Live from Final Four: NCAA Taking Fan Engagement to Next Level With Social Hub

For major events, social media can be so much more than a series platforms for sharing selfies and promoting sponsor hashtags. The NCAA is proving that fact this weekend by engaging with college basketball fans on a whole level with its Social Hub.

The NCAA Social Hub team is headed up by the NCAA's Chris Dion (second from left) and Nate Flannery (center). Joining them are Ball State University students (from left to right) Matt Organ, Molly Bullock, and Torey Fox.

The NCAA Social Hub team is headed up by the NCAA’s Chris Dion (second from left) and Nate Flannery (center). Joining them are Ball State University students (from left to right) Matt Organ, Molly Bullock, and Torey Fox.

Using various tools and partnering with the students at Ball State Sports Link from Ball State University, the NCAA is engaging fans directly through event-centric social accounts – including @FinalFour on Twitter and “Final Four – Indianapolis” on Facebook.

“Our Final Four event strategy is focused on the fun things going on right around here in Indy and making sure everyone’s time here is very enjoyable, if they are on social media,” says Nate Flannery, Director of Championships and Alliances, Digital and Social Media at the NCAA.

Working out of a conference room in the offices spaces of the Indiana Sports Corp. in Downtown Indianapolis, more than ten students and NCAA staff are on hand to monitor social media traffic, engage with and welcome fans, and answer all kinds of questions ranging from where to park, to how long lines are at FanFest, etc, while also promoting all of the festivities taking place during Final Four weekend.

Flanney, Assistant Director of Championships and Alliances, Digital and Social Media for the NCAA Chris Dion, and the students are monitoring social media traffic surrounding the Final Four, responding to questions and requests, and bubbling up content to producers for publishing across the various platforms.

The NCAA Social Hub buzzes on Saturday afternoon. (Photo Courtesy Chris Taylor, Ball State University)

The NCAA Social Hub buzzes on Saturday afternoon. (Photo Courtesy Chris Taylor, Ball State University)

“The fantastic thing about this event is that there is so much content,” says. “You work some events and you are struggling for things. This one, we have a fire hose and we are more than prepared to supply this content.”

One of the tools the team is using is GeoFeedia, a social media traffic tool that allows the user to geo-fence a certain location and track all of the social media content coming out of that location. For example, staffers in the Social Hub with geo-fense the Indianapolis Airport and filter out any posts or comments regarding the Final Four and quickly welcome those users into town and share the upcoming events they can attend. Two students will be utilizing that system at any given time.

“Not everyone geo-tags their posts,” says Flannery, “but there is still a percentage that it does provide some value to us to be able to engage even if the poster isn’t using a Hashtag or a keyword that we could easily find.”

The Social Hub team is also using a system called Sysomos as a deeper listening tool. Sysomos has two products called Heartbeat and MAP that allow the user to set up keyword searches and open up the opportunities for a different level of monitoring that isn’t based on geography or commonly used hashtags.

To create its own original content, the Social Hub team deploys groups of students called “Street Teams” that will hit the fan hotbeds around town and distribute promotional goodies and increase awareness of the social options available. They will also take photos and upload them to the Social Hub teams main group communication tool HipChat, which is essentially a robust chatroom when all members of the team can communicate with each other and share content.

The NCAA has also partnered with the local production company WebStream Productions to shoot original content throughout the city. The videographers have a workstation in the Social Hub conference room where they can drop off content for Ball State students to edit and share with the Social Hub producers for publication.

Dion is also responsible for working with NCAA Digital and Turner Sports on the running of the March Madness social accounts. These platforms are meant more to serve the national fan and focuses solely on happening on and relating to the action on the court.

“You have to separate [the two social strategies], says Flannery. “If you put the event level content onto the basketball platform, its going to get overrun. The event has a local audience and the games have a national audience. It would be like CBS putting a local commercial in a national broadcast.”

The NCAA and Ball State student began setting up the Social Hub as early as last Monday before going through a series of testing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Indiana Sports Corp. put the NCAA social team in touch with a group called SpeakEasy that evaluated and offered tips on the Social hub’s workflow.