What Exactly Is Social Media? CSVS Keynoter Kathleen Hessert Will Explain

By Carolyn Braff

When her brother won the 24 Hours of Daytona race, Kathleen Hessert was thrilled. When she heard the interviews he gave to Sports Illustrated after the win, however, that excitement quickly faded.

“He sounded like an idiot,” jokes Hessert, who was inspired to stop training corporate executives on their presentation skills and start training athletes. In 1988, Hessert, now president of consulting firm Sports Media Challenge, designed a media-training program for her first sports client, the University of Notre Dame.

“I said, you’ve got smart student-athletes and coaches with a lot of exposure, so let me try the program,” she explains. “Notre Dame became the first university to launch media training for their athletes and coaches.”

Two decades later, Hessert works with multiple teams and athletes from the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and Division I athletic programs. Her business covers both reputation management (building, protecting, and enriching the brand) and new-media fan engagement, which focuses on helping clients understand and utilize social media.

“We started the fan-engagement division five years ago with our core service, Buzz Manager,” she explains. “Buzz Manager is a proprietary search engine that monitors chat rooms, discussion boards, YouTube, blogs — everything in what we call fan-generated, or social, media.”

Once clients hear what fans think of their brand across numerous platforms — both traditional and new media — Hessert helps her clients develop a social-media strategy.

“More and more of our clients are coming to us and saying, now we need to engage and lead these consumers to help build our business and protect our business,” Hessert says. “The ‘engage and lead’ could be through Twitter, Facebook, online surveys — through any number of vehicles that are integrated to move them and their passions.”

She helps clients find the right vehicle to fit their goals, and, at the college level, sometimes the most important part of that process is decoding exactly what “social media” entails. During her keynote address at SVG’s College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta, Hessert will unravel some of the mystery surrounding the ubiquitous buzzword.

“I think the most important thing that I want to accomplish is to showcase the landscape of social media and explain what is social media,” she says. “Where does Twitter fit into that, where do blogs fit in, where do podcasts and discussion boards fit in?”

The diverse flavors of interaction that fit beneath the social-media umbrella provide limitless opportunities to break through the cluttered college-sports media space, allowing athletic departments to get creative and offer their fans something truly unique. Video, Hessert explains, must be a significant part of that offering.

“It’s clear that video and social media are having a huge impact, and there are all kinds of new ways every day that you can include video,” she says. “Even within Twitter, there are video bubble tweets where you can do a 30-second video link into your tweet. People are drawn to the video, and it has a much stronger impact with most demographics, if not all demographics, than text or images alone.”

For college-athletics professionals, Hessert says, embracing social media is imperative to the future of their business.

“Right now, they have an opportunity to embrace social media, to use it to their advantage, and to connect with their fans in a deeper, better way, the way the fans want to engage with them and their brand,” she says. “As a result, they’re going to create a greater affinity.”

Ignoring social media will not only make it difficult for athletic departments to be relevant to the college-age consumers but increasingly, Hessert says, for the older alumni as well.

Put in the wrong hands, however, social media can be dangerous — as the University of Tennessee found out this week. The athletic department self-reported a secondary NCAA violation when an assistant in the football program mentioned a high school recruit by name on head coach Lane Kiffin’s Twitter page.

“They can’t just jump into social media and not know what they’re jumping into,” Hessert says. “You’ve got to have a strategy and an execution that’s going to help move your business in the right direction. Get to the experts and learn what the ins and outs are, what the best practices are, so that you don’t inadvertently create problems for yourself.”

The experts, including Hessert, will be at the inaugural College Sports Video Summit June 9-10 in Atlanta. Discount registration — and a free hotel room — are still available for college and university professionals. Visit www.CSVSummit.com for details and registration.

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