My own school is a novice on Instagram this year, so I went in search of some small schools who are really doing it well. They certainly aren’t the only two, but I find Bethel University (@bethelroyals) and Lebanon Valley College (@lvcathletics) to be two of the most interesting Instagram feeds around.
Most notable about Bethel University is their heavy usage of professional photos over quickie cell phone shots. The photo quality certainly stands out in comparison to the way most people shoot for Instagram. Lebanon Valley strikes me for the effort they take to add graphics and promote events to try and boost the home crowd. I think their follower numbers and engagement speaks for itself.
I contacted Bethel Sports Information Director Jared Johnson and Lebanon Valley Director of Athletic Communications Tim Flynn, to find out what makes their Instagram accounts so engaging. (Bolded emphasis added is mine, not that of Jared or Tim.)
1. What is your primary goal in using Instagram?
Johnson: “The primary goal in using Instagram is to further promote the Bethel University athletics, or the Bethel Royals brand. Instagram, like many social media outlets, allows us to communicate our brand simply, while interacting with alumni, parents, students, and recruits. When prioritizing our strategy, we believe Instagram has significantly improved our game atmosphere simply due to event knowledge, so we use it to promote upcoming competition. Additionally, we highlight exceptional team and individual performances, while also giving fans a ‘behind the scenes’ look at what goes on pre- and post-game.”
Flynn: “It’s all about brand building for us. Instagram is a totally different perspective from Twitter and Facebook because it doesn’t drive traffic to our site, so we really have to think carefully about selling Lebanon Valley athletics in a visual sense. We do a lot of game promotion, yes, but really it’s about anything visual that is interesting and reinforces our brand.”
2. What, if any, are your rules and guideline for using Instagram?
Johnson: “With the @BethelRoyals Instagram account, our focus is to showcase quality photos to our followers. Our goal is to capture some type of emotion on the student-athlete’s face, which often draws attention to the photo. Our hope is that as we draw more likes, others will see who their friends are liking and follow @BethelRoyals because of the quality photos and unique experience. So instead of capturing “a moment” with bad camera phone pictures, we’d much rather draw someone into who we are with exceptional photography. Early on I utilized many filters, however, I’ve discovered that quality photos come across much better without a filter. One thing I believe could be a positive step in the right direction would be the implementation of scores after a contest, however, that would take several extra steps.”
Flynn: “We don’t have hard and fast rules, although we have certain font sets we use and I reuse templates for upcoming game promos. I rarely use the Instagram filters themselves, preferring to process photos I’ve taken with my phone in Snapseed (a must-have free photo enhancement app from Google), and everything else in Photoshop. The important thing with doing pieces in Photoshop is to push the saturation and vibrancy way up - mobile screens are heavily saturated and brighter than desktop/laptops, and if you don’t do this, your work will look washed out. I try to post something every day, more often on home game days.”
3. Who has access and control of your Instagram account?
Johnson: “The only person that has access and control of our Instagram account is myself. I’ve equipped my assistant, interns, and students to manage our Twitter and Facebook account, but Instagram is something that I believe takes extra time and attention to grab the right photo, apply the right caption, and post at the right time. And also important, I have the most passion for it!”
Flynn: “@lvcathletics is run by myself and our assistant SID, Brian Ludrof. Brian also runs our institutional Instagram, @lebanonvalleycollege, so we’re always sharing pics back and forth and promoting each other’s campaigns, which is nice. I don’t have any students who contribute directly, but we’ll use the Repost app to share relevant pics they’ve posted. Our student community is big into Instagram, so we’re never hurting for content. Since our account took off, we sort of stumbled into having a network of people who send us photos from the road - younger assistant coaches and team managers are especially helpful for us. There are often days where I look at the last dozen photos in our stream, and they’ve come from 9 or 10 different sources, which I think is pretty cool.”
4. Is there anything else about using Instagram that you think would be helpful to other SIDs?
Johnson: “Instagram is a valuable tool, in my opinion, to further expand your athletic brand. Our audience, which includes men and women of all ages, love to engage through pictures. Perhaps one of the most unexpected advantages of Instagram is how much potential recruits are evaluating athletic programs because of Instagram pictures. They want to know that the sport they participate in at their future institution is both valued and fun. This creative communication method is a perfect tool to make sure that message is sent to prospective student-athletes.”
Flynn: “I think there are three keys to building a successful Instagram following: frequency, crossposting, and variety. Post every day or people won’t know you’re there. Leverage your existing SM properties by crossposting to them to drive views to your Instagram. And mix it up - I see way too many athletic Instagrams (and not just at small schools) that are the same camera phone shot from the press box of teams warming up or the scoreboard after the game. We all have photo libraries - do some #throwbackthursday or #flashbackfriday stuff. Post game highlight snippets from your stream archive as video. Do a countdown series over multiple days leading up to a big event.
“And for sure, follow others whose work you like to see what they’re doing. My favorites in the D-III world are @bethelroyals, @cuacardinals (Catholic), @dickinsonathletics (they kill it on brand reinforcement), and @ecgulls (Endicott). From the “big time” I really like @uoflsports (Louisville), @miamihurricanes, and @philadelphiaeagles (yeah, I’m biased there), but there are a ton of D-Is and pros doing awesome stuff.”
Thank you so much to Jared and Tim for taking the time to educate me and everyone else.
David Petroff is the Director of Athletics Communications at Edgewood College in Madison, Wis. but calling him the SID is just fine. You can reach David on Twitter at @DavidPetroff or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.