The intensity of March Madness stretches far beyond the players, coaches, and athletic administration. In recent years, a new group that has emerged under the tournament’s bright lights: digital and social media departments of tournament teams are now performing on the big stage.

In an industry where innovation takes days, not years, these digital media teams are counted on to provide their audiences with the best possible content at the most opportune time. What started as text-only play-by-play has evolved into a visually engaging maze of custom images, video, GIFs, and impactful reactions. The best social media teams must be both expertly prepared and able to react on the fly.

The beauty of this exploding industry is that there is no black and white; no right or wrong. The teams that win, however, do tend to share a few common characteristics: they provide unmatched access, grasp emotion, and embrace interaction between the program and its fan base.

SOCIAL MEDIA MADNESS

We set out to find the tournament teams that stood out on social media. We looked at activity on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, from conference tournaments through Selection Sunday, to select the eight teams that best fit the following criteria:

Great Content Should:

– Include high-quality media
– Provide unmatched access into the team or program
– Capture big moments
– Share and evoke emotion

Additional Considerations:

– Are current or former athletes participating or showcased in the content?
– Is the content unique or unexpected?
– Does the content actively engage with the team’s fans?

social media march madness

Following the tournament’s first and second round games this weekend, we will evaluate the social media match-ups, and determine which teams will advance to the opendorse Final Four. Of course, all of our judgement is subjective. Each of these teams have an excellent presence and have earned the right to be listed among the nation’s best.

Kansas

Twitter | 150K Followers
Instagram | 38.6K Followers
Facebook | 362.6K Fans

Kansas is a blue-blood program and they’re not afraid to let you know it. It’s common to see graphics and GIFs of banners, trophies, and All-American shoutouts plastered across their social media feeds. Beyond the program’s on-court success, the digital team has created a powerful brand on its social channels. Instagram is populated with in-game action shots, while Twitter showcases their patented “Rock Chalk Video” in addition to branded GIFs and images that capture the big moments.

Xavier

Twitter | 13.1K
Instagram | 7K

While Xavier basketball may not have the followers or notoriety of the blue bloods, it does have a phenomenal social media strategy. The accounts have gone all in on March Madness, adopting #LetsMarch as its go-to hashtag and creating unique infographics, video, and images to support its athletes. Xavier has also created a separate Twitter account with the primary purpose of sharing play-play, allowing the main account to focus on more visual, engaging content. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier’s social team has earned buy-in from influential stakeholders— athletes and coaches— who have shared some of the social team’s best content, amplifying it to an even larger audience.

North Carolina

Twitter | 296K Followers
Instagram | 120K Followers
Facebook | 1.13M Fans

The UNC social accounts expertly show the world what it’s like to be a Tar Heel. While the UNC Instagram provides all-access insight into the daily grind of travel, meetings, and shoot-arounds. Meanwhile, the Facebook and Twitter accounts act as a spotlight for the program as a whole, sharing media that is expertly branded or captured in real-time. Like several of our contenders, UNC provides fans direct access to the players via Twitter Q&As. One of the most impressive executions that we found was Carolina’s unveiling of Brice Johnson’s All-American jersey:

Indiana

Twitter | 104K Followers
Instagram | 46.5K Followers
Facebook | 293K Fans

Indiana offers a very player-focused approach, sharing highlights, conducting Twitter video Q&As, and providing locker room access to individual players. When the accounts stray from the players, they share fan-inspiring GIFs and graphics, clips from news conferences, and in-game highlights. From the looks of it, the Hoosiers are ready for the Big Dance.

Kentucky

Twitter | 273K Followers
Instagram | 136K Followers
Facebook | 480K Fans

Basketball fans know that Kentucky hoops is in the business of luring the top high school talent to join its program each year. The team’s social media content leading up to the tournament’s first round appears to be a direct extension of that effort. Take one look into UK’s accounts and you’ll find net-cutting montages, an inspiring message from Anthony Davis, and shoutouts to the success of active players. With Kentucky, the message is clear: Come to UK, win championships, and make it to the next level.

Notre Dame

Twitter | 120K Followers
Instagram | 20.2K Followers
Facebook | 21.1K Fans

Notre Dame makes clear that the Fighting Irish are family. Their accounts share team-focused content, emphasizing an enhanced sense of togetherness. The family matters don’t stop with active players. Former players are frequently retweeted when showing their support for the Irish or thriving in the NBA. Perhaps the most unique aspect of Notre Dame’s social presence is the touting of the school’s relationship with Under Armour. Pictures of the brand’s player gear is frequently tweeted via the Notre Dame account, perhaps to offer recruits a chance to see the benefits of signing in South Bend.

Duke

Twitter | 188K Followers
Instagram | 67.5K Followers
Facebook | 426K Fans

Duke’s social media accounts make excellent use of branded video and graphics, providing fans a real-time, in-the-moment experience. From access in the huddle, to personal player interviews, Duke’s social media activity is much like the program’s history: great.

Maryland

Twitter | 48K Followers
Instagram | 36.3K Followers
Facebook | 51.8K Fans

Maryland’s social media team doesn’t take itself too seriously, and we like it that way. They project a fun, entertaining personality through a liberal use of emojis and unique imagery. Some teams are so serious on social that they miss one of their audiences most prevalent emotions: humor. The Terrapins embrace it and excel in creating fun-loving content. Maryland’s tweet upon learning of their match-up with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits perfectly embodies the team’s unique, fun-loving nature.