Watching a bowl game's Twitter feed whir to life, take on an engaging personality, and actualize all sorts of buzzwords has been one of the most welcome surprises of the college football season's latter half. One day, we all looked up and the official accounts of the Champs Sports Bowl and the Capital One Bowl had turned into outlets of both information and whimsy, all with a clear human voice.
A bowl outfit that allows one of its public faces to not take the whole thing so seriously? How could a bowl game ever not conduct itself with the grimmest, most solemn of student-athletey fronts?
Here's a quick Q&A with Matt Repchak, the mind behind Florida Citrus Sports' various digital presences.
Matt, as you know, everybody loves your work. You've created the only two bowl game feeds that anybody would ever have a reason to follow. Can you tell us what kind of guidelines you've been given?
My bosses have given me a LOT of freedom in what gets posted. They trust me to use common sense, keep the company first and respect our various partners. As long as I play nice, anything is fair game.
Because I have those years under my belt in communications/PR, I know the nuances of our selection process and have experience speaking about it publicly, so I don't think I give them any reason to be concerned. Our CEO, CMO and Director of Communications have all been really happy with the fan response.
The flip side is accountability - you don't have to look too hard to find my name associated with the accounts. That's not for self-promotion; it's so people know who is speaking. And if I ever say something that doesn't fit the common sense guidelines, then I am on the hook, not FCSports or the bowls.
What's your day job, if you don't mind me asking?
I am the Assistant Director of Marketing Communications / Digital Media - it's a mouthful. That's a relatively new development, because I spent the previous six seasons in the communications/media relations department. This was my first job out of college.
I've been in charge of Florida Citrus Sports' social media presence since we got involved in the space a few years ago. I handle all digital projects for FCSports (website, video, social, all that stuff). I created and manage all of our Twitter accounts and Facebook pages along with any other web or mobile projects. If it became a thing after about 1999, I'm in charge of it.
When did you take over?
In the past, we operated under @FCSports, which I still manage but keep to mostly company-specific content. We broke out the bowl games to their own accounts this season. Previously, our title sponsors each ran their own accounts related to the respective game, but they agreed to let us take over so we could post more behind-the-scenes content throughout the season.
How long did it take to find your voice, so to speak, once you took over?
I don't have a say in our bowl teams, so I'm slightly detached. I can comment on what I THINK our committee would do, or what they've done in the past, but we have over 200 guys who vote for the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl. We can't predict how they're going to vote on Selection Sunday (and I have been wrong at least twice in six seasons before), so I just try to lend insight into the process. The accounts started there - I spend the first few months of the season just talking about various games within our partner conferences, reporting on what our committee was discussing, etc. But bowls aren't newsworthy in August and September (or even October in most cases), so it was slow going.
I'll bet one of your SB Nation brethren, Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias, could shed some light on our popularity surge. As the season went on and our picture for each game started to seriously take shape, more people started paying attention (and more importantly, ask questions). I started getting into conversations with fans (especially Big East fans curious about the BE/Notre Dame side of our contract), and the back-and-forth started taking on the conversational tone I'd have when talking about the games with someone in person. Last weekend, between the VT/GT game on Thursday and the Maryland/Notre Dame game on Saturday, I spent a lot of time on the account, answering people's questions and staying engaged. So I probably felt a little bolder on Monday, threw in a few unprompted jokes and suddenly it snowballed.
Mark was one of the first media guys to notice that and RT our posts (along with some other writers like Andy Staples at SI and Andrea Adelson at ESPN). Every day we've picked up more and more recommendations, but we've also had more replies from fans. A lot of the tweets people have complimented came out of conversation, and that's pretty much what Twitter is for, right?
That's also why @CapitalOneBowl has fewer followers than @ChampsSportsBwl right now; the questions haven't quite picked up yet. I expect to get a lot more active there in the next two weeks leading up to team announcement.
I think people are looking for very specific information from bowls on social media: they want to know where their team stands and they want a place to ask questions. I've been open and honest about our process, and have answered nearly every @ reply we've ever received. Over time I've received a very positive response from people - even people who originally came at us with a negative attitude. Getting that reaction (especially people who say things like "thank you for listening") has given me the confidence to add a little more of my personality to our posts, and I could not be happier with the response. Which is good, because if I added my personality and everyone was like "ugh" I probably shouldn't be managing social media.
Do you wake up at night worrying you've tweeted an ACC team into the Capital One?
Constantly. I am constantly rewriting, both to get down to 140 characters (I'm too verbose on first draft) and to make sure that my point gets across without offending anyone, directly or indirectly.
It's not that I'm constantly wringing my hands; just nitpicky. You can post for a business without being bland, and you can be funny or even sarcastic without being exclusionary. It's made me a better writer overall. If I start becoming a fan of my own work, it won't be fun anymore.