First of all the new design is a definite improvement over the old site, from a basic functionality perspective it is immeasurably better just for being mobile friendly. The redesign needs to be the starting point of something, not the end. UC really needs to rethink the way that they approach all aspects of their digital branding and marketing. Starting with social media which, if I am being honest sucks, be it YouTube, facebook, twitter or instagram. It's all very self referential, you can really feel the IMG effect with it all because its so formal, so corporate, so dull. They were obviously advised to promote multi platform synergy above all else. That's fine I guess, and for what its worth its not that hard to go into a rabbit hole of cross promotion on the various UC feeds. That's what UC might want, but the audience can only do that so many times before they stop showing up altogether .
There are so many areas where they fall short of their peers, and I am talking AAC peers here, not even the peers they aspire to in the power five conferences. UConn, SMU, Houston, USF, Memphis all put UC to shame with their approach to digital branding because they don't use the available platforms as a venue to sell things in. Instead they use social media first and foremost as an outlet for cool content, be that pictures, videos, meme's whatever keeps people coming back. Once they come back you can sell them things. I mean just look at the Bearcats instagram feed. It has been updated just 11 times since May, and six of those are the new football posters, which are admittedly dope as hell and great in a very particular kind of way, but not particularly instagrammy. Meanwhile SMU has posted 49 times on their instagram feed since the start of July.
The simple fact is that UC's new media staff doesn't do a good enough job capitalizing on the one advantage they have in the digital marketplace for the eyes and ears of Bearcat fans, access. It is very hard to discern the difference between a fan made highlight and what UC puts on their YouTube channel. Both of those videos are using the exact same raw material, cut up footage from the ESPN broadcast.
In 2007 when the Bearcats first started to create a presence online cutting up the broadcast and putting a song behind it was sort of cutting edge, and definitely illegal. But that cutting edge has moved on and the Bearcats have been lapped, multiple times by the field. In an age when hundreds of games in their entirety are on offer for free repossessing footage from another source seems tired because it is.
Nevermind that UC can pretty easily give someone, or better yet multiple someones, permission to stand on the sideline and shoot footage because, you know, its their game. They could very well take that footage and create a new and unique video of the game from a different angle. To be fair the football team has someone that does that, but whoever is making their stuff is convinced that he/she is the next Tony Scott and that everything needs to be edited with the instagram filter set at 100 which is, you know, terrible to my eyes. Still, that is a better model than whatever the plan is with the Bearcats YouTube channel.
UC does a good job of covering events. They had some good stuff from media days, they have covered the Big East/AAC basketball tournaments well in the past. They go all out for bowl coverage, and their training camp stuff was excellent last year. However outside of those focal points the day to day coverage is not a lot happening. They don't produce much content at all, at last count they stood at a little under 400 videos since launching the YouTube channel in late 2006 with this video. Yeah they do more through GoBearcats.com, but the video playback is crap and absolutely impossible on any computer older than two or three years old, which is to say most and it is worse on mobile*.
*Jury is out on the new site, at least for me I haven't tried it yet, but it could be better
Then there is the simple fact that putting the majority of content on GoBearcats.com ensures that most people won't see it. Lets face it, in this day and age if it didn't happen on YouTube it didn't happen, that's how completely YouTube dominates video sharing services. There are probably a lot of people who might be interested in seeing, but have never seen a press conference with a UC coach or player, pre game, post game, post practice anything because they can't find them. They can't find them because they are trapped deep in the bowels of IMG's crappy video service, and UC won't just put them in the public domain for some reason. Even if they could find them, they couldn't stream them because trying to stream a video from the UC website more or less requires that your twitter app be open, and that you follow all of the reporters in the room so that you could hope to hear what question the coach or player was asking. Oh and it froze, constantly. It was the little Ice Age of the internet age.
Part of this is budgetary, UC has exactly one person in charge of producing new media content, the immortal Tommy G, and he has a full time staff of (usually) one, and that spot is currently vacant. That is, to put it mildly, not enough to build and maintain a new media following. But its not like the other AAC schools have mountains of cash to throw at creating a social media following. They have simply been better, and more diligent about creating cool things that grab the consumer's attention.
In the grand scheme of things this seems like a trivial matter for an athletic department that is trying to find stable ground in a constantly shifting landscape. But it does matter, because the Bearcats aren't a program that has a great deal of hard power in this landscape. But they do have some soft power because the Bearcats brand is back on the upward swing. UC made five million dollars more for the year ending June 2013 on licensing products than they did for 2011-12. The only real way that the Bearcats can continue to exert whatever soft power they have is by doing better online where people are living more and more everyday.
There are genuinely interesting and exciting things happening with the Bearcats right now. From the renovation and expansion of nippert stadium, Mick Cronin's extension, Tommy Tuberville injecting national credibility into the debate on the relative merits of Bearcats football, massively improved recruiting in football and basketball, the presumed forthcoming resolution of the basketball arena question. But the average Cincinnatian has no idea that anything is happening in Clifton because the narrative inside I-75 hasn't really changed much, because the media landscape in Cincinnati hasn't changed much at all.
What's so frustrating is that, for better or worse, while social media has democratized every aspect of media consumption and the old guard of Cincinnati media has failed miserably to stay in front of that change. The traditional media's failure has created an opportunity for the University of Cincinnati to really control their own local narrative by shaping the conversation about it. It's an opportunity that UC isn't really taking advantage of, certainly not within the athletic department. A lot of contempt and mumbled insults have been sent in the direction of Santa Ono for the way that he has embraced social media, but he gets the importance of it. He gets that social media allows him to shape the perception, and thus the reality, of his institution and my word has he been shaping it. The #HottestCollegeInAmerica hashtag is as corny as anything that Butch Jones ever came up with, but it's also taken root. As every turn of the century boardwalk hawker knew, creating the impression that something is happening here can pretty easily lead to something interesting actually happening. If only Ono could convince Mike Bohn that spending a little extra money to become much better at producing content he could create a real change in the local perception of the University of Cincinnati.