A Peak Inside

January 29, 2015

As times change and athletic departments react, they are creating new staff positions. In this three-part article, administrators tackling unfamiliar roles provide a tour of their areas of operation.

This article was published in the April/May 2014 issue of Athletic Management.

Social Media Master

By Andy McNamara

Andy McNamara is Assistant Athletic Director for Communications at the University of Oregon, where he oversees the athletic communications office and the department's media relations and social media efforts. He can be reached at: [email protected] and through Twitter @McNamaraUO.

It's been almost 20 years since I first entered the media relations field, and over that time, I've probably given 20 different answers to the obligatory introductory question of, "What do you do?" Such is life in the ever-changing information age.

My job title here at the University of Oregon is pretty standard: Assistant Athletic Director for Communications. But what I do can't easily be summed up in a title. I handle all the tasks that sports information professionals have been doing for many years. And I oversee our social media efforts, which no one has been doing for even a few years. That second part of my job description is filled with words completely absent from the profession's vocabulary a decade ago.

I have always embraced technology and made it a habit to seek out new ways to leverage it to perform my job more efficiently and effectively. Early in my career, that meant building e-mail lists of media members and fans and delivering press releases straight to their inboxes, while the bulk of the industry still relied on fax machines. More recently, it has evolved into cramming the "who, what, when, where, and how" into 140 characters and supporting those Tweets with links to photos, videos, and supplementary information.

At first, the challenge was devising ways to utilize the incredible new social media tools rapidly popping up. That was quickly followed by figuring out how to incorporate them into our daily workflow without pushing aside the traditional aspects of the job. I remember speaking with colleagues who were overwhelmed by adding yet another responsibility to an already taxed schedule, but we all realized the benefits of social media could not be ignored.

The best way I've found to balance it all is to view social media as an element that runs alongside my typical duties instead of making it a separate task that needs to be budgeted into my workday. It can be tricky to have one eye trained on the rapid information flow related to social media, while the other is handling traditional responsibilities, but it's doable with practice and becomes easier over time.

And it's essential, because you can't afford to miss the engagement opportunities that social media presents. Whether it's answering a question a fan posts on Twitter or supporting a press release with an interesting photo on Facebook, the more ways you can connect with fans, the more dedicated they become to your program.

One key part of efficiently integrating social media into our jobs is having the right tools. For us at Oregon, this is aided through a great relationship with the Portland-based Postano company, whose product helps curate content from our own channels, as well as our fans', and presents it in a very appealing way for both internal and external viewing.

Like social networks themselves, the number of solutions that can help centralize the information in various channels into a single landing page is constantly growing. I make it a practice to participate in trials of new tools to ensure we are up to date on improved technology and methods for parsing social data.

This need for keeping the bulk of your streams in one place becomes increasingly important as new platforms are continually developed. It's only a matter of time before the next Pinterest, Instagram, or Snapchat joins the fray.

At Oregon, we have also benefited with the opening of the Quack Cave, which launched as college athletics' first social media command center in August 2012. Workers in the Quack Cave are trained to sift through content and decide whether to share or repurpose it on specific channels. They approve or deny content for display on quackcave.com via Postano, and they respond directly to inquiries from fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Inspired by social media command centers used by the NHL's New Jersey Devils and leading corporations like Dell and Gatorade, the Quack Cave has been an incredible tool in helping us utilize our social media assets and grow our overall brand. We currently have the top Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest accounts in terms of followers/likes in college athletics, and the Quack Cave helps us leverage that activity across our other channels.

A big part of the Cave's success is due to the university students volunteering their time there. They typically work a couple of two-hour shifts per week as well as staffing key events.

Our first group was made up entirely of students we identified and approached after being impressed by their aptitude and overall social media chops on Twitter. From there, word about the Quack Cave quickly made its way around campus, and we now have many students interested. To determine who will join the Quack Cave team, we review their social media history along with references from professors and peers.

When it comes to training the student workers, we go over general guidelines in a group meeting prior to the start of the school year and then ask our more experienced students to mentor the rookies. The Quack Cave's physical location within the Athletic Communications offices is also very conducive for handling any inquiries or issues that arise.

The students have proven to be ardent ambassadors for their school, and as digital natives they are able to operate in the social media space at an extremely efficient and creative level. The work has also been a boon for the students themselves, as it gives them experience that opens up job opportunities. The Quack Cave has already produced several alumni who now have professional careers with a focus in social media. Perhaps most rewarding, our former Cavers regularly share content with the Quack Cave from afar.

Having students operate the Cave allows time for department staff members, including myself, to seek out and develop new initiatives. Recently, with the help of Postano, we began displaying custom social media content feeds on video boards at our arena and baseball stadium to encourage real-time engagement and interaction from fans. This is hardly a new concept, but connectivity issues and an inability to display the content in the way we envisioned had been holding us back.

Another new experiment entails posting native video on Facebook to try out the site's new auto-play feature. The results have been extraordinary. A 50-second video of our men's basketball team reacting to their selection to the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship tournament nearly tripled the reach of our previous highest post on that team's page. The takeaway? Don't be afraid to use traditional social media platforms in new ways.

Next up on our social media plate is setting up and utilizing an official Oregon Snapchat account. I have no idea how this is going to play out, but whatever the results, it's guaranteed to be an interesting endeavor.

A year from now, there may be yet another answer I'll need to provide when posed the question, "What do you do?" But one part of the description that isn't going to change is that, every day, it's a fascinating and fun venture.

Developing Leaders

By Dr. Jamie Williams

Jamie Williams, EdD, is Associate Athletic Director for Leadership, Student-Athlete Recruitment, and Diversity Initiatives at the University of Nebraska. He serves on the NCAA Division I Committee on Academic Performance and is the former Director of Athletics at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Defining and obtaining leadership is a recurring theme in most every field, from business to politics to education to athletics. Leadership is an action, yet also the nebulous and amorphous ability of a supervisor to serve, direct, and inspire various groups within unique environments.

Specifically in athletics, leadership is symbiotic with the ability to influence. It transcends mere organizational processes and extends past the domain of senior staff. It can and should be available to those, including student-athletes, who seek tools beyond basic management ability.

Here at the University of Nebraska athletic department, leadership is intertwined with enhancing diversity. The charter of intercollegiate athletic programs is to develop student-athletes, a group of unique individuals in many aspects. One way we can do this is by creating a culture of leadership by promoting a culture of diversity.

Achieving this requires both management and leadership--policies and vision--which are complementary, but different. Management entails planning acumen, while leadership calls for calculated risk-taking. Our management skills must be tapped to create systems that support diversity. Our leadership skills must be used to constantly communicate a universal definition of inclusion and nurture the collective intellectual capital of a program.

In my role as Associate Athletic Director for Leadership and Diversity Initiatives at Nebraska, I am charged with planting the seeds of leadership and nurturing diversity across the enterprise. Previously, I served as Director of Athletics at Academy of Art University in San Francisco (ArtU) for six years, where we created a fully functional NCAA Division II athletic department at an institution previously void of athletics in its 80-year history and located in one of the nation's most diverse cities. Embracing uniqueness and commonality became crucial for success.

Former Nebraska Director of Athletics Dr. Tom Osborne took note of ArtU's inception and growth via leadership, diversity, and inclusion. Feeling Nebraska could boost its efforts in these areas, he invited me to join his senior management team to be responsible for facilitating all leadership programming, strategic planning, and diversity initiatives. The role has extended to leading our student-athlete recruitment and experience effort, which focuses to identify, connect, and retain student-athletes to the Huskers standard.

The word "diversity" is often the elephant in the room. Many are shy to openly discuss it, and few can articulate its value and purpose. I like to think of it as the aggregate of our uniqueness, a kaleidoscope of potentiality. A lack of diversity limits the creativity and growth of human systems.

Part of the mission of academia is to integrate the multiplicity of human experience and cognitive insights. This is where athletics plays a crucial role in education. Most student-athlete populations are more diverse than the general student body. Student-athletes are developed and challenged as leaders on a daily basis through coaching and competition. Consequently, athletes have an opportunity, and possibly a responsibility, to be the front-runners in regard to campus diversity realization and awareness. Their ability to influence others is often underestimated.

A leadership and diversity initiative we are currently implementing at Nebraska involves the creation of a recognized organization of select junior and senior student-athletes. The goal is to put leadership development and diversity training into their hands, recognizing our student-athletes as primary agents of change.

This group is not composed of typical team leaders. Instead, most group members have personal scar tissue and many are first-generation college students. But they also have the confidence to tackle tough issues and possess the innate ability to connect cross-culturally. All sports are represented and the inclusive image (white, black, male, female, international, LGBTQ, inner-city, suburban, small town, and so on) is what makes the group distinctive.

The mission of these student leaders is to serve as mentors to younger student-athletes and form a bridge to other student groups on campus. Members will be available to provide recruits and their parents with first-hand insight on student-athlete life, especially in regard to uncomfortable questions such as: What if I get homesick? Are there black barbers in town? Where can I find the food of my home country? Will I have gay teammates? Incoming Nebraska student-athletes will be assigned a mentor from this unit to help maneuver through classic college coming-of-age issues, such as drugs, alcohol, missed class, and dating.

Our student-athlete leaders will connect with the general student body by inviting various groups to meetings and then attending theirs. The goal is to minimize the fragmentation between the two cultures of academics and athletics by embracing the commonality of "student."

