In 2012, I had the privilege of watching Eastern Washington University’s (EWU) football team. For those who don’t know, Eastern Washington is a small university located in Cheney, WA, which is just outside of Spokane, WA. Spokane is located near the Idaho panhandle border. EWU plays in the Big Sky Conference, football in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA). It was my first real experience covering a team in any form. I say “covering” loosely because it wasn’t like a beat reporter. It was mixture of social media and photography.
One benefit to being around EWU last year was getting to know the staff. Meeting Athletic Director Bill Chaves and Sports Information Director Dave Cook was a great help to a novice writer/reporter like me. I watched, learned, experimented and tried to stay out of the way. I got a look at what Dave and his staff did to make the game day experience fun for fans. This year, I noticed an increase in their social media game. While not on the level of your larger universities like Oregon or Miami, Bill, Dave and their staff have made a decision to increase the school’s social media presence. It starts at the top with Bill and Dave. But, a key cog in the social media wheel just might be Social Media Coordinator, and Assistant Sports Information Director, Kyle Bruce.
1. Please tell me a little bit of your background and what your duties entail.
I got my start in sports information at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Ore., where I worked with the department’s women’s soccer, women’s basketball and softball programs. I also created the department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, getting my feet wet in terms of using those sites for media relations purposes. I got my bachelor’s degree from WOU in June of 2011. From there, I was a graduate assistant at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where I worked primarily with the department’s water polo and swimming programs as well as its women’s basketball program. I received my master’s degree from Pacific in May of 2013. Currently as the Assistant Sports Information Director and Social Media Coordinator at Eastern Washington University, I work with the Eagles’ volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball, golf and tennis programs while spearheading the department’s social media guidelines and implementation.
2. What prior experience do you have with social media?
A majority of my experience comes from both watching other programs as well as trial and error. At Western Oregon, we were just delving into it as a department, and I didn’t understand the potential it really had at the time. At Pacific, I was a little more proactive and used it more as a marketing tool, trying to drive fans to games as opposed to simply sharing releases and results. I’ve been lucky to have worked for people who allowed me to have some free reign, allowing me to try new ideas and see what worked and what didn’t.
3. Have you received any type of training (either formal or informal) regarding social media?
I’ve personally read a lot of articles on how to use social media well, both personally and as an athletic department. Observing what others post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has had the biggest impact in terms of gaining knowledge on how to use social media well. Again, I’ve been fortunate to work in places that let me learn by doing, which is a form of training in itself.
4. Please outline for me your responsibilities regarding social media with the department. What social media platforms does EWU utilize? Why?
My main responsibility at Eastern when it comes to social media is to craft a department-wide guideline detailing how we would like staff and coaches to use it. We have a lot of energetic people in our department who understand the value of using social media well. Giving those people guidelines will definitely help us better promote our student-athletes, teams, department, university and community. There is also a core group of us who is crafting a social media strategy, specifically what types of content belong where, how to better engage fans, etc. Once we get all of that nailed down, my other responsibility will be to implement that strategy and be a resource for people in our department.
Right now, Eastern is using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Like a majority of departments, our fans are gravitating toward these platforms, so it makes sense for us to be there to engage them. We’re trying to give our department a more visual identity, so using Instagram and Facebook specifically helps with this mission. YouTube is great for posting interviews and highlights, and we’ve really emphasized creating more video content as well. And Twitter is ideal for real-time news and is tailored perfectly for sports. We share live scores with our fans that follow us there. We’re really just trying to meet our fans where they already are and give them content that is engaging.
5. Who is involved in the development of social media plans? How often do you strategize? How often do you (or in this case, will you) adjust or make changes to your social media processes? After every game, every month, every season, etc.? If and when you decide to make changes to the strategy, does everyone among your staff have to approve, or are you the final decision maker?
There is a group of us who is directly involved in the development of Eastern’s social media strategy. We have folks from marketing, sponsorship, video production and media relations, along with our AD for External Relations. We’ve also brought in Chris Syme as a consultant, and she has been providing guidance when needed. Our group meets once a week to go over that weekend’s social media plan and make sure we’re all on the same page as to who is delivering what content.
Our social media process is still evolving and changing constantly. We’re still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and what fans like and what they don’t like. We discuss the previous week’s posts every meeting, breaking down what we thought went well and what we might go away from. We’re doing a better job of looking at metrics, as well, like Facebook Insights and HootSuite reports.
We talk about every potential change as a group and come to a consensus. There really is no one decision maker so to speak. Of course, certain people’s opinions carry more weight than others, and there are people whom we can’t overrule, like our AD, but every change is discussed and decided on as a group.
