20th.

With fans excited to learn what new faces they will be cheering for in the next few years, many athletic departments were ready with some unique and striking social media content. Furthermore, a good social media team can become a recruiting tool on its own.

“NSD was a great example of how the bar is still being raised constantly. You can see each team trying to out do one another”, states Joe Centeno, art director of Team Infographics. “I think it’s great for the teams to be competing on social just as much as they do on the field. It is not so far fetched anymore to see some top level recruits making their decisions based on how well teams will cover their careers while on campus. It’s another exciting step in the social/digital space.”

“It also puts it out there, front and center, just how important helping these student athletes start (or continue) to build their personal brands has become.”

Highlighting who your players are and what they are able to do helps the student-athletes to grow their personal brand, which will only help them succeed at the next level. This is true even if they do not move on to play professionally.

Regardless, signing days can be a huge way to boost social engagement for college football programs. Many teams capitalized and showed their social prowess, standing out in the conversation. Here’s how they were able to do that.

Content is Still King

New student-athletes were welcomed with some stellar edits from designers around college athletics. Fresh and striking designs are a great to give recruits something physical to make it feel real that they’ve reached the next level of their sport.

Valerie Parks, Assistant Director of Creative Services at Tennessee, tells us how the Vols accomplished this.

“Our primary goal with our signing day graphics this year was to come up with a look that would stand out. By standing out, our newest Vols would get the attention they deserve. Being a program rooted deep in traditions, we landed on a vintage look with a modern touch. We hoped it would be eye catching enough to our audience but still maintain our traditional Tennessee brand.”

Great design won the day on Instagram as well. Syracuse turned in some beautiful work in the form of a kind of trading card look that played out in multiple graphics.

Utilizing Instagram’s capability to post photo sets that users can swipe through, graphic designer/recruiting assistant Seth Reedy created a unique finished product.

“I wanted to mix it up from the traditional NSD stand along graphic, and provide one larger, more encompassing design. The idea would be four stand-alone photos that could be tied back into one larger view. I also wanted to keep it light and refreshing, while hitting some cool elements that I have not seen used a lot. The idea of using a quote from the student athlete themselves was to introduce them to our fans on a more personal level, and attaching the coach quote allowed the fans an inside perspective as to what our coaches are thinking on the recruiting trail.

The design layout also allowed us to have a clean home page on Instagram, which is something I wanted to capture when I first started brainstorming the design.”

Some take it a step further and integrate some simple motion, or a transition into a video. Purdue’s team took this approach with unique animations and videos. Ashley McCaffrey, Purdue football’s graphic designer, told us a bit more about how these animations came to be with a mix of some craft supplies,clever photography, and stellar design ability.

“When looking into different types of mixed media, I found some really awesome art that was made from different types of paper, and from there I made the decision that I wanted to use that medium and make 3-d national signing day graphics. After numerous trips to craft stores I had quite the collection of gold, silver, black and white paper of different shades and textures.

I then took the concept and brainstormed with Purdue’s motion designer, Matt Tornquist. We came up with a basic concept for what elements we wanted to include and a general idea of what we wanted the final piece to look like. From there, the paper cutting (and a little spray painting) began! We wanted to include several elements linked to Purdue tradition including our bell tower on campus, engineering fountain, and astronauts/going to the moon (Neil Armstrong).

After those were all finished, Matt and our photographer, Charles Jischke, helped me light (the shadows were important to making it look real) and photograph the paper elements and the layout of our four main parts/slides for our final motion graphic.”

Don’t underestimate how the talent of your designers adds equity to your program’s brand.

Athletes Are Brands Too

Part of welcoming new student-athletes into your program should be telling people where they can be found on social media. This allows them to get a jump on growing their own personal brand, which (when they handle the attention the right way) helps grow the program’s brand in turn.

Plenty of programs will tag the handles of the student-athletes in posts that feature them, as they should. But posts that specifically highlight where to find these athletes and encouraging athletes to follow them are a smart little way to show future recruits that your program cares about helping them grow their brand.

Treat It Like The Event It Is

Signing with their dream school should be one of the biggest days in the young lives of your recruits. Treat it like it.

Notre Dame pulled out all the stops covering their new recruits with a live broadcast on Periscope. The show was complete with interviews with coaches and players, the signees’ highlight tapes, and a look inside the signing day “war room”.

“Over the past few years we have tested a variety of ways to catch the attention of our fan base during big events like signing day”, states Aaron Horvath: Notre Dame’s Assistant Athletic Director of Strategic Communications.

“Our information tells us that saturating the market with ‘live programming’ on as many vehicles (Facebook, Twitter, main web video player) as possible helps raise the exposure of the event and in turn increases VOD and total impressions of our content. Overall, It takes a large team to ideate, create, execute and post the hours of content from our talented Fighting Irish Media team.”

You can see the archived segments of the show on their YouTube channel. Taking this approach was a nice, complete way to showcase the recruits and celebrate the day with the gravitas it deserved.

Who did we miss? Which programs crushed the early signing period on social in your opinion?

Let us know on Twitter @frntofficesport!

*Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports

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