Kings of The Court: How Duke Basketball Has Continued To Excel On Social Media

Share
Image via @DukeMBB Instagram

There are few brands, if any, in all of college athletics more recognizable than the Duke Basketball program. That’s certainly in part due to the five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 14 ACC Championships since 1986 under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Over the better part of the last decade, however, the basketball program’s digital team has added significant equity to the Duke brand with their efforts on social media.

In the past year alone, the @DukeMBB Twitter handle has seen its impressions almost double from 17.6 million to over 34.1 million. Just prior to this, Duke’s athletic communications department made the decision to simplify their social media approach by merging their recruiting/fan engagement voice known as Duke Blue Planet (DBP) with the voice of their sports information accounts. As a result, @DukeMBB is the most followed team Twitter account in all of college sports with 2.24 million followers. Deputy director of athletics/operations, Mike Cragg, the former SID and 31-year veteran of the athletics department, explains the process of merging those two different presences into one.

I think the merger into one entity helped immensely. It is a better strategy for having just one with better collective thinking and better content. We had great stuff, but I think working together, we now have got a pretty robust team.”

“We are seeing that benefit in the numbers – but more importantly with a unified message and delivery. We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve in a lot of different ways such as being the first school to ever have a .com website. Now our social media approach is the latest and gives us an even more direct voice to our fans around the world.”

Cragg goes on to explain the added benefits of merging DBP with a more traditional voice.

“We had a lot of meetings asking ourselves – ‘what is the core question’. And that core question was ‘how do we best represent our basketball program and our athletic department and university – together. So knocking down some of those walls if you will and combining the age of video with the age of the written word, I think were the biggest challenges. Having one voice – across different social media platforms – allowed everybody to contribute to our social media world. It came with some growing pains, as expected, but I think that it was definitely the right step to take and it definitely paid off.”

“I’m really proud of this group and they have done a great job.”

Duke Basketball’s social media operation is headed up by director of basketball operations David Bradley. Bradley graduated from Duke in 2004 and has been on staff with the Blue Devils since his undergraduate years. In all of that time, Bradley has been instrumental in helping the basketball program embrace social media.

View this post on Instagram

Together 🔵😈 #HereComesDuke

A post shared by Duke Men's Basketball (@dukembb) on

“I think we realized that social media was going to be big in some respects before many other college programs did. We’ve always prioritized it and had great support from our staff. Over the past couple years, we’ve definitely become more organized internally. One of the great challenges with social is navigating resource allocation around a crucial entity that wasn’t even on many athletic department radars eight years ago. We have a great team in place now so we’re able to produce high-quality content on a daily basis and remain a trendsetter in college athletics.”  

Because of his reputation as an old-school kind of coach and his very serious courtside manner, fans may be surprised to hear that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been so supportive of social media utilization. But as Bradley can attest, having the support of the head coach of your program is crucial when developing a social media strategy.

“Coach K has believed in and trusted our social media team to deliver since day one. We might think that social media is the most important thing in the world, but we can’t build a staff, have a comprehensive content schedule and produce top-notch content without the backing of the coaching staff and athletic department. We’ve definitely been fortunate to have that from Coach, our coaching staff, Mike Cragg, Jon Jackson and Dr. White.”

One of the biggest indicators of Duke’s recent digital success has been their Instagram metrics. In November of 2016, fans viewed videos on the basketball program’s official page 1.73 million times. A year later in November of 2017, that number grew to 8.45 million. Bradley and the social team have given special priority to creating content for Instagram and the audience that dwells on it.

“When we make a video, we consider whether we’re making it for Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and discuss where our priorities lie. All those platforms have different audiences and serve different purposes.”-David Bradley, Director of Basketball Operations. 

“We’ve decided that Instagram is our highest priority right now, so we’ve made sure we have top-quality videos posted there in a length and format that appeals to the IG audience. All of our recruits and players are on Instagram, along with so many of our younger fans. It’s obvious attention spans have waned so we keep our content short and on brand, catering to that demographic. We attract some of the brightest student-athletes in the country to Duke, and definitely enjoy using those guys as sounding boards for what types of content and music they like to see on social media.”

A large factor that has gone into Duke’s Instagram growth has been their commitment to both consistency and simplicity in their content.

“One thing that I’m proud of this year is how our consistent we’ve become in branding our content.  We created a comprehensive style guide and all of our video, photos and graphics have a consistent look where you know it’s from @DukeMBB. The overall quality has ramped up as well, as we benefited from the great video skills and creative talents of Stephen Broome and Nolan Elingburg.  Also, our athletic department made a fantastic hire in landing staff photographer Reagan Lunn. We have the best sports photography in the country on our social channels because of Reagan. Overall, with a great team in place we’ve been able to get way more into the weeds on content strategy.”

For occasional help with graphic design and animation, the social team has turned to agencies like Team Infographics and Uncommon Thinking. This helps reach fans with even more striking and informative content during games that can be created and shared quickly.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind Duke basketball’s social media success has been their ability to showcase the unique personalities of the student-athletes that have played for the team over the years. This practice seems to have begun with former All-American Nolan Smith. Smith played at Duke from 2007 to 2011, then had a four-year career in the NBA before returning to the Blue Devils, where he now has a role within the program assisting with digital content as well as coaching basketball. Bradley credits Smith with being the first player to show the program how important embracing social media would be.

“Nolan showed that you can have a really good personality, have fun and still win big. Particularly in our National Championship season in 2010, he was front and center for us as social media was really taking off. We let him do his thing and show his personality. He might have been the original sports vlogger, where he’d actually go out and film for us. We’d just give him the camera and he’d come back with compelling, authentic footage. It was a little bit raw, but that was the point. People were able to see Duke Basketball in a completely different way. Now, he’s on our staff so he’s still involved more as an advisory role. He’s had such a tremendous impact on our program in so many ways both on and off the court.”

Just as the basketball team will continue to find ways to be in national championship conversation, Duke basketball’s social team will continue to find ways to innovate in the digital space. If other programs and athletic departments hope to follow suit, it all begins with placing greater emphasis on social media strategy as the Blue Devils have been able to do.

“We’ve certainly seen athletics departments devote increasing resources to video, photography and graphic design in recent years. The programs doing the best work on social have prioritized it across every level, from the coaching staff, to the student-athletes, to the sports information department all the way up to the senior staff and athletic director.  We’ve been lucky to that have support here for awhile and it has paid off for us.”

*Duke is a client of Team Infographics and Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports.