30
Mar
12

How I Helped the Providence College Friars Hockey Team

It’s been a while since I’ve made any new posts to my blog. Well, I’ve ben busy. Let me share what I’ve been doing.

Two years ago I had preliminary talks with Tim Army, then the men’s ice hockey coach for the Providence College Friars, about how I could bring my knowledge of new media to help the program at Providence. Whole it took some time to jump through the hurdles, I eventually got the chance to do consulting work for the Friars. Although it turned out to be Tim’s last year on the job – he’s now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche — I am forever grateful I got a chance to make an impact. And I know I made an impact because some of things I started have been picked by the new coaching staff and the media relations department.

Using the tools of new media – blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – is an essential thing in what Seth Godin calls our “sharing economy.” However, in order to share your story it needs to be packaged as interesting content. Yes, being interesting is important. Using your Facebook page to tell the world you had strawberries this morning for breakfast does not qualify as interesting.

Providence College (PC), while it has a huge brand name across the country, is actually a very small school. My first trip to the school was an eye-opener for me. The campus was about as big as Hamline University here in St. Paul. PC’s undergrad enrollment is only 4,000. Given the shrinking numbers of people working in newsrooms in both TV and newspapers, it’s critical for an athletic program to have a structured method to get their message out. New media is the great equalizer a program at Providence has to get their message out to recruits and fans. Recruits first, fans second. If you don’t have the players who can play – even of they are good students in the classroom – you won’t win, fans won’t show up and coaches will get fired. That’s the way it goes.

Here are some things that the Friars have done that have them headed in the right direction. I’ll also discuss some things I think they need to do.

Friar Hockey Blog and Twitter

Having a blog is the most foundational thing you can do in new media. Why? The algorithm Google uses to search the web love blogs. So, I got one started last year and they picked it up. Mine was heavy on opening visuals, as you might imagine. All my copy lead with a photo or photos at the top or an embedded video. I believe strongly in using a compelling photo or video in everything. There’s still a lot of truth in the Chinese proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words.” See mine here.

You can check out the official Friar Hockey Blog on the PC hockey web site HERE. Way to go, Friars.

With the proliferation of smart phones, using Twitter is another absolute essential. I got it started last year, a separate Twitter account just for the men’s hockey team. And I started tweeting from the penalty box when the Friars played at Merrimack. (I was also shooting photos from there, too, which was a challenge.) This season the program fixed up the Twitter page and delved into using it. Come game night there was nothing better this year than getting game updates on my phone. I loved knowing how the Friars were doing and not having to search for any information. There’s still a ways to go, different ways to use Twitter to get the message out about the Friars. But they are off to a great start.

What PC Needs to do Next

1. To get to the next level, PC needs to organize like a newspaper or TV station does. Ever heard of an editorial calendar? From a PR standpoint, you use it to plot important dates on the calendar you want to get your message out. Of course, you have to decide what your message is and by what method you are going to use. Putting out content on a consistent basis is crucial to developing an audience.

2. Use video and audio way more. Technology has made it possible to create and post high quality video quickly. PC isn’t doing much in this realm, and that’s where they must go. Words on a computer screen are OK, but the most powerful communications media are moving pictures with REALLY good sound. In fact, if I had to pick one or the other, I’d take great audio first.

Here’s perfect example of something very well done! It’s the audio podcasts from the U.S. Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede, right from their home page. They keep you updated on the current team as well as their alumni. Simple stuff, but it’s excellent.

Nate Leaman was hired away from Union College to be the new head coach at Providencen last year. Coach Leaman has worked for some great coaches, Shawn Walsh at Maine and Mark Mazzoleni at Harvard. And he worked with one of the legendary college hockey recruiters in Grant Standbrook while at Maine, too. I’d like to hear Coach Leaman talk about what he values, his formative experiences, what he wants in a player, etc. At the very least, he should do his own version of a weekly coaches show. Something short in audio or video format that’s just a few minutes long.

And if PC wants to get really, ambitious they can do a version of Friars 24/7. Tim was very much in support of showing what playing at PC was about and his style as a coach. When you have a coach on board like that, you have the that magic word — access! And that’s what wins awards. Not to mention, it’s the sort of thing that builds on audience. And that’s what we were after. This is the sort of thing that’s worthwhile for a school to do internally because they can control the message. Moreover, they can deliver something an audience can’t get from the local TV or newspaper. The North Dakota fighting Sioux did something similiar this year and got very position comments from it. While I won’t claim mine was anywhere near the HBO version, you can check out my version of Friars 24/7 on YouTube. Just click here.

One opinionated suggestion: Skip doing the media guide in PDF format or any other format. Use the company and their software the Wisconsin Badgers use, ProForma, to do online-style magazine. Why use this? In a world of smart phones and iPads, this format fits perfectly. It allows you to use video, use big pictures and share content. It won’t be long before a major athletic department like Wisconsin will abandon at least partially if not totally printing game day programs for football. Why print thousands of programs that run the risk of going unsold when folks are brining their iPads to games anyway? Customers are already using their smart phones will shopping at Tartget and Best Buy. My bet is it’s only a matter of time the proliferation of the hand-held device leads to this. This is just a way cooler way to do things.  You can catch a sample of Wiscon’s magazine, Varsity Online, here:

3. Use Facebook to connect with recruits and fans.

Why an emphasis on Facebook? Virtually every athlete you’ll recruit from now on is on Facebook. And if you have compelling content, you can be feeding them information all the time about your program. It’s that simple.

Plus, Coach Leaman has shown a genuine interest in reaching out to the student body at PC through his Mission 3000 program. I’d best most of the students who could fill Schneider Arena are on Facebook. Moreover, coaches should be monitoring potential recruits social media use. Many colleges are using software for student recruitment alone, making it possible for admissions offices to capitalize of the role of social media. What students say on social networks offers the most complete picture of their interests, concerns and goals. Knowing that enables you to engage them in ways that are the most relevant to them.

There you have it. There’s a lot more to be done, but I that’s all the free stuff I’ll give out for now. Thanks, again, Providence for letting me be part of your athletic program.

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