We received a great deal of Feedback from the two posts we have done on March madness coaches, one on their Twitter activity or lack thereof, and the same on the lack of Instagram activity. We wanted to ask someone who works even closer with coaches, some athletes and others like politicians on the issues and opportunities around coaches, and athletes being involved in social so we went to a quiet rising star in the industry, Alex Cervasio.
Based in Florida, Alex is Digital Consultant for Coaches & Influencers, Co-Founder Planet, and COO Coaching U, a fast-rising business that helps some of the biggest names in coaching effectively tell their story. We got some great answers on the rights, wrongs and reasons for those in hoops to be, or not be, involved in the social space.
You have helped build the socially profile and engagement of a number of high level individuals. How did you get started?
Growing up I had two loves, sports and technology. My parents put me in computer coding classes at a very young age, and from there I was able to teach myself not only how to code websites, but graphic design in Adobe Photoshop, video editing in Adobe Premiere and really just became obsessed with staying ahead of “what’s next” online and in tech.
When I arrived at the University of Florida as a freshman I was lucky enough to be introduced to Billy Donovan and one of his assistant coaches Donnie Jones, who offered me an opportunity to be a manager for what ended up being the 2nd of the back-to-back national championships. But I didn’t last long as a manager for Coach Donovan, after 3 months, and at the beginning of spring semester I decided to switch majors and pursue degrees in both sports management and business. Luckily, I developed a strong relationship with Coach Donovan and Coach Jones and remained close to them throughout my time at UF.
Around 2010, Coach Brendan Suhr, who had been friends with my dad while coaching the Magic with Chuck Daly, approached me about helping launch his new company, Coaching U, with then Boston Celtics assistant coach Kevin Eastman. Coach Suhr knew my tech background could help Coaching U launch online on the new platforms that coaches were just starting to use. I built the first Coaching U website and developed an online marketing campaign on Facebook, Twitter & through email that allowed us to reach way more people than coaches had ever been used to, all while saving a ton of money.
Working with Coach Suhr and Coach Eastman on Coaching U enabled me to be around some very high profile coaches, from John Calipari to Doc Rivers to George Raveling, enabling me to develop close relationships with these coaches and see first-hand how new platforms like Facebook and Twitter could help them in recruiting, building their program, and beyond. One relationship led to another and each new relationship led to a new project at the time, ultimately leading me to start my own consulting company full time.
What is the biggest challenge or misconception a client has to overcome?
Most coaches either think they don’t have the time to take advantage of social media or that they simply don’t need it because coaches never needed it to win national championships before.
How important is quality over quantity when it comes to engagement in the social space?
Being true to who you are is most important. People are going to see through what you post if it’s not authentic.
From coaches or athletes to politicians, is there a common core that you try to get across when helping with engagement?
There is a lot of noise online today, and it’s getting worse every day, with all of my clients whether it’s in recruiting or trying to get people to vote at the polls, the main focus is to be unique, it’s to be different.
Too many coaches who are “active” on social media have Sports Information Director’s posting for them about selling tickets or thanking fans or recapping a win, that’s not different, that’s rubber stamping for your athletic department.
Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram are all key. Is there any one that is more important or does it depend on the client?
I always tell my clients, Twitter gets you on the news (or SportsCenter), and while most potential recruits are active on Twitter, EVERY potential recruit is on Instagram.
So I’d say Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and then Snapchat in that order. Most people are going to tell you you have to be on Snapchat because it’s the “hot thing” or it just IPO’d, but no, Instagram Stories are 10x better, not to mention Instagram is tied to the Facebook social graph allowing you to grow your following much easier, as well as increasing virality.
At the end of the day it’s all about content, great content is going to be successful no matter the platform, and Instagram enables you to post photos, videos, stories, photo carousels (galleries) so essentially all of the content formats you’re already creating.
How important is use of video in your work, an what type of video is more important?
Video is massive. It’s the most time intensive type of content, but it’s the most powerful. Video is the new HTML, meaning, video is not platform specific, it can go viral anywhere at any time.
