On Brand, On Wisconsin: How The Badgers Tell Their Story On Social Media

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The voice of UW has been a consistent and entertaining mix of timely and vibrant content and engagement with fans.

At the University of Wisconsin (UW), the Badgers’ social media presence is the amalgamation of work from a devoted group of professionals from across the athletic department. This includes photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and sports information directors (SIDs). Even with so many hands being lent to promote these student-athletes, the voice of UW has been a consistent and entertaining mix of timely and vibrant content and engagement with fans.

Among that group, you will find Brandon Harrison: a 2013 graduate of UW who returned and is now helping lead the digital charge for his alma mater.

Harrison pulls double duty as a social media manager and sports information director at his alma mater. (Photos via Brandon Harrison)

As a student, Harrison had the opportunity to work in the Badgers’ athletic department, specifically with media relations and athletic communications. It was at this point that Harrison began to realize his affinity for social media and how it could compliment his love of sports.

“I really loved watching a game and having that second screen effect with my computer or my phone up. You’re basically having a live chat with thousands or millions of other fans. It’s fun to see the perspective of others and how they are watching the game and what they think is going on.

“That was always something that really excited me and intrigued me about social media. And I always loved sports, so when social media and sports started going hand in hand and started becoming an industry of its own, that really excited me.”

Social media quickly became a large part of the duties of a SID, a job Harrison found himself learning to take on. But while he still enjoyed all, he realized that his true passion lay in that specific area of social media. After a year long internship in athletic communications at the University of Arkansas in 2013, Harrison returned home to Wisconsin and eventually grew into a role his current role as the Social Media Manager for Wisconsin Athletics, as well as the secondary SID for the men’s basketball program.

In most athletic departments, you’ll see social media managers and SIDs serve completely separate roles from each other, but Harrison gets the best of both worlds with a three-pronged role: managing the @UWBadgers accounts, managing the social media for the football program, and also handling social media and traditional SID duties for basketball.

Now in his second full year serving that role, Harrison and UW Director of Digital Content Jessica Burda (along with the rest of the department) hope to take the brand messaging of the Badgers to the next level as they continue to work with the sports information and marketing departments on the school’s social presence. Harrison describes how the goals of his job are continuing to change:

“A big thing for us right out of the gate was making sure that we worked to become uniform in our branded messaging. We have a lot of talented people involved in content and messaging for social media, so a big part of my role and Jessica’s role is to work to unify and organize our efforts. Our goal is to make sure that while there are many people involved, you might not know it from the outside looking in.”

“Having new roles in our department where people oversee social media directly as part of their day-to-day focus has helped us hone in and develop consistent brand messaging and a more organized work flow for our content. We’re also in a good position to survey the landscape of social media and keep up with the constant changing trends. Like everyone else, we want to make sure that we’re not only keeping up with the emerging trends, but we also try to do things that nobody else has.”

Harrison and the rest of the staff have recently implemented a new tool to further establish UW’s brand identity: the platform of Team Infographics (TI). After receiving positive referrals to TI from other social teams in the Big Ten, such as Penn State and Nebraska, Harrison began utilizing TI’s easy-to-use CMS on a trial basis this year and is already seeing very positive results.

“On football game days for example, it makes my job very easy when I can log in, toggle some different fields, punch in a couple numbers, and then it spits out this nice looking motion graphic. That’s phenomenal, especially in social media where it’s all about immediacy. Team Infographics has helped us quickly create content to insert in the conversation and give your fans something to engage with and share, and something that you can be proud of.”

Harrison and Burda work closely with graphic designer Julia Hujet to create content for their website, social channels, and the online publication Varsity Magazine. The three also regularly consult with marketing and communications, who play a big role in managing the social media content and messaging for all of the individual team accounts for each of Wisconsin’s 23 varsity teams.

“One of the things I enjoy about our communications department is that our SIDs do a great job of leveraging the access and insight they have with each of their teams to share great content on social media. They take advantage of the access they have and use their social media skills to create unique content for each of our teams on social media. I think we pride ourselves on using social media to share the people and the stories for each of our teams.”

“Structurally we may have two people (Harrisons and Burda) tasked with the overall strategy of our social media, but we’re fortunate to have many others involved, from our marketing staff to our SIDS to our student employees, who keep our social media fun, informative and engaging.”

Because of the tight knit, collaborative nature of his alma mater’s athletic department, Harrison finds it easy to embrace the grind of being a digital media professional telling the stories of UW’s student-athletes.

“One of the reasons that I was happy to get back here was being a student here and seeing how the office functions, I knew it was a place I wanted to get back to if I could.”

“It’s a great environment. Everybody has a respect for one another. We have our different departments, but it feels like we can come together when we need and take advantage of big moments. For someone in my role, being able to turn to different people when I have an idea and then collaborate to create quality social media content is great.”

In order to end up in role like his own someday, Harrison offers this advice to young digital creatives: network every chance you get and never turn down a chance to learn a new skill, especially in terms of content creation.

“I think a big way [the industry] is going right now is content, content, content. I think there’s still value for your resume in having an understanding of say Adobe products, photography, or video skills. But now days, there’s such a growing emphasis on content that if you can develop advanced skills you can stand out and become a more attractive hire. Teams and organizations are placing more emphasis in developing teams of content creators, so I’d try to learn as many technical skills like that as you can.”

In speaking with Harrison, it’s clear that the Badgers’ still feel that they have room to grow and want to accomplish a lot more on the digital side. Considering this and the already impressive nature of their work now, @UWBadgers and their other team accounts should absolutely be on your must follow list for the new year.

Team Infographics is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

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