Why your mascot should be on social media: 3 keys to make your biggest fan a #HESM force

November 28th, 2016 Karine Joly 10 Comments

Is your university mascot on social media yet?

Bill ZimmermanBill Zimmerman, social media manager, a College of Communications lecturer at Penn State University AND the voice of his school mascot – the Nittany Lion – on Twitter, is the living proof that it makes a lot of sense for universities.

In this post he wrote for this blog, Bill shares some great tips to help you make your school’s mascot the social media darling of your community.

Meet Penn State’s Most Popular Lion!

By CyberXRef - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31454858It’s an unprecedented time for the Nittany Lion’s digital paw print.

nittany lion mascotRoaring proudly with a nomination into the Mascot Hall of Fame and after an upset football win that delivered an explosion of social activity — plus a climb up the rankings in the following weeks — it’s good to be the Lion.

A symbol of Penn State since 1904, the Nittany Lion is immortalized in a sculpture that’s dubbed a “shrine”, celebrated by the marching band in song and positioned prominently in the university Twittersphere.

The Nittany Lion is the head cheerleader, celebrating Penn State’s athletics as well as the rich student life experience. From the basketball court to the football field to the student union to the library, the Lion is highly visible and always game for students’ selfies, a high five and one-arm push-ups to celebrate achievement.

Simply put, the mascot is a one-lion content generating machine.

That productivity, along with abundant good vibes, is why a mascot should be working for your school on social media. Your mascot likely has a cool origin story, popularity that crosses demographics and boundless school spirit.

What follows are three keys for making your furry ambassador a social media powerhouse.

I’ve focused on Twitter, but these best practices can apply to multiple platforms.

#1 Know your tone

A mascot account can be a refreshing break from the norm, a place for a little frivolity, some goofiness and a bit of experimentation.

A tireless source for school pride and good cheer, mascots tend to break down the defenses of even the most too-cool-for-school student. On social media, a mascot can be a little braggy, tap into various social media holidays and trending topics, and make use of emojis and GIFs. Your Big Mascot on Campus, is everywhere and up for anything.

Mascots, especially those with a long history, also benefit from timelessness. Generations of students have a place in their hearts for the mascot, even as the costume and the human inside the suit have changed. A mascot can participate in the latest dance craze as well as fondly reflect on a football national championship in the ’80s. A mascot can incorporate current slang as well as make pop culture references from a time before current students were born.

Of course, balance is the key. Your audience will grow tired if your mascot relies too much on others’ content (GIFs) without offering something fresh, opportunistically hops onto anything that’s trending and tries way too hard to be hip. That will most definitely not be “on fleek.”

#2 Build a content library

In addition to feeding off cheers, high fives and hugs, your mascot needs content to power a social media presence. Scour your archives for images that can be repurposed. Our library contains a treasure trove of lion mascot photographs going back to the 1920s, enough black-and-white shots for more than a year of Throwback Thursdays.

Also set up photo shoots with your mascots.

Get plenty of poses against a plain background to give you plenty of options for inserting your mascot in any graphics. Aim for the type of uncluttered shots that would work well in profile pics and could easily be fed into various filters and apps to be given new twists. The following image was created using the HOPE Poster Photo Filter:

It’s also a good idea to have your mascot hold a piece of white poster board on which you can later add hashtags or event information, etc. Next, take your mascot out for a diverse collection of action shots. Get the mascot hugging students, posing at campus landmarks, reading a book at the library — aim to give a glimpse of student life, academics and athletics, to show everything that makes your school special through the mascot’s eyes.

Also, look to the person behind the suit as well as any handlers who can supply you with images and videos. A direct pipeline to our Lion has resulted in pics from Wrigley Field, the beach, a nearby mountaintop and other locales without us having to leave the office. This grassroots content gives the account more life and authenticity than what you could get from just sharing a bunch of staged “candids.”

As selfie magnets, mascots are also well suited for user-generated content. A mascot sighting feels special, it’s a moment to be documented and preserved. Ask your audience to share their best photos with your mascot, to present artistic depictions of the mascot or to show off their favorite shirt or memorabilia depicting the mascot. As your account becomes established, more people will begin sharing content without being prompted.

#3 Find your megaphones

All that goodwill built up by your mascot has likely created an army of supporters ready to repay each selfie and hug as well as associate themselves with such a fun social presence.

What posting schedule, what partnerships and what influencers can help amplify your message?

The mascot is likely a fixture at significant campus events anyway, so make sure there are posts at those moments when fans are hyped about the school and closely watching their feeds. So post in the aftermath of an upset football win, during the first week of classes, at commencement, after a nomination into the Mascot Hall of Fame — and make good use of any hashtags associated with the events to make engagement soar.

I posted this tweet moments after Penn State’s upset win over No. 2 ranked Ohio State.

As you establish your mascot account as a school spirit-packed pick-me-up, it’s likely other offices will want to tap into that power. Athletics is an obvious choice, but accounts associated with academic colleges, student affairs, fundraising, government affairs, etc. are looking for content, especially fun stuff that rallies support for the school.

Tag these accounts when appropriate, and consider multiple means to enlist their support in promoting the account and any campaigns such as direct messages, emails, Slack and Yammer groups, etc.

There are also super fans, alumni and other influencers ready to champion your mascot. Make it easy for them to spread the word by sharing clear directives, sample posts, images and relevant hashtags/URLs via the aforementioned channels. Make them feel special for being among the chosen few to give their mascot a lift.

Lastly, pledge to the mascot “furternity.” Follow and engage with other mascot accounts — start with the peers in your athletic conference then consider some of the iconic professional and brand mascots. Engage in some friendly competition by calling out a rival’s mascot before a game but also know when to celebrate the solidarity, such as by congratulating a mascot after a team’s championship win.

Your mascot is your school’s No. 1 fan, now it’s time to gain a paw up on the competition in social media.

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