There has been a tremendous amount of hype and attention payed to high level college athletics in the last year. From conference reshuffling, to the National Championship playoff to expanded March Madness coverage and the innovation in the TV and digital space with added elements like the Pac 12 Network and the Longhorn Network, the opportunities for intercollegiate athletics as a business has never been stronger across the board. However with the growth comes higher expectations and a higher level of return from new brand partners, the media and the fans as well as a higher level of professionalism across the board. Whether it is fair or not to hold college athletics to many standards that professional teams are held to may or not be fair, but it is a reality. Big time events bring big time responsibilities.
It would also seem that the collegiate level should lead to more innovative engagement by schools in places like digital and social media. For example, this past week Northwestern University launched an innovative platform that serves as a social media hub for all their football followers, much in the way other leagues like the National Rugby League have done. Smart and supportive of their loyal followers. However with innovation comes some blurred lines at some institutions. Added expectation and promotional opportunities have made social media a key and low cost engagement platform for many schools. You have news or a promotion? Post it away. Most schools have found ways to split the duties of social media as well, with many times Twitter become the news source and Facebook more of a promotional tool. However with that work comes a certain level of authenticity…if you want to promote and provide information, even in a closed environment like Facebook and you want to sue social media as a news source, then you have to be professional and report accurate information, sometimes bad as well as good. While that’s not to say that bad news…a loss, and issue on campus…shouldn’t be placed in as positive a light as possible, if you are going to report news you must report all news.
So it was with some surprise that Sam Laird, the ever-diligent sports media reporter at Mashable, had a story on Monday that several schools, including the University of Houston and the University of Pittsburgh, failed to post poor opening weekend losses on their social media sites, especially Facebook. Both schools used the platforms to promote pregame activities, but when the game came along the upset reporting was avoided. It was disappointing to see that two such high level programs would seek to avoid news reporting on their home social media feeds when they would have no problem reporting good news. If you are going to use social media for a news source, then you need to be consistent.
Maybe someone felt it was embarrassing or that people should get and news somewhere else. Maybe they felt that the social platform is just promotional and would disappoint ardent fans who didn’t want to be reminded. No matter. If you want to be an authentic source of information then report it all. You have the ability to spin to some degree, and you have the ability to break news. Not doing so, or being selective in reporting, wreaks of unprofessionalism and a lack of credibility. It will also drive followers away. Now if you do want to use social just as a marketing tool that’s fine, then don’t report positive news either. It is very hard to have it both ways.
No losing is not easy. Finding the good in a bitter and disappointing loss is also not fun. However of college athletics wants to be in the big time, then always act consistently and professionally. Take the good with the bad, and you will learn valuable lessons, as well as growing your brand with credible reporting. By not playing it straight, all credibility goes out the window. Yes the landscape is vast for college athletics, and so are the challenges to keep pace. Reporting the simple facts is an easy place to get it right every time. Take a lesson from the pros.