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UW’s Hour discusses developing social media, educating student-athletes on responsible engagement

As social media becomes more critical to sports teams, leagues and conferences, some organizations have started hiring people to specifically handle social media functions.

To date, it seems as if each social media job is unique to that specific organization. In the first of an occasional series aimed at new media jobs in the sports world, we caught up with Daniel Hour.

Hour is the manager of new media & recruiting services at the University of Washington. Last week, Hour was at the NCAA national convention in Dallas, where he served on a panel discussing student-athletes and social media.

Talk about your position as it relates to social/new media.  How long have you held the position? When and why was the job created (to include social media)?

The new media position was created in 2009 but was updated to new media/recruiting in 2011 when I took over. My job is to oversee the University of Washington Athletic Department’s new media strategy. The driving theme behind that strategy is recruiting which means recruiting student-athletes and recruiting fans.

My boss and mentor OD Vincent, a Senior Associate Athletic Director at UW, created the position at a time that social media was not really used for business. I’m not sure how he knew social was going to be so important so early on but he did. OD just has an uncanny ability to make wise investments.

What experiences (or previous jobs) prepared you best for your current job?

I spent two years (2007-2009) as the Director of Ops/Assistant Coach for the UCLA men’s golf team (2008 NCAA Champions). That experience is the foundation of everything I base my work on because it gave me a clear understanding of what coaches actually want and actually need to succeed. It allows me to approach everything from a solution-based perspective because if there’s one thing that’s true about every coach – they ask you to do something today when they needed it yesterday.

It also provided me with the insight to what student-athletes actually care about and what they will or won’t listen to.

How do you manage student-athletes and social media?

We do a lot of “creative” education with our student-athletes because they are 18-22 year old kids that are going to make mistakes. It’s our job to educate and help them learn from their mistakes. Example: Instead of going in-depth into the department social media policy (three-pages full of text), we go through a packet of “peer failures in social media”. The peer aspect gives the student-athletes context that “Hey, this could happen to you even if you’re not a football player.” It also makes the presentation entertaining and easy to digest.

The three main themes in the presentation are:

  1. Think before you tweet.
  2. It’s a privilege to play for the UW, not a right.
  3. Is this how you want to make ESPN?

Restrictions on content are all dealt with on a team-by-team basis under the direction of the head coach. However, there is one thing I try to restrict or at least lecture sternly against: disclosing your location, especially if you’re alone. That’s actually another one of our creative education pieces because we’ve had one or two issues with fans taking their “fandom” too far.

One of your innovative approaches is to spotlight student-athletes’ social media accounts.  How did that start and how do you think it is going at this time?

The light bulb moment happened early in 2011 when I kept hearing about schools hiring third-party companies to give “Scared Straight” lectures on what not to do on social media. It reminded me of my time as a coach when we would have officials or administrators come into team meetings and tell you what not to do for an hour. Once that hour was over, we’d forget everything that was just said, go back to our daily lives and never see that person again. I’m not condoning that approach, but that was just reality. There was absolutely no incentive for the kid to listen.

That’s not what I wanted to happen at the UW. So we took the opposite approach and built a program around student-athletes we could trust and promote. We currently have 35 or so student-athletes in the program and are adding more every quarter. It’s worked great so far because not only are student-athletes coming up to me asking me how they can be a featured athlete, coaches are throwing out suggestions too because they realize how powerful the student-athlete voice is in recruiting.

Other than Facebook and Twitter, what other social media platforms do you think have promise for your program? Have you had any success with any of them?

The three others we’ve chosen to focus on are Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. We chose to go with these three because that’s where the majority of our fans were. There’s no point in joining a social network if critical mass is not there. There are only so many hours in a day! Also, each one of those networks serves a very different and distinct purpose so it’s easy for my team to determine what content goes where.

The network we’ve had the most “success” with (media-attention wise) would be our Pinterest page; it was featured in Mashable’s first article about sports and Pinterest in February 2012.

Another platform we’ve had tremendous success with is Tagboard. They’re more social network curator than actual social network. It’s a very aesthetically pleasing way of integrating Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all together based on hashtags. We’ve got 2 primary Tagboards  (here and here). I’m also very proud of the fact that we were the first to partner with them and now they are rocking and rolling with many Division I programs across the country like Miami and VCU.

How important is social media to recruiting? In what ways do you leverage social media in the recruiting process?

Social media is huge for recruiting. I can’t tell you all of our recruiting secrets but here are some questions that will at least get you thinking about why recruiting through social media is essential:

-       How do you communicate (or show off your campus, gear, city) with a kid you’re not allowed to directly communicate with (while staying NCAA compliant)?

-       And then when recruits are of-age and you’re able to communicate w/them, how do you reach them when they hate checking email?

-       And with a recruiting timeline that has kids in almost every sport committing before they can even take an official visit, how do you evaluate a kid’s off-court character?

-       And if none of those give you a hint, what do 14-17 year olds do all day on their smartphones when they should be paying attention in class? (Hint: it’s probably not checking the weather or stock quotes!).

You can follow Hour on Twitter at @dhourr.

Ronnie Ramos is the web director 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. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the NCAA. Follow him onTwitter.

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