Often I find myself discovering what works and does not work much faster than ever before. When it comes to sports organizations, especially ones that have a poor online presence, I find that solving the most obvious problems is the only place to start. What do I mean by “obvious problems”? They consist of a simple test of the organizations channels for organization. It goes something like this:
Do you organically create interesting content?
Do you have a consistent web presence that makes that content easy to find?
Do you use social media to share your interesting content?
Is your identity online consistently connected to all that content?
It is often an waterfall of questions that leads to understanding the organization’s problem. With most sports organizations, the first question, “do you organically create interesting content”, is a resounding Yes. By design, sport organizations have clubs and teams that hopefully play games, have tournaments, and eventually have a championship or two. Some even have different disciplines that layers of clubs and teams all doing stuff! And the more clubs and teams you have in your organization, the more stuff they organically create. But what does your organization DO with all that stuff?
Funny you should ask! The second question attempts to answer that question. I find that most organizations that organically create content capture very little of it. The clubs and teams might capture some of it, but except of a few pictures and some results, the majority of the organic content goes untouched. So answering the question “do you have a consistent web presence that makes that content easy to find,” is a tricky one since even if the answer is Yes (which is often is not), there is little content to actually find. It could be really easy to find simply because there is none — so you can go “there it is” by pointing to a sports blog with three posts dated over a year ago. Making nothing easy to find is not a Yes. Furthermore, most sport organization websites were designed back in what we web developers call Ye Old’n Times. I get it. Most organizational websites were build by that “one guy” back in the day, and budget cuts and personnel turnovers have kept anyone from updating it. But NOT updating it is costing you something far greater than money. Not updating is costing you customers! Remember those people who join clubs and teams, and probably pay dues to you for the privilege? If most of them cannot find you, or even figure out where on your 1990’s website navigation you need to go to join, then they are GONE! Another missed opportunity.
But what about Facebook and Twitter? The third question starts to figure out that if you 1. Create organic content, and 2. Don’t post it to your website, then maybe you have become a social media purist. If I ask you if you “use social media to share your interesting content”, and you say “sometimes”, then you have yet another problem. Some organizations can survive as a pure social media organization. Posting updates, results, photos, and event notifications can be very useful to your audience, but how do you manage memberships from Facebook? Where on your wall do you find out what clubs and teams there are within your league? What if you need to see the season schedule after you post it as an update? Scroll, scroll, scroll… oh, there it is! Nope. Social Media is good at providing updates and sharing information with friends, but it is not good for pulling in all the management and conference-specific content you need to run your organization. Social media compliments the content on your website, it does not replace it. But if you are not even using social media to post some recent content, you are missing out on yet another way to connect to your audience.
By the time you get to question four, you should already know the answer to, “is your identity online consistently connected to all that content”. The answer is probably No. You might have your logo on a few things, but is it your best logo? Is it your most recent logo? Do you even have a logo? But beyond just identity, are you even connecting your content to your website, or to your social media accounts? This is an understanding of how everything is interconnected. Your clubs and teams create organic content. They package that content up into a post or page on your website. You share your post or page on your social media outlets by linking back to your website. The end result is an capability to continuously send people to your website to achieve a certain result. Be it email address lists, potential memberships, or people to see and/or click on advertisers or sponsors, the purpose of fixing all the “obvious problems” to your organization’s communication channels is to HAVE this capability working in your favor. Until you fix this obvious cycle, you really cannot move on to improving and maturing a process that will show you realistic measurements for how your organization is doing online.
Fixing the Obvious Problems — An Example
I had the opportunity to help the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference (ACCC) repair its online presence using the process I just outlined above. The ACCC existed at the time as a collection of cycling clubs representing colleges and universities from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and one of eleven conferences that make up the collegiate program within USA Cycling, the national governing body of cycling in the United States. Unfortunately, with the graduation of college students after every season, their online identity had to (so to speak) go back to school.
Step 1: Start at the beginning
At the time I teamed up with ACCC to fix their website, it had very little support from alumni, its existing identity did not reflect any type of organizational cohesion, none of its communications carried a unified voice, and no one seemed to care what the ACCC was doing online. At the time, the ACCC seemed like an organization that had disbanded years ago, leaving only a trail of outdated digital footprints for historians to one day piece together into a story of what once was. For all intents and purposes, the ACCC was a forgotten relic online, and beginning to have problems offline too.
Step 2: Developing a Creative Strategy
To breath life back into the ACCC, I began by learning everything I could about collegiate cycling. I learned how the other ten conferences that make up the USA Cycling collegiate program communicated to their customers online, and what professional cycling clubs where doing as well. The analysis showed that the ACCC was a ghost compared to an array of better organized, involved, and maintained USAC collegiate conferences. This meant that if the ACCC wanted to become relevant to both its customers and the USAC, it needed to move forward with a strategy that took on the three most neglected parts of the organization communication channels: identity, web presence, and social media.
