A group of Utah gymnasts cheering for a teammate on floor

CGN Roundtable: Team Social Media and Marketing

With every passing season, social media and marketing have become more and more important not only for the exposure of teams but for the sport at the college level in general. Which teams are leading the way in this field and what do we still hope to see done to raise the level of exposure of the sport? We discuss in this week’s roundtable.

Which team do you think is the gold standard for social media coverage and marketing?

Tara: Utah put on a clinic on how to market the sport back in the day, and the Utes still reign supreme when it comes to social media and marketing. If there’s one thing Utah knows how to do outside of actual gymnastics-related activities, it’s social media and marketing, and it’s only solidified that position by creating a dedicated position within the program (shoutout to Misty-Jade Carlson and the awesome work she’s doing). LSU and UCLA aren’t far behind, either. 

Alyssa: I agree with Utah, especially when it comes to recruiting. Its signing-day videos are some of the best, including this one when it signed Amelie Morgan. When it comes to coverage during the meets, LSU and Auburn are great at posting updates. 

Ian: Improved social media coverage is one of the biggest ways in which you can see which programs get more funding than others, which I think is particularly evident with LSU. It set the standard for being big and showy on social media, which I is something we see some teams struggle to be. 

Tavia: LSU and Utah definitely get the tie here. LSU’s pre-meet hype videos are second to none. It amazes me that the Tigers never run out of new ideas. Utah has really stepped up its game since the addition of Misty-Jade Carlson to the media team. I like that fans get a picture not only of the great gymnastics the Red Rocks have to offer but also the personalities that make up the program. If you’re ever having a bad day, check out Utah’s TikTok. 

What’s an underrated team in this area?

Tara: Utah State has elevated its game in recent years. I think it really started when Gracie Kramer came over from UCLA for a season as a volunteer assistant and has continued after her departure. The team’s graphics are nice and they provide consistent updates during meets, have done a solid job with training updates and have done some good short video productions. 

Ian: I do think that BYU is really throwing everything it can at its social media presence, and it’s getting a lot right. Quickly getting scores up during meets and posting a lot of videos both from the gym and from meets is always going to be a winning combination.

Alyssa: One team that I would consider underrated is Pittsburgh. It uses its social media to inform people about the causes being showcased during themed meets. It’s also done fan challenges with schedule releases and has created its own video series to allow fans to get to know the athletes on the team.

Tavia: IOWA! The graphics the Hawkeyes come up with every year just amaze me. I love that Iowa sticks with a theme for the entire season, making every social media post cohesive. 

Thinking on a more micro level, what specific elements make a team’s social media or marketing stand out?

Tara: High-quality content, graphics and video production are the first things that come to mind. Then the other trick is to put that content out consistently and ensure it’s relevant. On the pure marketing side of it, well-planned promotions to get people in the door — I think Auburn’s “if you’re shorter than Jeff Graba, you get in free” meet is one of my favorites. As someone who graduated with a secondary major in marketing, I’ll also say cohesive branding is another aspect of good social media. 

Alyssa: One thing that always stands out to me besides what others have already said is to be unique. Fans of multiple teams can get exhausted seeing the same things from multiple sources all the time. A little over a month ago when the class of 2024 could start communicating with schools, almost every school posted a photo of a phone saying something along the lines of the future is calling. When scrolling through social media, anything that was somewhat different stood out while all the rest ran together to the point of being almost annoying.

Ian: What stands out is being able to use a school’s overall atmosphere to see their gymnastics team. I think this is something that teams like LSU and Utah do well. They aren’t afraid to treat the gymnastics team the same way they would treat the football team on social media. 

Tavia: I’m far from a media or marketing expert, but good graphic design and video editing are the aspects that always stand out the most to me. I’m definitely less likely to follow a team’s social media that consistently has busy, confusing designs. Having a cohesive look at least for an entire season is helpful for aesthetic purposes. Also, team accounts that post regularly and actually engage with fans more effectively draw in an audience.

What is something you see from other brands that you want to see college gymnastics teams incorporate into their coverage?

Elizabeth: The Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche have two of the most beloved and engaging social media presences in the NHL if not in all of professional sports. I think a lot of teams can learn from the blueprints those two created. Take this story for instance about how the Canes weren’t afraid to do a little trolling using an offer sheet, a friendly rivalry and the trust of management on social media.

Tara: I think interactivity is underrated — interacting with the fanbase and answering questions. Another element is behind the scenes videos. We’ve seen some teams do this, like Deanna Hong’s UCLA productions, but I’d love to see it from more teams. I’d also love to see more teams embrace TikTok in addition to Instagram and Twitter; that seems to be the social media of the future, and it’s important to put content where the audience’s eye will see it. 

Alyssa: I would love to see more behind the scenes as that’s my favorite content, but I would also like to see more giveaways. The University of Florida is hosting a giveaway right now to send a fan to a football game that has never been to a game in Florida before. This is something that would be out of budget for many gymnastics teams, but fans would love to have a chance to win some swag as well.

Peri: More about marketing than coverage — when I went to Buffalo Sabres home games, their marketing department would give official first game certificates to anyone attending their first Sabres game. This could be a great move for college gymnastics since most of the crowd is either gymnasts who will collect anything gymnastics related or students who will want official branded items from their athletic departments.