6. It seems like this year EWU has ramped up their social media efforts. Is that the case? How did that come about? Have you encountered any roadblocks or issues along the way? What process was utilized to implement the current social media plans? Do you have to provide a report on each social media strategy used by the department? Is it based on each team?
Eastern has ramped up its social media efforts simply because they put someone in a position to do so. It’s hard for athletic departments to cultivate a social media presence without someone dedicated to doing it on a daily basis. We all come from different departments and have responsibilities that go along with that, but I have been specifically tasked with implementing our social media strategy. My job description was expanded to include social media, giving our department the ability to ramp up our efforts.
Everyone I’ve worked with at Eastern has been great when it comes to implementing new social media content. Everyone seems to understand that it is a powerful tool when used well. I’ve really met no opposition. That has really helped when it comes to trying new things.
We meet as a group on a weekly basis, and our plans are constantly evolving. It all comes about through discussion and what we think our fans want to see. I personally track our numbers on all platforms, and I check Facebook Insights and HootSuite reports frequently to see what fans find engaging and what they don’t. I share these numbers with our group periodically when I feel something important needs to be noted.
7. What education has EWU provided to student-athletes?
We’ve worked with Chris Syme this year in an effort to educate our student-athletes on social media. She came to campus and gave a presentation to all of our student-athletes last week, going over extensive privacy settings not only on social media but on their phones, such as location tracking. She also discussed how to use it well and what content to avoid posting, including profanity and certain pictures.
It is an ongoing process, for sure. She’ll be back on campus later this academic year after taking some time to evaluate how our student-athletes do in these next few months.
8. For the first time at the Western Oregon game, the department used Tagboard during the football game? How did the use of Tagboard come about? How did you hear about it? Were you pleased with the results? Are there any social media platforms or tools out there that you’d like to look into further?
Tagboard came about because we were looking for ways to better engage our fans, and it seemed like the perfect fit. Fans love to see their stuff on the video board, and it gave us a great vehicle to drive engagement and increase followers and likes. I had heard of Tagboard here and there, and our marketing director was aware of Tagboard through the Seattle Mariners.
We were very pleased with the results at our first football game, given that there were fewer students present. It took our fans about one quarter to realize what was going on, but once they did, our feed blew up with posts from all over. We used it at our first home volleyball matches at the end of September, and we didn’t get quite the same volume of responses, but we’re confident that once we host our first athletic events now that school is back in session, this will change.
Honestly, I think we have enough on our plate right now before we consider branching out to other platforms. We’re still trying to perfect what we’re doing now on social media. Granted, social media is constantly changing and what is popular now won’t always be popular, but I like what we’re doing now and want to continue to make it the best we can before we consider adding anything else.
9. We talked during the Western Oregon game about the social media survey that was sent out. Who all was that sent out to? What has been the response so far?
That survey was sent out to season-ticket holders, members of the Eagle Athletic Association and anyone who has signed up to receive our releases through email. The number of responses was good, enough to form some general conclusions.
Our primary goal coming out of the survey is to constantly push our social media accounts, cross-promoting them to make sure our fans are aware of every page they can like or follow to get more information. Doing a better job of publicizing media information for certain sports is another goal, like making sure we use every platform to tell fans what TV channel, radio station, live stat link, etc. is broadcasting our game.
10. Are there any other schools, teams or even leagues that you’ve liked what they are doing on social media?
Some of the programs that I think do a great job with social media are Louisville, Miami, and Oregon, among others. Granted, they have more resources than we do at Eastern, but I think the visual nature of their social media initiatives is where we need to be.
I really like Kentucky’s #WeAreUK campaign, and there are some other schools out there that do a tremendous job with video. Wisconsin’s stuff is also very engaging.
11. What do you foresee as the biggest challenges for you and the department with regard to social media?
I think the biggest challenge is simply finding time to fit in social media while also taking care of our other job-related responsibilities. The fact that my job has been expanded to include social media is a great first step. It shows a renewed commitment to social media that is really exciting. We’re still working through how best to make sure we maintain a focus on social media while also taking care of our other jobs. The ultimate goal is to promote our student-athletes and teams, and everyone is on the same page when it comes to that.
12. What does the future hold for social media and EWU?
I think the desire for more visual content will continue. I am of the mind that our culture is becoming more tuned into visuals more so than text. We’re trying to keep this in mind as we go forward. My personal goal is that when people think of good social media use in the Big Sky, they think of Eastern. I think we’re taking great strides in getting to that point, and I really enjoy going to work everyday with people who also want to get there.
Thank you, Kyle, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.
Find Kyle, Dave and Bill, as well as EWU Athletics on Twitter:
Eastern Washington Athletics is on Facebook and YouTube as well. Also, check out the Tumblr page on starting quarterback, Vernon Adams, bigplayva.