EL DORADO — The seed of a thought began with an assignment in a master’s class at Wichita State almost four years ago.
The assignment, handed down from Clay Stoldt, the chair of WSU’s sports management program, was to find a way to promote the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open golf tournament through social media.
The idea took hold in one of his students, Butler Community College assistant athletic director Matt Jacobs, and never let go.
“(Butler) has really got after it when it comes to social media,” Stoldt said. “They are creative, they’re consistent and they’re engaging ... they’ve got such a great tradition out there that as much as any community college, they have a pretty strong profile and you have to admire the way they’ve leveraged that through social media.”
That leverage comes in the form of Facebook accounts for coaches and programs and a Twitter account for the athletic department — @ButlerGrizzlies — with 1,800 followers and counting.
Butler’s reach in social media is far and wide, and never more on display than on Grizzly gamedays, including Sunday when No. 2 Butler (11-0) plays No. 1 Iowa Western (11-0) for the NJCAA football title at the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Jacobs and Ryan Entz, Butler’s executive director for marketing and communications, have been at the forefront of the school’s social-media evolution.
“It was a learning process as far as how many game updates do you put up there? How do you get the right mixture of Facebook and Twitter? That’s stuff we wanted to be really careful about,” Jacobs said. “The thing I really love about it is there’s no better way to get in touch and keep in touch with prospective athletes and former athletes.
“We’ve also been able to have some fun with it. The one thing we always need to make sure of was that there’s not just one voice, not just me or whoever is running the account to be the person people hear from. That’s why we retweet so much and are always reaching out to the fans for their input. ”
Entz created a hashtag — #buconation — that fans have embraced. Butler took full advantage of the jumbotron at their new football stadium this season, posting the best tweets from fans with their signature hashtag on the jumbotron and giving away T-shirts to the fans with the best tweets.
“You have to give credit to the community because they’ve been so engaged and receptive to what we’ve been doing,” Entz said. “They love to show off that pride in their team and we want to be the enabler to that. I think the key is that we have a formula, we have standards and a strategy we stick to between the school and athletics.”
Like any promotional campaign, Butler’s needed faces to go with its’ message, and Jacobs knew one of those needed to be football coach Troy Morrell, who along with outgoing president Jackie Vietti is perhaps the most recognizable name associated with the school.
“When we first got into Twitter (in 2009), I knew (Morrell) would be a natural at it because he’s so good at connecting with people, of interacting with the fans,” Jacobs said. “I started a Facebook page for him, and at first he was a little resistant and it was me posting for him, which I didn’t really like because it wasn’t in his unique language, but now he’s really come on board and he’s turned it into something special.”
Morrell, who has been the coach at Butler since 2000, had 833 likes on his Facebook fan page and 411 followers on Twitter (@CoachTMorrell) as of Wednesday.
“At first I was a little bit reluctant, but I see the benefit now,” Morrell said. “I see how it connects people and I see how important it is.”
It also helps him stay connected with his players, former and current. A good portion of Butler’s player’s are on Twitter, and it’s not uncommon for Morrell or defensive coordinator Tim Schaffner (@ChaosTempo) to tweet words of encouragement to players after tough practices or praise them after wins.
“Matt Jacobs has done a great job of spearheading this whole thing ... it’s a great tool, and we use it nationwide in whatever we do,” Schaffner said. “You can also stay connected with your guys and guys you are looking about bringing it into their program and see if they’re saying unflattering things on there.
“When kids come into our program, we make them friend one of the three coaches here that kind of creep on Facebook and pay attention to that stuff. Kids don’t answer their phones nowadays ... they connect through texts, Twitter and Facebook. That’s reality.”