By Emily Rhodes
Throughout the Columbia community, Gamecock fans gather in dorms, houses and bars. Students have spent the day eating, drinking, putting on their jerseys and chanting “U-S-C-Goooo Cocks” all day. When 6 p.m. hits the clock screen, everything goes silent. One girl refreshes her twitter feed and with the sound of a bubbly ping, her phone screen reads “It’s game time.”
Life as a Gamecock in the month of March was one of the most exciting times in student history. Not only did both basketball teams qualify for the tournament, but the men’s team beat Duke and made it to the Final Four. The women’s team won the entire tournament to become national champions. After these recent victories, the University of South Carolina has been booming with a sense of school spirit like never before.
Facebook videos and tweets showed students running through Five Points or celebrating in the Thomas Cooper Library fountain.
“Social media has helped pull in many people to root for us, especially since we were viewed as the underdog in every game during the tournament,” says Jay Hill, a senior sports management major at USC.
C.J. Lake, the university’s first social media strategist, contributed significantly to the success of the social media campaign during March Madness. Luke has real talent and knowledge in her field. She’s a graduate of the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications and now has a year’s experience in the university’s social media department under her belt.
At only 25, Lake has already set the stage for a USC social media makeover and newfound online voice. Much of her success on social media was on Twitter, where Lake possessed a humorous online voice she dubs “trolling,” or cleverly provoking people on the internet.
“Lake has brought our platform from a typical boring university account and made it shine- to where people look at our pages more than they ever had before. Our channels are transformed into a haven for prospective students, current students, alumni, and anyone else that wants to know where our university is headed,” says Lauren Crank, a senior social media intern at USC.
“People” magazine took note of Lake’s social media success, in a tweet posted after USC defeated Duke. The tweet was in response to USA Today’s prediction of an easy path for Duke to win the winning the whole tournament. When South Carolina defeated Duke, Lake posted on the University of South Carolina account, “Oops” with an upside down emoji and a link to the USA Today post. This post generated over 2,000,000 organic impressions, 10,000 likes and 22,000 retweets.
When Lil Wayne, a rapper with almost 30 million followers, tweeted at USC to congratulate South Carolina on the win, Lake zapped him back with one of his own song lyrics expressing gratitude and appreciation of his support.
Last August, USC made a video on millennial slang words, featuring teachers giving their interpretation on what they think certain words mean. The video received tons of success, generating reposts, likes and comments as USC students noticed a friendly, familiar voice from the social media account. Since then, social media engagement with the university has nearly quadrupled, according to Lake.
Lake has worked hard to keep this brand voice active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Her main strategy is to keep up with current student lingo, and focus on feeding the “appetite for humor” she sees in her audience.
Words like “lit” or “mood,” complete with an emoji, illustrate a brand that goes far beyond the literal meaning of the words. Lake has learned to brand University of South Carolina students as a community that welcomes celebration, confidence and humor.
“It’s been really cool seeing our fans gather around and voice support for a team that wasn’t supposed to make it this far, and the women that were supposed to make it this far. A lot of times where people go to do that is social media, so helping mitigate and talk back to people has been a lot of fun,” Lake says in a video interview with The State.
Lake’s biggest success has come from using that exact method of conversing. By behaving mostly like a friendly fan, she attracts student, making it more likely that they will repost and interact with the university on social media. Even students who couldn’t be there for the tournament were made to feel like they were right there in the basketball arena.
With strategists like C.J. Lake and USC’s school spirit, social media is influencing students. Especially in retaining and reaching new students, it’s important to show off the school in the best light. Combining the athletic prowess USC showed in March with Lake’s 200,000 impressions on Twitter suggests there’s a strong possibility at an influx of excited prospective students.
Lake’s social media campaign during the tournament has given the university a new brand for itself. As shown in the last few twitter posts, it’s a school that laughs along with the super fan dressed in a chicken costume on Greene Street, runs along with the students sprinting straight to Five Points after a victory, and trolls Duke fans on Twitter.
Brooke Tatore, an advertising and visual communications student at the University of South Carolina, spends a lot of time working on building graphics for brands and raves about the university’s recent success online.
“Lake makes it look effortless on social media. Her strategy is incredible, but not too advertise-y. She informs us on what we need to know, but grows hype and excitement for the school at the same time. When reaching university students, that’s the end goal,” says Tatore.
The mixed use of media has contributed to Lake’s social media success. Whether on Facebook or Twitter, the posts are a mixed use of text, images, gifs, stats, videos and quotes. There’s always an emoji and hashtag to keep it modern, lighthearted and all connected.
“USC did a really great job sharing pictures, videos, and articles about both teams on Facebook. I constantly saw people sharing the school’s posts and even shared a few myself, which I rarely used to do,” says Sarah Casasnovas, a public relations student at the University of South Carolina.
Students who rarely post online, and especially rarely repost information from the school, were posting during the tournament. Pride from tournament victories led students to a newfound sense of school spirit online.
“Social media has become an inescapable driving force in today’s society. It gives users the power to communicate past the boundaries of reality and share unlimited amounts information,” says Casasnovas. “Lake has created that online relationship with students that combine the flow of information and the sass of a successful athletic program.”
As we can see from Lake’s success, followers want to feel connected, and want larger than life programs to still remain transparent and humane.