As is well known by now, the № 16 seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County, defeated the ACC champions and №1 overall seeded Virginia Cavaliers during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The win was the biggest upset in tournament history and the university’s athletics Twitter account dedicated itself to an entertaining and captivating strategy that fed off the historic moment.
For Director of Multimedia Communications/Digital Media at UMBC Athletics, formerly known as the “Twitter guy,” Zach Seidel, and the rest of the UMBC athletics staff, their Twitter strategy and preparedness paved a golden road to new branding opportunities.
“We feel that having a personality is vital to a sports Twitter account,” said Seidel in lieu of UMBC’s thousands of notifications. “As long as you do not personally attack the opponent, which we never once did during the game, and remain lighthearted, you can have fun with it.”
UMBC hopes to see an increase in applicants for its undergrad and graduate programs, something that usually happens after a big upset.
“It [the upset] helps put the university in the public conscience, and, from an application sense, also helps build the prestige of the University,” said Seidel. “More students and student applications really help build a university in both a physical sense and in how people feel about the school.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, Apex Marketing, a branding consulting firm, estimated UMBC’s exposure to be worth nearly $33 million.
But, their Twitter strategy and a new claim to fame would have never taken off if preparation had not been keen. Seidel said the NCAA tournament game was handled like any other basketball game that season, but UMBC wanted all eyes on the athletics Twitter account opposed to the Men’s Basketball account.
In fact, UMBC only planned one tweet: a graphic honoring point guard Jairus Lyles if he scored 15 points to become the single-season leading scorer.
“Other than it was was pretty much a ‘See as you go’ type thing,” said Seidel. “People crave the interaction, people want to feel like they are dealing with another person or fan, not a public relations firm or business.”
For the Retrievers to see a continued impact, they will have to utilize the buzz and exposure to tap into alumni for donations and support and draw new interest from outside parties.
Boston College, for example, received an increase in applications by 30 percent over the next two years after its famous Hail Mary win over Miami in 1984.
“In UMBC’s unique situation, Twitter was the perfect avenue to capitalize on a literal once-in-a-lifetime outcome and they executed it to perfection on and off the court,” said Centerfold Principal Pearson Cunningham.
“But for those looking to grow a brand organically over time, the realistic approach would be multifaceted across a range of mediums beyond just Twitter.”
Interaction opposed to a business front is important when conducting good social media.
“Act like a human being, not a press release, and don’t be afraid to interact with people!” said Seidel. “Have fun with it and don’t take yourself or brand too seriously.”
Now that UMBC’s NCAA Tournament run is finished, its athletics Twitter is still using its new popularity to draw attention to its other sports, and even hint at its event center sponsorship.
Seidel and UMBC knew all eyes would be on them in the national spotlight, and they acted accordingly.
“We went about it Tweeting not just for our fans, but for people who might be hearing about us for the first time,” said Seidel. “We had to take advantage while not excluding our core fan base.”
There is no doubt the Retrievers had millions of eyes on them and their social media strategy, but for Cunningham, who knows branding in-and-out, more must come from this exposure.
“The upset of all upsets is the best possible foundation for an upstart team, but it would also be the pinnacle of success for most similarly sized programs,” said Cunningham.
“Avoiding a letdown encore season starts on the court, but the timely voice of their rising Twitter star should keep the follows flowing well beyond March Madness.”
Social media is an avenue to connect and not be taken too seriously, and Seidel remains elated on that premise.
“I really feel that teams should realize that social media is social, not just a place to spit out corporate public relations and play-by-play.”