Two days after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 25, 2017, all eyes were on the Iron Bowl between unbeaten Alabama and two-loss Auburn. The game would not only send the winner to the SEC Championship as SEC West champion, but changed the conversation of the College Football Playoffs’ Top 4.
It came as no surprise that overnight ratings for the CBS Broadcast, which resulted in sixth-ranked Auburn taking down No. 1 Alabama, 26-14, was the most-watched college football game of the 2017 season (7.6 overnight rating). A few days later, AdWeek revealed Nielsen’s Social Content Ratings for the Week of Nov. 20, with the Iron Bowl topping out at 8.275 million interactions across Facebook and Twitter.
The social media rating is the third-highest social media interactions for a single college sports event in 2017, according to Nielsen’s weekly ratings, behind the College Football Playoffs National Championship on Jan. 9 (18.749 million) and the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship on April 3 (8.630 million).
One of the driving forces behind the social engagement was the work put in by Auburn University’s digital marketing team, which posted more than 30 tweets from the @AuburnFootball Twitter account on Saturday, Nov. 25 that directly generated more than 40,000 likes and nearly 20,000 retweets – from one account. That’s not counting the thousands of interactions from fans’ personal tweets, recruits, alumni, student-athletes and coaches.
Hours before the big game, Jim Cavale, founder and CEO of INFLCR, walked the turf of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium with Austin Penny, director of digital media at Auburn, to hear how he plans for AU’s social media success.
“The main goal is to show what is happening here. It’s very easy to see a CBS broadcast, or an ESPN broadcast, and say, ‘Wow, that game looks great. The fans are really into it.’ But when you give that social perspective it’s an incredibly different world when you’re able to show people what it’s like from the sideline, or in the locker room, or even right after the game when our players go and celebrate with the fans,” Penny said. “One thing that we try very, very hard to do is here is show people what it’s like to be an Auburn Tiger. Give them an experience they’ve never really seen before,” Penny said.
From morning to night, Penny’s staff did just that – sharing moments of ESPN’s College Game Day, scenes of Auburn’s 50-year-old tradition of the Tiger Walk, to pregame info tweets, scoring updates, sideline videos between the quarters and celebration both on the field and in the locker room.
With plenty to highlight on the most-watched game of the year, Penny says he and the media staff approach their jobs with a drive and passion to be an industry leader by not only keeping up with trends but anticipating what’s around the corner.
“With the state of social media, and the state of how big of an influence and how big of a pulse you can have on a fan base, it’s important to always be doing whatever you can to push the envelope and try something to be in a different realm than you were the day before,” Penny said. “It’s ever evolving. It’s a monster of its own. It’s super important to be on top of it.”
One way Auburn has worked to stay ahead of the game in 2017 is by becoming one of the first five clients of INFLCR (pronounced Influencer), a SaaS product that empowers brands to partner with their brand ambassadors on social media through cloud storage and distribution of content and collecting of engagement data.
Penny says the ability to organize content has been vital.
“Social media is so jammed packed with content that it’s good to have a tool you can understand,” he said. “We can do more about quality, not just quantity, and that’ something we pride ourselves of doing more, and more of, here at Auburn.”
That quality comes not only in content for the team social media network, but its affiliate channels – those of its student-athletes and alumni. Penny and others with INFLCR are able to help provide photos immediately following a game for student-athletes to share and help be part of the story with a quality photo or video.
“If you’ve got players who understand how important social is and how important building their brand is, it just reinforces what we’re doing,” Penny said. “It’s very important to help build others’ brands. It’s very easy for us. You can’t replicate having someone who actually feels that passion and has those ideas about what your university has done for them. It’s a huge deal for us to be able to help them along the way.”
As a result, Auburn has already seen alumni such as Apple CEO Tim Cook and Heisman winners Bo Jackson and Cam Newton producing high-interaction tweets on Iron Bowl weekend. Just part of the flood of fans that stormed the field of social media the Saturday after Thanksgiving.