UND embracing Twitter feedGRAND FORKS — Amid investigations into sexual assaults on its Missoula, Mont., campus, the University of Montana football team grabbed headlines during the offseason when team captains decided to ban the program’s players from using Twitter, a popular social media website that can broadcast messages of 140 characters.
By: Tom Miller, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Amid investigations into sexual assaults on its Missoula, Mont., campus, the University of Montana football team grabbed headlines during the offseason when team captains decided to ban the program’s players from using Twitter, a popular social media website that can broadcast messages of 140 characters.
The decision begged the question: Is it worth it for universities to allow their college athletes to use Twitter?
University of North Dakota thinks so. In fact, UND has fully embraced Twitter.
“We very much think it’s worth it,” said Jayson Hajdu, UND assistant athletic director for media relations. “I think it’s great. If we can educate the students on the proper usage, it can be a major help as a tool for their personal brand and definitely helps the UND athletics brand.”
Twitter is attractive for many in UND athletics. Administrators can have a direct connection with the fan base. Media relations staff can use it to dispel myths and provide statistics and scores. Coaches and athletes can offer unique perspectives and insights, which can be helpful in promoting their sport.
In the end, what each of those uses accomplishes is marketing. For college athletics, that can be the most positive and powerful use of Twitter — its broad reach as a marketing tool.
“You’re getting people on the periphery,” said Frank White, a UND professor who teaches classes on sociology and sports. “You’re engaging the casual fan. You were always going to get the sports junkies, but now you can attract people on the boundary. You can throw out a bigger net.”
take to Twitter
UND women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster uses Twitter to push his program and stay up to date on the latest coaching moves.
“It seems to be a new trend that lots of kids are following,” said Brewster, who goes by @CoachBrewU on Twitter. “I try to represent the university and the basketball program. I try to keep it mainstream and enjoy it a bit. I know recruits and their families follow along.”
By providing glimpses of their personality, athletes can also establish unique relationships with fans.
“What I use it for is nothing serious,” UND men’s hockey goalie Tate Maris (@TAT3MARI5) said.
Maris has developed a following of more than 1,400 with humorous posts, often about being the team’s third-string goalie. His bio information on Twitter reads “goalie and active door opener for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.”
“I have fun with the situation,” Maris said. “I don’t see a whole lot of ice time, but I get to play somewhere like this and it’s neat to be able to feel a part of it all and interact. I’ve met a lot of people through it. I think (Twitter) is a great tool.”
Maris’ Twitter use is ideal from the perspective of the media relations department.
“If they show fans they have a personality, they become real people and not just a jersey number,” Hadju said. “It humanizes them. That can help get the fan base behind them.”
With the UND hockey team’s national appeal, some of the school’s hockey players have a large following. For example, UND standout forward Danny Kristo has more than 3,500 followers, while promising youngster Rocco Grimaldi has more than 5,900. Recent UND hockey player T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues has more than 48,000 followers.
Twitter as a promotional tool
UND marketing director David Primus has also latched on to Twitter. He plans to institute a social media rewards program for students that would be similar to Fighting Sioux Club promotions of the past — unique games that encourage students to attend and participate at the school’s sporting events.
“(The social media rewards program) is across Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare and other platforms,” Primus said. “The more you hit ‘like’ on Facebook or use a certain hashtag on Twitter, the more points you earn and prizes you can win.”
When Primus needs to get information out on tickets, he heads to Twitter. He can let fans know how many tickets remain for an event or how the student ticket dispersal process works.
With that, he can take advantage of the school’s rabid hockey fan base. Once he has followers looking for information on hockey tickets at one Twitter account, he can use the same account to urge fans to attend events of the non-marquee sports.
Primus said he utilizes the interactive aspect of Twitter with ticket information, as well.
“It gives us a personal touch to it,” he said. “People are more confident communicating through text. If someone tweets a question, we can get back to them easier than picking up a phone and calling the ticket office. It’s a great way to talk directly to fans who take the initiative to tweet at you.”
Primus has been at UND for nine months after beginning his marketing career at Wyoming. He said he’s been impressed with the school’s Twitter presence in comparison to other universities.
“I think we are ahead of the game,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen that kind of in-depth coverage sport by sport. I credit Jayson’s staff and his leadership with that. Some schools grapple over who is responsible for what.”