Step 3: Creating a Consistent Identity
The first part of my three part strategy was to redesign the ACCC identity. The old logo included a clip-art design that no one in the organization had a quality copy of, nor had they reproduced it for other media. Instead, they were pulling the web version off the website and using it in emails, documents, and even jersey designs. Since the old logo did not represent any elements of what the ACCC wanted to become, I created a simplified version of it using one of the ACCC’s prime colors: orange. Playing off the concept of both bike wheels and how collegiate riders race courses that are essentially big loops, I took the letters A-C-C-C and put them in a loop behind an orange field. The final design could be read both forwards and backwards making it a easy to read and recognize on a website or on a ACCC rider’s jersey at 30 mph. Additionally, I created the new logo in multiple sizes and resolutions so that it could be used on anything from letterhead, flyers, and clothing, to websites and emails. With a clean, simple shape replacing the amateur logos of the past, the ACCC had its first sophisticated logo that it could use for years to come.
Step 4: Improving Online Customer Interactions
The overhauling of the ACCC web presence was my next strategic move. Through researching the history of the ACCC website (www.acccycling.org), I discovered that a common trend among collegiate clubs is the unfortunate reality that — get this — collegiate riders eventually graduate from college! Who knew! Often, these graduations wipe out entire clubs in a single season, including the student or student’s maintaining both club and ACCC websites. This revelation lead me to suggest that the ACCC needed to first remove the web director position from student hands. Then, by recruiting alumni instead of students, the website could be properly and consistently managed without the complete loss of knowledge or oversight. The second move was to scrap the outdated HTML version of the ACCC website and install a more robust WordPress CMS. With students now out of the IT business, the WordPress software provided the ACCC with its first editorial accounts that could be given to the new student role: content creators! The final theme of the site made the ACCC look active, alive with new content, and search engine optimized for the first time.
Step 5: Repairing Social Relationships
The final part of my strategy was to overhaul their Facebook and Twitter accounts. I quickly discovered that students that had long ago left the ACCC, still controlled the ACCC social media accounts. With years of neglect and random postings, the ACCC social media presence (not unlike their website) was a ghost town too. So my first major effort was to track down and reclaimed all access to the ACCC social pages, and then make it the exclusive domain of the director’s position. This would allow the same administrative control as the website and reign in the messaging that the ACCC needed to start communicating. This include connecting Website with only Twitter and Facebook for starters, with the possibility of adding additional social media sites as the ACCC matured. I then rebuilt the ACCC Facebook and Twitter pages utilizing the new logo and website theme so that all web communications looked consistent. It was an important step to make sure that all of the ACCC online resources look more-or-less the same since it directly contributed to the brand cohesion it wanted to present. The final step was to begin crafting a list of potential post topics that student editors could use to maintain a single voice when writing blog posts, Facebook updates, or Tweets. The end result was the ACCC’s new, robust social media presence where once only sporadic emails existed.
Step 6: Produce Interesting Content
Once the ACCC had an improved identity, updated web presence, and multiple social media channels, the next phase of the strategy was to implement a new ACCC Communication Plan. Having channels rebuilt was a huge improvement, but now the ACCC needed to know what to say using those channels. The ACCC could not pull itself out of obscurity and begin growing those channels if it didn’t have anything to say. The funny thing was, however, is that college kids within the ACCC actually has a LOT to say. They just didn’t have a platform to say it – until now. To capitalize on content creators, I created an editorial cycle that the ACCC could use during each given cycling season. This cycle included weekly blog posts based on weekly races, posting blog post links to Facebook along with status updates, photos, and upcoming race announcements, and event-specific Twitter tweets during races. All of this content include something the ACCC had never done before: actually capture recent photos of college kids having fun racing bikes! This plan also include creation of new student content creation positions and their understanding of what they should post, and when they should be posting. The first year of this plan did not go well. Student content creators that span multiple schools in five separate States are difficult to coordinate, especially when they do not all attend the same events each year. However, the second year proved to work better when non-student leadership was put in charge of finding and training students to create content.
Step 7: Maintain Your Balance
Like any new organizational change, it takes time and commitment to get any traction (and results) from a new process. The ACCC Communications Plan is still a work in progress as students continue to come and go throughout the ACCC’s collegiate cycling program. However, now the ACCC has the correct tools to actually communicate on multiple levels, something they could not do before. By creating a new conversation between existing student athletes and previous alumni, the ACCC learned something that it had not know from previous years: not only did its audience want to know what the conference was doing, but that they wanted to be a part of it too! But it has to maintain the process to continue to realize results. If the ACCC looses focus, or leadership buy-in, it could return to its ghost form in a matter of months.
They organization has already started to learn from its online consistency with the selection of a new director (who is not a student), and better coordination through the creation of a steering committee called the ACCC Council. Additionally, the ACCC has become relevant again to both its customers and the USAC. Although the strategy took 3-years to fully implement, it worked though each step it needed to move its strategy forward. The end result was a system that prioritized the ACCC’s identity, web presence, and social media communication channels, and made them relevant to the organization’s renewed success. Hopefully the ACCC can capitalize on their new audience with continued enthusiasm, and hope it transforms their audience into volunteer participation, sponsorships, potential scholarship opportunities, and the desire for students to want to attend those schools involved in the conference.