Commentary: USF Athletics’ social media presence needs more personality to thrive

USF Athletics has a serious problem — its social media presence.

If you can even call what USF Athletics does on Twitter a presence.

In the age where companies and brands gain easy publicity by sending out compelling tweets, USF falls flat on its face.

It seems that USF’s focus for its social media accounts, especially on Twitter, is simply to tweet out news and keep it largely at that, with very few exceptions. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is room for both news and personality.

Consider Cinderella-story University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) — the first ever men’s basketball No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The UMBC Athletics account — which only had 5,000 followers prior to the Tournament — exploded during the game, adding 100,000 followers.

Most importantly, UMBC managed to keep the followers after the spotlight died down by being entertaining. 

From calling out insulting tweets to simply retweeting pictures of people’s dogs that were tweeted at them — and there have been a lot of dogs — UMBC is doing everything right in the social media department. All the while, they still have been able to tweet out important news as it breaks.

How has the extra exposure helped UMBC?

From the end of the game Friday to Sunday morning, the UMBC Bookstore received about 3,500 online orders — almost as many as the total for the entire previous year, according to the Baltimore Sun.

That won’t be the case with USF.

When was the last time USF made a joke with somebody on Twitter? When was the last time a USF account properly interacted with another user?

You can’t ask the same questions about USF’s rival down the road.

After defeating Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl, UCF Athletic Director Danny White declared the Knights national champions, despite the Peach Bowl not being the national championship game. Quickly afterward, UCF’s social media followed suit — and things rapidly went viral from there.

Whether you agreed with UCF’s claim or thought it utterly ridiculous, people were talking about UCF on social media and UCF was talking right back to them. Throughout the entire process, UCF’s accounts were engaging users who agreed with the Knights’ claim or defending themselves from those who disagreed.

And it paid off. 

According to SocialBlade, a website that analyzes statistics on social media profiles, in January — during the height of UCF’s national championship claim — UCF Football added over 11,000 followers. For perspective, USF Football — despite being ranked most of the season and playing in what many nationally called the best game of the regular season against UCF on Black Friday — gained only around 16,000 followers from September until the end of 2017.

UCF’s main athletics account drastically dwarfs USF’s. UCF presently has almost 150,000 followers compared to USF’s 40,000 — which is nearly four times more.

That differential is what you would expect USF vs. UMBC to look like, at least before March. Not two schools that are in the same conference and have roughly the same notoriety nationally.

So, what’s different here from UCF? What’s different from UMBC, which now also has more followers than USF?

These accounts have personality. It feels like there is a real person behind the blue checkmark, not some faceless corporation. UCF and UMBC are actively engaging other users on Twitter, which is ultimately the entire reason brands should be on social media.

The only explanation that would make any sense for USF’s utter lack of a social media pulse is the desire to look professional. Which is odd, considering professional teams in this market have fairly engaging accounts.

On Tuesday, following an 11-4 loss to the New York Yankees, a tweet was directed at the Tampa Bay Rays telling them they “suck” and to “shut up and cancel (their) Twitter account.” 

USF wouldn’t touch a tweet like that with a 10-foot poll, but the Rays did.

“(B)ut then we wouldn’t get to hear from awesome fans like you,” the Rays responded.

All it took was 12 words to show the Rays have a pulse. It probably took fewer seconds than words to come up with that reply, too.

The people who run USF’s accounts are more than capable of being engaging on social media. If it was a personnel problem, one of the accounts surely would have shown personality by now.

Whether the directive to run these accounts with no flair comes from Athletics, University Communications and Marketing — which is the organization that runs, among other things — or even USF System President Judy Genshaft — something needs to change. 

USF has been completely left behind in the age of social media due to their lack of engagement.