When the Texas Longhorns launched their TikTok last November, Marc Jordan, Texas’ assistant director of social and digital strategy, had no idea a pandemic would present him with the opportunity to perfect the school’s approach to the platform.
Preparing a plan for a new social media platform in the middle of the Longhorns’ basketball and football seasons left Jordan and his colleagues having a difficult time establishing a strategy for the program’s TikTok account.
“It was kind of like, “what do we do? How do we do this?” Jordan, Texas’ assistant director of social and digital strategy, said. “It’s just a completely different audience. It skews a lot younger than what we’re used to and the audience that we’re comfortable with.”
TikTok’s importance for college programs across the country has continued to grow, with schools like Arizona and Clemson – the latter helped by the growing popularity of quarterback Trevor Lawrence – quickly establishing prominent follower bases on the ByteDance-owned platform.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, suddenly all college athletes were without sports and forced to shift their attention to the upcoming 2020-2021 season. That provided the Texas athletic department the chance to put its full attention on how to attract their next generation of fans.
“We struggle now to engage with students and anyone younger than students, so we used this opportunity to look at TikTok because I think, with the next generation, that this is their platform,” Jordan said. “So looking at it, it’s going to be a different voice, it’s going to be a different strategy. It’s going to be completely different than how we handle the other main line accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.”
For those younger fans, Jordan wonders what the public perception of Texas Athletics is. Do they look back to the Mack Brown era at Texas Football, which resulted in a national championship and a 158-48 overall record? Or do they turn to Texas’ men’s and women’s swimming teams, which have won a combined 23 national championships throughout its history?
On TikTok, Jordan hopes that Texas’ followers can learn more about their school’s other notable icons than they would across other social media platforms. While Bevo, Texas’ well-known Longhorn mascot, has been featured in four of Texas’ 24 videos, TikTok has provided a bigger spotlight for non-football programs like soccer, swimming and volleyball.
Texas’ first attempt at connecting with its students and younger fans was through the My Texas Tailgate, an all-day virtual celebration with its 20 varsity sports teams on May 1. It further helped the Longhorns’ social media success during their sports hiatus, which from March 12 to May 11 generated 87,859 and 77,186 engagements and likes, respectively, on their Twitter page – tops in college athletics.
The Longhorns hopped on the #posetrend by having their women’s soccer players reenact their own unique poses on May 27. To the surprise of Jordan, that video is now Texas’ most-engaged post on TikTok with more than 1.2 million views and nearly 393,000 likes. The Longhorns’ volleyball team recreated that moment on June 11, becoming their third-most viewed post with more than 576,600 views.
Along with posts of the men’s swimming team, Jordan says that he and Texas’ creative team have worked together with the athletes to make them prominent figures on the Longhorns’ TikTok profile. This, he says, has helped the account add 33,950 followers and generate 2.29 million views between May 18 and June 18. As of July 17, the Longhorns’ TikTok following is more than 44,300 – soaring 3,591.6% from the 1,200 followers it had in early-May.
“Texas has embraced their athletes and put the content creation in their hands,” Neeta Sreekanth, chief operating officer at INFLCR, wrote in an email. “There is no advantage that teams/universities have greater than access. But showcasing their athletes and creating content that is organic to the platform and based off of the trends that are already occurring there, Texas has seen a strong ROI on the content they are programming.”
As they continue to grow on TikTok, Jordan and the Longhorns are working with their partners at Learfield IMG College to figure out how to monetize its content on the app. The program has also been in close contact with TikTok, which has an office in Austin.
Generating revenue on TikTok is going to take more time and experimentation, Jordan said. The Longhorns’ second-most popular TikTok post – which saw someone pour barbeque sauce into a cut-out version of the Longhorns’ logo – was recreated on Twitter with different background music and a sponsor tie-in via Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. The sponsor was not included on TikTok – which has more engagement than the Twitter video – because it does not have an account on the app, Jordan said.
As Texas Athletics continues to find ways to incorporate its sponsors on TikTok, Jack Patterson, vice president of digital and social media at Learfield IMG College, thinks that monetization on the platform will be dictated by two important considerations.
“Two huge factors that come to mind for me is: it’s a platform that people are opening up eight to 10 times a day and they’re on the platform 52 to 60 minutes per session depending on which stats you’re looking for,” Patterson said. “The point is these are highly engaged users – and so for our brand partners, they’re looking for engaging audiences, passionate audiences, and that’s what we do in college sports.”
Over the next several months, Jordan hopes that he and his team can get their sponsors to see the value of TikTok – from both an audience and monetary standpoint.
“We want to make sure that for the sponsors that are looking to break out or get onto our content for TikTok, understand that [young people] is that audience,” Jordan said. “That’s on me to make sure that I’m actively working with our partners to make sure that the sponsor makes sense. I’m making sure our sponsors are happy, our content is great, and that our audience really enjoys it.”