SVG College Sports Summit: Instagram’s Will Yoder Lays Out Keys to College-Sports Social-Media Success

The goals: growing the brand, connecting with alumni, recruitment

Will Yoder of Instagram’s sports partnerships team took to the stage at the 2017 SVG College Sports Summit and discussed the ins and outs of the social-media platform and the close relationship he and the team at Instagram have with sports entities, given that one in three of Instagram’s 700 million users is connected to a sports entity.

“Our role is to help our partners connect with as many users as possible in as meaningful a way as possible,” he said. “We make sure our partners are comfortable with their content and execute on the Instagram platform.”

Will Yoder, who handles sports partnerships for Instagram, offered advice on using the platform.

The Instagram platform has evolved into a dynamic social-media offering where the length of video content that can be posted has grown from less than 15 seconds to 60 seconds and users can share as many as 10 videos or photos in one post. The NBA, for example, creates a nightly Instagram post that combines stats, highlights, and storylines.

“It’s one post for the entire league,” noted Yoder.

He added that Instagram Live is the most direct way to connect to fans around events, such as a game, press conference, or related studio or pregame show. For example, Real Madrid football star Christian Ronaldo used Instagram Live to celebrate getting his 100 millionth follower by taking fans on a virtual tour of his house and, ultimately, jumping in his pool.

“It’s a much more casual way to share content,” said Yoder.

With respect to college sports, he cited three goals: growing the brand, connecting with alumni, and recruiting. The University of Michigan football team, he noted, used Instagram to share a trip the football team took to the Vatican, giving potential recruits insights into what life is like as a student athlete at Michigan.

And the University of Oregon offered a highly produced video showing a player reacting to the look of the new basketball uniforms and the emotions felt when seeing the new jersey for the first time.

“Oregon owns their brand really well,” said Yoder.

Stanford University exemplifies using Instagram to connect with alumni. For many alumni, getting back to campus is simply not a practical reality. So the athletic department created an Instagram experience with POV videos, giving alumni a chance to experience a football-game–day experience from start to finish, including requisite stops at various landmarks across campus.

Instagram is also making sure current students are involved with a program called Instagram Student Section. The colleges and universities involved in the program select one student to serve as a “Game Day Ambassador”; the student could be someone who works for the athletic department or a super fan.

“The keys to the school account are given to the student, and they take it over for publishing stories so that people can see what it is like to be a student on game day,” Yoder explained. “The students are trained for best practices and how to use the tools to get the most out of the platform.”

The students involved in that program are also part of a private Facebook group, where they can share content and tips with other ambassadors and get access to new tools and enhancements before other Instagram users.

“It is ultimately about amplifying student voices,” added Yoder. “A student who might have 1,000 followers has an opportunity to take over an account with a couple hundred thousand.”

Instagram is also working closely with the NCAA and, during the March Madness tournament, repurposed the March Madness account for the opening round of 64. The platform amplified the best student voices, including fans from the University of North Carolina, Clemson, and the University of Kentucky, who became stars in their own right. They were paired with producers from the Instagram to ensure that they worked with someone who knew how to create content as great as it can be.

“It’s authentic first-person content that can transport content captured from someone else’s phone to yours,” said Yoder.

He also offered a couple of tips, including shooting video vertically because it performs best on the platform. And competition, he added, has bred creativity in storytelling.

“Storytelling takes so many different forms,” Yoder pointed out. “There is no one simple way to do it. But it is cool to see what the students did this year, and we are looking forward to what is next.”

He also recommended that, with branded content, the brand integration needs to be meaningful and that, when trying to decide between highly produced content and video captured with just a phone, content owners need to know what the audience is looking for.

“Try different things and see what the feedback is,” Yoder suggested. “The idea of being transported into the phone is popular, so don’t let it feel too corporate. Listen to your audience.”

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