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March Madness: How Fans Engage With College Teams Online

march madness infographic

The #BFMBracket

This year’s March Madness tournament is set to create quite a stir, and with brackets taking center court throughout the games, there is no doubt marketers will pay close attention to advancing teams.

When it comes to creating a bracket, some people rely on alliances, while others stick to a gut feeling. There are people that pick names out of a hat, and those who spend hours analyzing the season’s statistics. Some even invest in the trusted opinions of their preferred sports analyst, but we decided to go with something a little different.

What if the winner was selected based on online engagement, rather than on-court skill? Blue Fountain Media explored the Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook followings of each of the 68 tournament teams to see which team was the most socially engaged across social media.

We encourage you to have a crack at filling out your own #BFMBracket, before reading on…

march madness infographic

How We Did It

To kick things off, keep in mind that we only used data from the social media profiles for the specific college basketball teams – no athletic departments, no school pages, just the men’s basketball pages for each respective school.

Now not all social media platforms were created equal. For example, the average engagement rates vary by industry. While Instagram may be very popular for brands, it doesn’t necessarily hold as much value for others. Because of this, we decided to do some of our own research into college basketball specific statistics. We sampled a large number of posts across a large number of teams, allowing us to find an average engagement rate specific to college basketball, i.e. - what percentage of a team’s online audience engages with their content.

Engagement Rates: Brands

According to data found on eMarketer, the average engagement rates for social media accounts owned by brands in 2015 are as follows:

  • Facebook: 0.2%
  • Instagram: 2.261%
  • Twitter: 0.02%

Engagement Rates: College Basketball Teams

As expected, the result of our college specific study showed a significant increase in those rates for those accounts owned by sports teams.

  • Facebook: 0.9%
  • Instagram: 6.2%
  • Twitter: 0.3%

march madness blank bracket

And The Winner Is...

Using this data we were able to weigh each platform respectively, and in what might be described as the opposite of a #CinderallaStory, Duke pulled through and took the title as the most socially engaged college basketball team in the tournament.

Overall the selections aren’t a bad bet for a strong bracket – with the sweet 16 featuring all four number one seeds, and the lowest being 11th seeded Gonzaga and Michigan.

So why Duke? With almost a half a million followers on Instagram, and the engagement rate being so high for that platform, Duke had the upper hand going into the analysis. Runner-ups, Kentucky, currently have just fewer than 150,000 followers on Instagram – so straight away the disadvantage was clear.

If we were to base the results solely on quantity, and simply add up the number of followers each team has (as of 10pm On Selection Sunday), Kentucky would take home the title, with Duke, Michigan, and Kansas placing respectively behind them. However, the beauty of the bracket would mean that Kentucky would knock out Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and North Carolina, who are fifth, sixth and seventh for overall social media following, and as such, Michigan State would still pull through as the Midwest region winner and a competing member of the Final Four

Because regions play such an important role in progressing through the tournament, we decided to take a dive into which region was the toughest to crack – again, if it were based on social media engagement.

We found that they, unsurprisingly, correlate strongly with the most well-known teams, with the regions lining up as follows in order of influence:

  • East
  • West
  • South
  • Midwest

What Are The Odds?

If it counts for anything we’ve already picked the winners of the First Four games correctly using this theory, but overall it’s the blind leading the blind. The odds of picking a perfect bracket in the NCAA men's basketball tournament are tiny. So tiny in fact that some believe it to be as low as 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Others think it's as "high" as 1 in 128 billion. Either way, picking all 63 games (excluding the First Four) correctly is next to impossible, so why not use this method!

Stay tuned, as we’ll be paying close attention to how things unfold over the next week weeks.

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