James Madison Football JMU
It’s heartening to witness one of the best programs in digital enjoy a historic run to a national championship.

Clemson? No doubt. But travel north up the Shenandoah Valley to Harrisonburg, Va., and pay your respects to the FCS champion James Madison Dukes.

Preparation met opportunity for JMU football and its communications team this past season. Assistant A.D. Kevin Warner explains the internal organization and buy-in required for teams to maximize their digital potential.

Q. Kevin, how did digital enhance JMU’s run to the national championship?

“If we just promoted wins and losses via website recaps or external media coverage, we’d miss truly telling the stories of the team and showcasing the personalities, emotion and spirit involved.

“Thanks to social, we built anticipation for games as the team kept winning. We promoted the excitement of the game while it was happening and celebrated the wins like never before.

“Our video recaps were not just highlight reels. They told the story of the game through the voices of radio, coaches and student-athletes.

“Our social creative team really understood the football program and what drove interest. By the time we arrived at the national championship game, we almost didn’t need to promote it because our fans were hooked.”

Q. How was the buy-in from your coaching staff and administration?

“We couldn’t ask for more from the football program and Head Coach Mike Houston in terms of cooperation for our coverage. We were granted access like never before to capture the content — which really is a big key.

“For example, ensuring our photo and video people arrived to campus first as the buses returned from the title game put us in position to capture the emotion of the crowd greeting the team. Not every coach would do that. Some would insist that their bus was the first to arrive.

“The buy-in from the team on access was key. But the buy-in from our administration was also key. They made sure our folks could travel and be in position to capture content. Those two keys were the most important components to our success.

“While you need talented, creative minds on your content team, those folks can’t do anything without access. It sounds small but it makes a huge difference in capturing the right content. I recall reading something similar about Clemson following its national title.”

Q. You’ve been heavily involved in digital during your career. How has that experience shaped your perspective now as an administrator?

“It’s been extremely helpful in understanding each of the social platforms, how they work and intended audience as we plan content strategy as a unit.

“At the same time, I think it’s also helped me realize my limitations in digital and the importance of hiring the right people with more expertise to produce creative content.”

Q. Can you pinpoint when social became the priority it is now for JMU Athletics?

“The growth of our social media has been an evolving process with several “pinpoint” moments. I knew when I launched our Twitter accounts in 2008 that we had gained a powerful tool.

“We worked hard to build our social media portfolio until 2013 when we hired Mike Prior to really concentrate on social growth.

https://twitter.com/JMUSports/status/804691088912982016

“Finally, the 2016 football playoff run really showed the talent and creativity of our social curators. We saw the impact of our social content with the tremendous outpouring of spirit and support in that postseason run.”

https://twitter.com/JMUSports/status/809812862386380800

Q. You mentioned planning content strategy as a unit. How do you get your SIDs, photo, video and digital on the same page?

“It takes a clear recognition of your priorities. It takes buy-in from everyone involved. It also takes hiring the right people who can fulfill digital goals.

“When it comes to new content or delivery methods, existing staff members can either learn new skills to deliver digital content or you hire new staff who fill in the cracks for what the rest of your team can’t deliver.

https://twitter.com/JMUSports/status/808768157838176260

“For example, we had two open positions heading into 2016-17. We were very purposeful in hiring staff with tremendous video talent as well as an SID with a strong creative and social skillset. Both have become tremendous complementary pieces to the rest of our staff and helped us make huge strides with our digital content.

“At the same time, our photographer has adjusted her gameday workflow in recognition that real-time social content is now the best medium for her work to be seen.

“Everyone has adjusted and realigned to our digital priorities.”

https://twitter.com/JMUFootball/status/818562964672446464

Q. How has social enhanced JMU’s brand?

“JMU’s fanbase is one with tremendous spirit and school pride. There is a unique culture to this place that is difficult to describe.

“It’s imperative as social curators that we understand our institution’s culture and try to reflect it. That feeds into brand promotion, when the social voice reflects the overall brand and atmosphere of the school.

https://twitter.com/JMUFootball/status/820332034916839426

“As we build a brand on social platforms, that voice alignment really feeds the growth of those accounts as students, alumni, parents and fans feel their connection to the university through the content that is consumed.

“As the content feeds their school pride and they share it, the brand grows. That approach paired with our recent football success has produced powerful results.”

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Thanks to the athletics staff working hard behind the scenes to connect fans with the teams they love.

Jason R. Matheson