If you really want to be successful with video you have to have a camera on you at all times, don’t create content, capture it.
For a coach, what is the biggest challenge in making sure that engagement is genuine and accurate?
Social media is a two way street, as long as you use it correctly and you’re honest with yourself and your followers you can succeed.
Again, too many “coach accounts” today are run by those who simply use it to promote ticket sales or thank fans, that’s fake, people see right through it. There’s a direct correlation between follower/engagement numbers and whether or not the account is being run true to the coach or more often than not true to the athletic department’s marketing team.
Who are some folks who do social well; coaches, athletes, brands, and why?
The ones who do social well are the ones who are all in, you have to fully commit to becoming your own media network for it to truly work and be successful. Coach Calipari is probably the biggest name in coaching on social because right when he got to Kentucky he saw the future, he saw that he could control the message and dictate his brand before most in coaching even knew what Twitter was! Not to mention #BBN is the most rabid fan base, I don’t know many other programs who could propel their coach past 1 million followers, maybe Kansas or Indiana.
Another is Buzz Williams, one of my clients, it actually took me 2 years to convince Buzz to get on social media, and if you know Coach Williams you know that everything he does, he does to the best of his ability. So when he decided to finally join Twitter, Instagram, etc he did it with the focus that #EverythingMatters, whether it’s updating the facilities or updating his Twitter, each and every part of building a program in today’s collegiate landscape matters.
Frank Martin is another coach who bought in to social early, he’s genuine in his tweets, he’s available to his followers and he’s another coach who understands the power of social media in helping build a 21st Century program. And you’re seeing that in the Gamecocks current tourney run.
All 3 of those coaches I just listed use their social channels to motivate their players, they realize that when practice or film is over, their guys are in the dorms playing video games and on social media. So if you can utilize your platform correctly, you can constantly be teaching, be motivating, be educating your team and your players 24/7/365. That’s powerful, that’s being a 21st Century coach.
As far as athletes go, I’d have to say Rickie Fowler, in terms of being genuine to his fans and activating his sponsors on social, he’s one of the best. Rickie is able to work his sponsors into his Snapchat Story or Instagram post or tweet without it being too intrusive, it’s not forced; it’s really him driving his Mercedes or drinking a red bull on the range. Too many athletes today are inauthentic with their social media, they’re just chasing that influencer marketing check and not building relationships.
Brand-wise, EA’s Madden social strategy is one of the best out there. Too many brands and companies try so hard to be politically correct today that the jokes they do make aren’t funny or athlete activations they do just don’t seem real. Madden isn’t afraid to call the Seahawks out for not running it or pushing video content that enables a Rob Gronkowski to joke about being hurt and missing the Super Bowl. It’s funny, it’s real, and it’s how people actually think. Don’t be rude, but don’t be afraid to have fun.
What are some of the things you ask a potential client to see if they understand the time and effort and ROI for social engagement?
I turn down a ton of potential clients, most of the time because they don’t understand the full time commitments of digital, whether it’s capturing video for their website or tweeting about your off day with the guys, you have to commit to creating that new behavior of constantly asking yourself: “Ok how can this help myself, my players, or my program by posting on social media?”
What’s the biggest mistake a client makes?
Not knowing what they don’t know. Fortunately many people I work with are lifelong learners, they know that they don’t know everything, so that’s where I come in.
The digital landscape is changing every minute, platforms are transforming on a daily basis, whether it’s the ability to now save an Instagram Live video or to upload videos to Twitter with CTA buttons, maximizing each platform’s features is what enables you to gain an advantage on everyone else.
Coaches have too many responsibilities to focus on as it is, let me focus on what major change Instagram made today to crush Snapchat.
Who are some of the people you follow in the field, who others should?
@BrianRWagner – Digital & Creative Lead for Michigan
@WarJessEagle – Social at Under Armour
@KurtStadelman – Social at EA
@_TyRogers_ – Creative for Duke Basketball