I’ve long thought social media plans overrated. Nobody opened a Twitter account thinking, “Hey! This is a great way for me to receive meticulously-voiced messaging from brands!” A good social manager keeps a finger on the pulse of relevant conversations and finds out how to add to the conversation in a meaningful way.

In a poetic justice kind of way, UMBC’s history-making win on Friday night was payback for the school’s previous postseason spotlight moment: the 2014 College Cup. Until the upset of Virginia, UMBC has made its loudest noise in men’s soccer. Under 27-year head coach Pete Caringi, UMBC has won 283 soccer matches and advanced to the national semifinal in 2014. There, it lost 1-0 to…Virginia.

I knew about UMBC soccer, and thought about it the day after I watched the men’s basketball team (and Twitter account) make history. Let’s look at @UMBCathletics and its voice during its biggest moments and see why it worked for them.

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From going strong at Seth Davis to dunking on randoms about their beards, Zach Seidel moved the needle almost as much as the team did. And that’s the key: Zach found a perfect storm and made it rain.

Let’s look at the UMBC Twitter voice during the 3 largest moments in its history:

  • the 2014 Men’s College Cup
  • the 2018 America East Basketball Championship
  • the first round win over Virginia

2014 College Cup

After going 16-1-3 during the 2013 season, UMBC soccer rolled all the way to the College Cup in 2014. Wake Forest, “University of Maryland, College Park,” Louisville and Creighton all lost to the small school just off I-695 in Baltimore. Let’s look at what @UMBCathletics said about it:

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Pretty standard. The 12/9/14 tweet sharing the Washington Post article, while executed poorly visually, had some sass on it and did 9 RTs and 14 likes. Below is a series of tweets UMBC ran with leading up to the College Cup, a goalkeeper campaign that started strong then had mixed results.

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2018 America East Championship

UMBC last made the tournament in 2008, when Twitter was in its infancy. So winning its league tournament 2 weeks ago on an epic shot against the league favorite was its big profile moment until beating UVa. You’ll see below that almost 4 years later the current voice is what we all now know.

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UMBC ATHLETICS TWEETS – MARCH 8 THRU MARCH 12

Zach’s pretty funny. And what’s clear is UMBC has an engaged audience and they support the heck out of their teams. Note in the first tweet (March 10) he noticed his audience grew and gave his school a branding PSA to its newbies.

16 Over 1

We’ve already seen all of this. It speaks for itself.

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And it goes on and on. The media storm UMBC’s complete operation deserved followed:

USA TODAY  |  NY TIMES  |  WASHINGTON POST  |  SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 

Friday’s outburst is more or less on point with what he’s done. Of course, it was on a once-in-a-lifetime stage. Now that we’ve seen the data, here are a few takeaways:

  1. Know When To Hold ‘Em…
    As mentioned before, Zach saw the opportunity and amped up his normal tone in the moment. There simply aren’t a lot of account tweeters in college sports who lean into it like that. So, see the stage and understand what’s at stake. Nobody expected UMBC to win, and they were in it. They saw the conversation as disrespectful, and took to snark. When your underdog team wins, it pays off.
  2. Media Loves Snark
    Breaking: the media loves plucky underdogs who dunk on people with snark on Twitter. Once the media became interested in the game and UMBC’s tweets were being shared, they amplified him to a completely higher level. That’s how you turn 400 RTs into 40,000 RTs. It also helped to have the comedic element of repetition (Seth Davis’s sharpie shtick) from a well-known TV personality to give him a platform. Again, the result of the game made this work. If UVa wakes up, Seth Davis becomes chancellor of UMBC on social media.
  3. Admin: Stay Off The Tracks
    What stands out to me about UMBC’s Twitter voice shown above is it appears the admin stay off the tracks when the Zach train is coming through. Simply, a lot of schools don’t have the nerve to allow for that. There are many who don’t understand social news cycles or leveraging moments in that space. And frankly, at smaller schools there’s a larger margin for error there. Kudos to UMBC’s leadership for enabling Zach to mix it up on Twitter in a way that doubled its national exposure.
  4. Hug Afterward
    After the carnage, Zach made up with Seth Davis. It’s important to remember it’s Twitter and sports, not international warfare. Seth Davis leveraged it and reacted perfectly. No hard feelings. It couldn’t have gone better (via Washington Post):

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The bottom line is, if UVa had woken up after halftime this would’ve been a blip. Zach still would be funny and would still be doing a good service for UMBC and its audiences. Win or lose, the game results and news drive digital. Period. And Zach kept that idea on the backburner, while still going strong to the rim.

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Regardless,  Zach Seidel or UMBC didn’t see what was coming in the near future when this tweet went live:

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He’s Got Jokes

Fitting, considering the topic:

 

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