Ian: Kind of on a similar note to what Tara was saying, it’s hard to go wrong with fan interaction. I remember a few years back BYU was testing an audience interaction poll that was integrated into their home meets, which made for a hilarious time. 

What makes a team’s social media or marketing strategy stand out to you as a media member?

Elizabeth: The very basics should include full lineups before the meet begins (and I don’t need a fancy GIF when a still image works fine), scores for the entire lineup, with totals — and exhibitions! — after each rotation and full videos of any top routines (like perfect 10s) if at all possible. Outside of meet coverage, I think it’s important to make sure every post has a point and makes sense.

Tara: Besides the elements of good social media and marketing I mentioned above, the information component is huge. I’m talking posting lineups and updates, not being afraid to post a bad score and balancing exciting training updates on Instagram stories without bombarding us with 50 clips. Further, those training clips should be clear and concise and not try to be cutesy and creative with special effects and boomerangs. I’d also love to get to a point where teams are more transparent about injuries on social media like other sports, though I also understand team/athlete privacy concerns. 

Alyssa: Training updates are great during preseason and are helpful for fans and media as a way to gauge how gymnasts are looking leading up to the season. Tara mentioned not posting an excessive amount of clips, and I agree that there can be too much. Ideally, instead of a team sharing updates once a week or biweekly, the team would share smaller amounts more frequently. Auburn did great with this last season where it would often post twice a week, but only one to three gymnasts per event.

Ian: Honestly seeing a team stick to the gymnastics for the most part is a good strategy for me. Some teams (looking at Georgia here) obviously have talented social media people but, for me, are really just doing too much to the point that it starts to distract from the gymnastics currently going on. The fans are here for the sport. The best thing a team can do is give them that. 

Peri: When social media coverage helps to tell the story of the team’s season or of a key athlete rather than being used to show off scores and schedules, it draws in fans that may not have cared for gymnastics before. I’m immediately reminded of the number of NHL fans who will watch teams other than their favorites just because the story of a certain player still resonates with them. 

Tavia: My go-to social media accounts are the ones that provide the most information. I love getting lineups prior to events, score updates and a general feel for how a meet is going. Especially if I’m live blogging, the school’s media team can save my life. Teams that update their social media more regularly are the most helpful. 

What elements do you not prefer when it comes to social media coverage? In other words, what’s a coverage pet peeve of yours?

Elizabeth: I’m not naming names, but there is one top team in particular that does social media so badly these days that I had to unfollow it because it just makes me angry to look at. I also hate when training updates don’t say who’s featured in the clip or only feature “boring” things like a back handspring layout step-out —or another run-of-the-mill skill — or only feature the same three or so gymnasts in rotation.

Tara: I mentioned this in the previous question, but training updates that try to be too cutesy and creative. I don’t care about boomerangs, special effects and overly filtered content when it comes to training updates. Also, posting too many updates on Instagram stories. With in-meet coverage, inconsistent posting is one of my biggest pet peeves. Some teams will start out posting a lineup and then go AWOL for the rest of the meet, or leave out scores like I mentioned above. 

Peri: There’s nothing quite as niche-ly frustrating as seeing five or more links in the pre-meet how to follow posts and then having all five of them be geoblocked. 

Alyssa: I understand that social media is for sharing the highlights, but when a team posts everyone’s scores and then ignores a beam fall or low score, it’s frustrating. 

Ian: As much as I love an occasional story takeover, they can get very repetitive, especially when done often. 

Tavia: Instagram stories during meets. Either do them or don’t. I can’t stand when teams start to post on stories then stop after one event. On a similar note, full routines are too long for the story format. Honestly, I tend to skip through looking for the major highlights anyway.

What specific elements do you think are beneficial in terms of growing the team or the sport as a whole?

Tara: A lot of the elements mentioned throughout this roundtable are beneficial in terms of growing the sport — ideally good social media and marketing that is focused on both retaining existing fans and bringing in new ones. That’s helped by consistent, high quality and engaging content that provides timely updates. In that, it’s also beneficial to show a humanizing element that either tells a story or shows behind-the-scenes content, though it’s important to balance content between that and gymnastics-focused posts, too. 

Alyssa: When it comes to growing smaller teams, video clips can be super helpful. Many of the gymnasts on lower-ranked teams compete unique skills that gymnastics fans would love to see. By posting a clip of that portion of the routine, it can be easily shared. 

Ian: Gymnastics has the potential to have so many more viral moments. On the men’s side, Illinois capitalizing on Evan Manivong pulling out his vaccine card was a huge moment, and I think we could see similar levels of virality in college gymnastics besides the occasional floor routine. 

Tavia: I like content where people actually get to see the personality of the athletes. Obviously this is not feasible to do all the time, especially when trying to maintain a social media brand. However, I think social media could be a way for future collegiate athletes to get a general idea of the culture of a program. In addition, posting regular updates on the team is helpful with retention and gaining new fans. It’s always easier to follow along with a team that makes it easy to find scores, lineups and highlights. 

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Article by the editors of College Gym News

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