When Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III stepped up to claim his Heisman trophy last month, it capped an improbable journey from Waco, Texas, to New York, New York.
While Griffin took many by surprise, a small cadre from Baylor’s sports information staff had planned for this possibility. Almost a year ago, they began brainstorming the best way to promote RG3, as he is called. “We knew we had to do something,” said Brad Sheffield, Baylor athletics’ coordinator of new media. “We decided to do something cost effective. The best thing about social media is that can be free.”
So, they mapped what would be a season-long new media campaign to promote Griffin – as long as Griffin and his football team had a great season.
Looking back at Baylor’s social media campaign for Griffin provides some excellent insights into how to run a new media campaign.
Plan ahead: Sheffield and his team met early and often and formed a strategy that would build throughout the year. The team decided to launch a website dedicated to RG3, securing the URL in January and beginning to design the site in May. But they had to rewrite their contract with CBS Interactive, which manages their athletic site, to include an additional site.
Understand the commitment: While social media can be free, the time commitment is an investment. Sheffield and his co-workers understood this and were willing to take on the additional work. While CBS Interactive designed the site, Baylor’s staff had to come up with the content and update the site.
The website and Twitter account were formally launched in August, the week before the season opener against TCU.
Have a content plan: The RG3 website and Twitter account became a destination for all things Griffin. They also came up with creative ways to engage their fans. One example: On Twitter, Baylor asked fans to fill in the blank: Chuck Norris fears Robert Griffin III because _________________.
Baylor – and Griffin – got off to a fast start, winning its first three games and averaging more than 50 points a game on offense. “It was a perfect storm, how things started,” Sheffield said.
Pace yourself: After the third week, the Baylor team launched a Griffin for Heisman Facebook page. “We thought it was important to have different levels and ramp it up, depending on how he did throughout the year,” Sheffield said.
One of the smart things the Baylor staff did was to come up with quick-hit and fast-paced video posts that were quick to consume and easy to share. The segments, called RG3 Moments, perfectly captured the emotions of the Bears’ wild ride. The best one, dubbed “The Game Winner,” is nothing more than one play, Griffin’s last-minute pass to beat long-time nemesis Oklahoma. But the editing, and starting it in slow motion, made it a must-see for Baylor fans and, more importantly, a must-share.
Another cool feature was the 30 with the ThIIIrd, 30-second interviews conducted by another Baylor football player and Griffin. They got so popular they evolved into more than 30 seconds, but the quick-hit approach remained. “It really allowed his personality to come through,” Sheffield said.
After its lightning-fast start, Baylor stumbled, losing three of its next four. To keep the fan interest alive, Baylor launched another new initiative, Share to Win. Baylor posted a photo or video each day during the week, asked fans to share it on their Facebook page and then selected a winner each Friday who received a football autographed by RG3.
An added smart touch: the Friday winner was picked by Griffin and fans were able to watch the video of Griffin pulling the name out of a helmet each week.
After the midseason slump, Griffin caught fire and Baylor was off to the races.
He capped that run with that victory for the ages against Oklahoma, where RG3 passed for 479 yards – including the game-winning pass with eight seconds left in the game – as Baylor beat OU for the first time in 21 tries.
Get creative: After that game, Griffin’s Heisman stock took off and interest in the quarterback also skyrocketed. Baylor new media staff was ready and came up with its most innovative social media idea of the year: #JointheThird.
The “Join the Third” campaign urged Facebook fans to add the Third “III” to their name on their Facebook page. “We figured people would ask their friends why they did it and it would start a social conversation about RG3,” Sheffield said. “The goal was to draw the fan and have them become part of all this.”
On Twitter, they promoted the Facebook campaign by using the hashtag #jointhethird.
To try and gauge success, they posted a status update on their Facebook pages asking fans to “like” that status update if they had changed their name. More than 3,000 people did.
Don’t stop: When Griffin won the Heisman, Baylor social media kept the momentum going by coming up with a couple of more ideas to provide exclusive content and keep the fans involved. One excellent feature they did was a behind-the-scenes video at how the trophy itself travelled from New York to Waco.
To get their fans involved, Baylor asked fans to submit a photo of themselves doing their best Heisman pose via Twitter (#RG3pose) or Crowd Cameo. The staff posted some of the best to the RG3 for Heisman Facebook account and then ran photos on video board at the men’s basketball game that honored Griffin for winning the Heisman.
Sheffield said the entire experience validated his belief in the potential of social media. “It’s a billboard that is not costing us anything at all,” he said. “And it’s a way to build the brand.”
Ronnie Ramos is the managing director of digital communications for the NCAA. Before that, he spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, splitting his time between news and sports at five newspapers, including The Miami Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter.