How do you spell success? According to its dictionary definition, success is “the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” For Eastern Washington University Athletics, their maiden voyage using Snapchat Stories could easily be described as a big success.
Even though their use of Snapchat raised some eyebrows, they were undaunted in their mission. They knew what their goals were and they had a solid plan to get there.
“We’ve never been afraid to be the first (or only) school to try an ‘outside the box’ idea, and we will continue with that mindset,” said Ken Halpin, Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs. “We communicate constantly in our department about meeting fans where they are at as opposed to expecting fans to come to us.”
Athletic Director Bill Chaves had a broad goal in mind.
“Our goals were to provide a unique ‘behind the curtain’ view of Eastern Football on game day to the fans we knew would enjoy this platform, and in turn help them feel even more connected to the program,” Chaves said.
But why Snapchat? In the summer of 2013, EWU Athletics hired an outside agency to do some baseline research and help them with social media strategy, specifically to boost their fan engagement. Kyle Bruce had also just joined the media relations staff to oversee the development of their social media brand. In the baseline research EWU found that their engagement numbers with the 18 to 24-year old age group were much lower than they wanted. So they began building a set of specific social media strategies aimed at increasing their reach to the student fan base. In addition to initiatives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, EWU made a point of looking at other channels, especially ones where fans could feel a more personal connection.
When EWU’s football team advanced to the FCS quarterfinals, they decided a home game that promised high attendance would be a good place to try something new.
“Our primary goal with Snapchat was to utilize the platform as a way to expose a younger demographic to the social aspect of EWU athletic contests,” Bruce said. “We wanted to engage them in a space that was unique to their age group, and give them a personal view of game day.”
“We decided to use the new Stories feature which allows followers to see a “running story” where each picture on the timeline has a 24 hour expiration date,” Bruce said. “That would give everyone a full day to see most of the story or follow it in real-time.”
The pictures and videos were mostly behind the scenes pictures of locker room scenes, players on the sidelines, and fans in the stands. Their goal was exclusive behind-the-scenes content. At the end of the game day story, Bruce sent out three screens with a URL to a follow-up survey asking followers to give them some feedback.
“We sent out a survey after the initial campaign because we felt it was important to get feedback about the experience from those who followed the game on Snapchat. We wanted to get an understanding of what our audience liked and what they didn’t like, and what they wanted more or less of as well as the raw data on open rates, age demographics of our followers, and find out how many followed at the game or at another location,” Bruce said.
He said EWU hit every goal they set and then some. The follow-up survey revealed that the audience was about 50 percent between the ages of 18 to 24, and that a total of 80 percent were under 35. Bruce said that 15 percent of the followers were following to watch the campaign and had no real interest in the game itself.
What did Bruce think of the naysayers who inferred that EWU was wasting their time?
“First, they might not understand what we were doing. It’s probably tough to make a judgment about somebody else’s goals when you don’t know what they are. Ours were pretty specific and none of them really had to do with numbers in terms of competing with Twitter or Instagram.
“I’m less concerned with the number of followers on Snapchat than I am the rate at which snaps are opened. We have almost 3,800 followers on Twitter, and only an average of 150 people retweet or favorite any one of our tweets. On Snapchat, we had open rates in the 70 percent range, and with a follower base barely above 200, that’s a much better action rate than Twitter. For us it was about interaction with the media, not necessarily just the eyeballs. Just because somebody follows you on Twitter doesn’t mean they’re interacting. We’re always working on our reach, but we’re also aiming at a higher action rate.”
The good news came when the follow-up data was analyzed. Bruce said they received some constructive input from the target 18-24 audience. The videos were popular, students wanted more, and one student remarked, “Just don’t show me anything I can see on ESPN.”
When asked about advice he would give to other schools that wanted to duplicate their effort, Bruce said, “I would advise other schools that having a plan is crucial. By plan I mean have a story line sketched out prior to the event. It helped me tremendously knowing what types of photos and videos I wanted to take. I was able to get in position and have my phone ready to capture the moment.”
Halpin added, “Don’t take yourself so seriously that you aren’t willing to try something that might not work. Social media is changing so rapidly that you’re not going to figure out how to fully utilize a platform until it has already become outdated. I read some criticisms saying that there wouldn’t be any ROI. Our belief was that there really was very little ‘I’ (investment) in the first place, so any ‘R’ (return) at all would be new and valuable data. As you look to learn and grow, don’t be afraid to try something and see for yourself if it’s right for your brand.”