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Bryant: Wrestling ranks No. 1 among college sports in the social media

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Updated: December 8, 2010

When asked about Cornell University’s growing presence on Facebook, head coach Rob Koll had a very simple message: “You either get on the bandwagon or you get left behind.”

Jason Bryant

While much is being written about the title hopes of the Big Red in this publication and many others, Koll’s staff is carving out quite a niche in wrestling’s social media realm, as are many other programs.

Currently, Iowa leads the way among “fans” of college wrestling programs on Facebook with over 10,000, but there hasn’t been an update on the page since March 2009. Cornell and other programs have been closing the gap, providing wrestling fans with unique content specific to their programs and fanbases.

It’ll only be a matter of time before someone other than Iowa is at the top of the Facebook ladder, unless there’s a push of content coming from Iowa City.

Peter Shankman, a marketing and networking guru who recently spoke in Colorado Springs earlier this year at the Olympic Public Relations Association gathering with other National Governing Bodies, explained they key to social media is engaging your fanbase and giving them something they can’t get anywhere else.

In my experience with the USA Wrestling Facebook page, which has blossomed from 6,500 fans a year ago to well over 73,000, I have one thing to add — make it easy for them to get information that is already “everywhere else.”

That is exactly what programs like Cornell, Maryland, Central Michigan, Oregon State and Nebraska-Omaha are doing via social media.

Wrestling fans have endless options when it comes to getting wrestling information nowadays. WIN Magazine started a Facebook page to better promote the publication with fans.

One of the most popular features of Cornell’s Facebook page has been the videos from their enigmatic and unofficial mascot, Redman. The figure clad in a white Cornell singlet, red bodysuit, headgear and white sunglasses has been the rage up in Ithaca and throughout the wrestling community. But for Koll, their Facebook presence is more than just Redman.

“It’s something we’ve made a part of our program probably as much or more than anything in the past 10 years,” said Koll. “It’s helpful in recruitment, alumni development and promotion.

“It’s Redman, it’s all those videos. It’s the video updates from me, season ticket videos, tug-of-war videos,” explained Koll. “We have over 6,000 fans, parents, recruits, alumni — you get to brand your school and program a certain way.”

Some schools are using Facebook as an extension from their Media Relations Departments, while others go more of the Cornell route, actively updating their own Facebook page as an add-on to their already stressful workload.

“It affects every part of our program except practices and matches,” said Koll. “Every aspect is positively affected by what we do.”

At the University of Michigan, the Media Relations staff handles all the team-specific Facebook pages. The coaches don’t have their hands on it.

Leah Howard has long been the contact in Ann Arbor for wrestling and handles the Wolverines’ page.

“I think all of us in the media have seen the dramatic change in our industry over the last several years and recognize the need to change what we’re doing accordingly,” said Howard. “At Michigan, we’ve really tried to be proactive in giving our teams a visible presence among all social media outlets, particularly Facebook.”

“We’re also able to reach a much broader audience than through traditional outlets, and it allows us to engage and interact with our audience in a way we’ve never been able to before,” said Howard.

The NCAA has also taken notice to the social media phenomenon, which isn’t exactly new. Facebook has been around since February of 2004. The Fan Page option has been around for 3-4 years.

Of the dozen or so NCAA sanctioned, sport-specific Facebook fan pages, NCAA Wrestling is the only one which has surpassed the 50,000 fan mark. Men’s basketball is second with approximately 42,000, followed by lacrosse (32,000) and men’s ice hockey (26,000).

A quick search of “wrestling” on Facebook through the “Pages” method will show roughly two dozen college wrestling programs with over 1,000 fans. The most surprising? The relatively new program at Concordia University in Nebraska, with 1,325,  is ahead of Illinois. Central Florida, an NCWA team in Orlando, has 1,096.

While Cornell has been one of the highlight programs with an enhanced Facebook presence, Koll admits he’s also trying to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak.

“Kerry McCoy is doing good things with the Maryland Facebook page,” said Koll. “Nothing is original, but you make it original by making it better. We have coaches who are skilled enough to make it better.

“The time we put into (Facebook) never takes away from our sole mission. This is on top of everything else. Coaches say they don’t have time, you don’t have time not to, if you want to be successful.”

Last week, I got a message from Mark DiSalvo of Central Michigan on Facebook encouraging me to “like” their page so they could reach 3,000 fans.

Looking back to 2004, when I was dead-set against joining Facebook, I didn’t think there was a need. A few months later, I caved and joined. Now, a big part of my job and our media presence at USA Wrestling is the Facebook and Twitter accounts, along with our own social network, USA Wrestling Nation.

What Koll, McCoy, Howard and countless others are doing is engaging their fanbases, something Shankman couldn’t stress enough when sitting in a meeting with dozens of media personnel from various NGBs.

Schools, clubs and even wrestling websites and magazines like WIN, TheMat.com, InterMat, and Flowrestling are giving their fans another way of finding wrestling content and news.

Is it duplication? In some ways, yes, but face it, you go to Facebook more than you go to any other wrestling site on the web, why not harvest that fanbase and draw them in even more than you would normally?

Wrestling seems to be doing it very well.

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