Athletics: Getting Past the Madness

With March Madness upon us, you might notice a higher prevalence of basketball mentions in your school’s online conversation, or just online in general. While athletics can bring helpful attention and money to your school, for staff members interested in other areas of the conversation, the focus on athletics can overshadow the academic conversation and targeted brand messages. Separating the athletics conversation from the rest of the conversation is possible and can be helpful in strengthening non-athletic conversations.

What We’ve Learned

People love sports. Campus Sonar has worked with smaller schools with Division II or Division III athletics programs, and although their sports teams aren’t nationally known, we were surprised to find that athletics still made up a large portion of the schools’ online conversations. Athletics conversation can go beyond students/alumni at your school, since avid sports fans also add to the conversation. For example, as Campus Sonar’s resident sports fan, I’ve been watching sports as long as I can remember. I grew up rooting for the Wisconsin Badgers due to the proximity of my hometown to the campus and the lack of other Division I teams in the state, and I often participate in online conversations about their various sports teams, even though I went to a different state school for college. Using the methodology of conversation analysis, you can segment the conversation to get the heart of what your audience is talking about.

Tips on Segmenting the Conversation

If you have enterprise-level social listening software, segmenting the athletics conversation can help you see what’s left when the athletics conversation is removed and so you can focus on other areas of the conversation. To do this, we set up a rule (i.e., an automated search within the school’s main query) to filter out athletics using sports terms. For example:

  • Athletics at the school: basketball, baseball, football, volleyball, etc.
  • Sports-specific terms: hoops, three-pointer, field goal, assist, spike, home run, etc.
  • General sports terms: defeated, won, points, NCAA, your school’s division and conference, etc.

You might need to tweak the rule and do some manual adjustments as you see more common terms pop up regularly, but this will give you a good start at seeing how much of the conversation is/isn’t about athletics.

The Proof Is in the Emojis

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in the social media world these days, those pictures are in the form of emojis.

Much like topic clouds, emoji clouds are a graphical representation of the most used emojis in a given time. The bigger the emoji, the more often it was used. The following is an example of one week of a school’s entire conversation. At a glance, we can see how prevalent athletics is to the conversation.

Athletics Emoji CloudWhen we remove athletics from the conversation, the emoji cloud changes significantly. Now things like love, graduation, and books are more visible. Interestingly, we can see that the lion, the school’s mascot that is often associated with athletics, is also frequently used in non-athletics conversation. Taking out the noise of athletics can bring attention to other topics that resonate with your audience and help you focus your message accordingly.Word Cloud with "Athletics" Removed

Will You Embrace or Ignore the Athletics Conversation?

We’ve noticed two general approaches to the athletics conversations. Some schools want to eliminate athletics altogether from their social listening and focus on other areas of the conversation. Others leverage athletics to promote their school’s brand and academics. For instance, one school we worked with uses their main athletics social media accounts to share posts from their main academic accounts, giving the messages more reach. Whether you choose to embrace or ignore the athletics conversation, segmentation provides valuable insight into your school’s online conversation as a whole.

Subscribe to the Newsletter