Kansas State University

How K-State football turned social media into program-boosting tool for Chris Klieman

The older members of Kansas State’s social media team like to tell a story about how little creativity they used to have in their jobs.

It goes like this: one of them pulled out a phone to film K-State football players arriving for a stadium walk through the night before a road game several years ago. The footage was meant to be shared on Twitter so fans back home would know the Wildcats had reached their destination.

But the video never made it online. A member of the football staff demanded it be deleted. If not, the phone would be confiscated and destroyed.

They share this story not to criticize the private — and successful — ways of K-State’s previous coaching staff, but to illustrate just how much things have changed in the social-media department now that Chris Klieman is in charge. The Wildcats have shared behind-the-scenes footage with breakneck speed this season, as if they traded in a Corolla for a Corvette.

The difference was most obvious during Klieman’s first three games as coach. Moments after the Wildcats opened the season with a win over Nicholls, K-State tweeted out videos of Wyatt Hubert presenting Klieman with a game ball and quarterback Skylar Thompson emotionally addressing the team. After the Bowling Green win, fans got to watch Klieman’s postgame speech. Last week, everyone saw the locker-room celebration at Mississippi State.

But it didn’t start there. Fans were invited along for the ride when athletic director Gene Taylor offered Klieman the head coaching job via phone, when Klieman spoke to K-State players for the first time, when the team began preseason camp and just about every big moment in between. They even got to see pictures and videos of the Wildcats arriving at Davis Wade Stadium before last week’s road game.

“I like to say we are a first-year program when it comes to social media,” said Jay Moline, K-State’s director of social media and digital engagement. “Everything is still kind of new to us. We put out the video and I get excited that we were in the locker room and people talk about it. Those are things that everyone else has been doing for a long time, but it’s nice to see our fan base get so excited about it.”

New coach, new strategy

K-State fans aren’t the only ones who like the change.

There’s a reason why Klieman has been so cooperative as K-State beefed up its social-media production. You may recall some fans weren’t sold on him when Taylor hired him out of North Dakota State. Even though he won four FCS national championships there in five years, few knew much about him and initially longed for a coach with a bigger name.

But public sentiment changed when fans saw him say “win the dang day” for the first time and they cheered when he promised to bring alternate uniforms to Manhattan during a Twitter Q&A. The more people got to know him, the more they liked him.

Combine that with a 3-0 start, and very few are still doubting Klieman today.

His early success in Manhattan will be forever linked to social media.

“His approach to social media has made fans feel like they are part of the program,” said Kenny Lannou, K-State executive associate AD for communications. “We knew from the get-go there was going to be a big opportunity to do that. Our fans just haven’t had a lot of this access before. We haven’t done anything that is necessarily new, but it is new to us.”

Klieman didn’t ask for extra attention on social media, but he has encouraged K-State staffers to get creative.

Behind-the-scenes videos from practice and entertaining profiles on players have helped recruiting. He doesn’t want to slow down.

He rarely denies any requests. Klieman invited cameras into practice last month and let K-State share videos of drills and highlight plays, even though they revealed clues about the team’s depth chart and strategy. After the Nicholls game, he approved a pair of locker-room videos while watching them with K-State football creative specialist Emily Starkey on the way to his postgame news conference.

“We have a great fan base,” Klieman said. “To give people that really want to be a part of these guys’ story, these guys’ journey … In the right setting, I think it’s a great thing. For our fans and people to be a part of the journey that these guys are going on is pretty cool.”

K-State players are having fun with social media, too.

One day last spring, they were told to forget about football practice and compete in a kickball tournament. Fans watched on Twitter. Fans have also watched players perform back flips off diving boards, ride bikes to and from practice and dance during warmups.

Some of their own videos have gone viral, like backup quarterback John Holcombe throwing down a tomahawk dunk on an outdoor basketball court and punter Devin Anctil lobbying for the Mortell Award, presented annually to the nation’s top holder in college football.

Hubert was touched to see so many people like the video that showed him presenting a game ball to Klieman.

“It’s definitely cool allowing the fans to have access to our lives,” said Hubert, a sophomore defensive end. “It’s very beneficial for us and the entire program.”

More than videos

The players’ social media connection with fans goes far beyond Twitter videos. K-State players have shared personal stories on the school’s athletic website.

Senior defensive back Denzel Goolsby wrote about his difficult journey to K-State and the death of his father.

“It was time to finally tell my full story,” Goolsby said, “and I’m really grateful that K-State gives us the platform to do that.”

Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson wrote an ode to his late mother on Mother’s Day.

“Our fans want to know us as more than just football players,” Thompson added. “They want to know who is inside the helmet and underneath the jersey. This new coaching staff, they have been able to see that kind of thing. I got to write that story about Mother’s Day and express myself. That was really cool and a special opportunity we have been given.”

Other K-State players have inquired about sharing stories of their own. That’s a big change from last year, when they seemed afraid to say anything provocative in front of a microphone or camera.

K-State fans will have to wait and see what else the Wildcats have in store on the social media front. They have a small staff and are still new to this.

One possibility: a uniform reveal. K-State has tweeted out photos and videos of the football team’s traditional uniforms the day before all three of their football games this season, a potential tease for alternate looks later in the season.

Fans were eager to see if the team might wear something new against Mississippi State and monitored the football team’s Twitter account like it was about to share breaking news last Friday. It didn’t happen, but maybe that will change in future weeks.

Just about anything seems possible now that K-State football now has a presence on social media.

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