To start, these student-athletes are learning leadership skills, self-identity, and culture integration. We are also introducing them to concepts and asking them to process their individual and collective journeys. We have monthly group meetings in which senior staff and coaches moderate discussions, and then we get out of the way to foster a true think tank of student-athletes. The group mantra is to "agree to disagree with respect."

Topics of discussion at the meetings relate to relevant issues in the lives of student-athletes, either personally or nationally. We are delving into matters that range from improper sexual advances to the NFL considering a ban on the N-word.

The hope is that group members will take what they learn and share it across the student-athlete population, especially in regard to our freshmen and sophomores. No one can police or influence our young people better than their peers.

The challenges our student-athletes face will continue to be complex and constant. However, all students prosper if they are culturally stable, socially aware, and individually balanced. We have created an opportunity for our student-athletes to strengthen their own well-being through peer-based leadership development and diversity training. The power of cultural enhancement resides in their hands.

Connecting with Alumni Athletes

By Beth Hunter

Beth Hunter was recently appointed Associate Athletics Director at the University of Notre Dame. She formerly served as Executive Director of the Monogram Club, and in that capacity, managed student-athlete alumni relations for the university. She has been a member of the Notre Dame athletics department staff since 2001 and oversees the men's soccer program. She can be reached at: (574) 631-5450.

At most NCAA Division I athletic programs, there is a lot of effort put into alumni outreach. We all want our graduates to return to campus for athletic contests, cheer loudly for their alma mater, stay engaged, and give back. We organize events and communicate through as many avenues as possible to attract alumni of different ages and interests.

But nationally, one group we do not always reach out to as effectively as we should is our student-athlete alumni. They are sometimes lumped with other alumni, and they are not always recognized for the special role they played while on campus as student-athletes.

Here at the University of Notre Dame, I was provided the opportunity a few years ago to better address the needs of our student-athlete alumni. Serving as Executive Director of our Monogram Club, I was also given the title of Assistant Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Alumni Relations. One goal was to engage and connect with Monogram winners who are not active members of the Monogram Club, encouraging them to join.

The Monogram Club is Notre Dame's association of letterwinners. It includes more than 7,500 former student-athletes, managers, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, and video technicians who have earned the university's varsity athletic insignia, known as the Notre Dame Monogram.

Approximately 95 percent of our student-athlete alumni are Monogram winners. Of this group, slightly more than half are active, dues-paying club members. Annual dues, which include access to a football ticket application, are $300, and reduced to $150 for those who graduated more than 50 years ago or within the past 10 years. The Club also provides a $75 option for those not interested in football tickets but still wish to give back to Notre Dame, participate in Club events, and take advantage of the other benefits associated with membership.

During home football games, all dues-paying members and guests are invited to a reception in the Monogram Room three hours before kickoff, where they enjoy a tailgate-style lunch. On occasion, we host special reunions, such as this past fall, when the 1973 and 1988 football teams celebrated national championship anniversaries. The coaches of those teams, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz, joined their former players and offered keynote remarks at Friday evening dinners.

Football, of course, is not the only sport that brings student-athlete alumni together. In January, the Monogram Club hosted a reception in conjunction with former men's basketball coach Digger Phelps' induction into the Ring of Honor, Notre Dame basketball's highest recognition. Players from his 20-year coaching tenure made the trip to campus to celebrate his accomplishments.

Within the last several years, the Monogram Club has made an effort to connect with Monogram winners who do not have a chance to return to campus often through regional events. In 2013, the Club traveled to Dayton for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, New Orleans for the Women's Final Four, and Arlington for the football team's Shamrock Series game at AT&T Stadium. Earlier this year, Club staff members visited North Carolina, connecting with Monogram winners through a series of small events as seven Irish teams competed in the state over six days.

On a simpler level, the emergence of social media has made it easier to engage members throughout the year. In addition to a blog and monthly e-newsletter, our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram accounts provide efficient platforms for sharing quick updates about Notre Dame athletics and our members' endeavors and accomplishments.

Perhaps one of the most impactful ways the Monogram Club seeks to connect past and present is through collaboration with the Student Welfare and Development office on campus. For example, its career mentoring program provides Monogram winners a platform for giving back and helping current student-athletes as they prepare for life after college. In February, student-athletes interested in a career in sports media connected with Eamon McAnaney, Kate Markgraf, and Mike Golic, three Notre Dame Monogram winners who have had accomplished broadcasting careers, for a virtual conversation in a Google Hangout.

While our current student-athletes balance the rigors of academic coursework with their relentless pursuit of conference titles and national championships, every opportunity to link them with Monogram winners of past generations strengthens the sense of family that resonates deeply within the Notre Dame community. As the Monogram Club prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016, we are confident that alumni over the next 100 years will share the same affection for their alma mater as our members do today.

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