College recreation departments have been embracing the challenge of social media for many years now. The purpose of this article is to evaluate ORSA, the Ohio Recreational Sports Association, and member schools’ use of social media. Below are the 14 researched universities in Ohio:
Baldwin Wallace University The Ohio State University
Bowling Green State University University of Akron
Cleveland State University University of Cincinnati
Heidelberg University University of Dayton
Miami University (OH) University of Toledo
Ohio Northern University Wright State University
Ohio University Youngstown State
These universities varied in location, tuition, private or public status, enrollment size, cost of their recreation facility(s), and number of marketing staff in the recreation department. It was recognized that some smaller schools might not have as many resources as a larger school.
In order to evaluate the schools, the most important and relevant criteria that make a college recreation website and social media successful were determined. Two experts in college recreation were consulted to evaluate the rubric. First was Abby Whaley, Assistant Director of RPAC Operations in the Department of Recreational Sports at The Ohio State University. She recommended a Likert 10 point scale. The scale would run from zero to five, with half points between each number. Next was Cameron Wiggin, Club Sport Coordinator for Campus Recreation at St. Mary’s College of California. He suggested looking for websites that display a connection to NIRSA, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association and ORSA on their homepage. He also recommended determining if the club sports teams had subpages for their specific sport.
The categories and rubric are shown below:
Categories: Social Media Account, Information, Intramural Sports, Club Sports, Facilities, Service/Events, Fitness & Wellness, Outdoor Activities, Saftey, NIRSA/ORSA
To earn the highest score, the most commonly used platforms should be leveraged. These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Posts should be made routinely, and the information should vary across the different accounts. Content could provide updates of news, information, or happenings about the recreation department and facility. Posts that contain photos and videos tend to create interaction and are opened at a much higher rate than those without. Therefore, it was noted whether photos and video were included. Below is a graph of all social media accounts that were reviewed.
The website’s homepage should showcase general information about the school’s recreation department as well as the mission statement. The search bar used to explore the site should be easily located and clearly labeled, with tabs that direct a viewer to the different areas of the website. The site should include a staff directory with pictures and contact information for the full-time staff employed by campus recreation. Lastly, there should be a photo on the homepage with pictures of campus recreation life.
An overview of intramural sports, including description of the intramural department and the programs offered, could be present. It would be helpful to display a calendar listing when each sport is offered and provide information regarding fees related to team and individual registration. The link to sign up should be easy to find and follow. Make sure the page includes details about each sport offered and rules and regulations.
The club sports page should start with a list of all the club teams that the university sponsors. Each sport should have its own site or subpage that provides information about that sport, coach contact information, and tryout dates. Also include the schedule, dues required, and any related equipment needed but not provided by the team.
Students enjoy envisioning themselves playing their preferred sport, so including active pictures of the facility provides that opportunity. In addition, it is helpful to the user to readily locate hours of operation and the address of each facility utilized by the recreation department. These items should be included on the Facilities page. Maps and/or directions from campus or from major roadways could be provided for those coming from off-campus. Other information that could be offered included available amenities.
This is best place to display a listing of all the events that are happening at the recreation facility. Include the dates and times as well as any other helpful information such as whether tickets are needed, how to obtain them, and limitations on what can be brought to events. A brief synopsis of each event explaining what it is and who is participating will help readers make better selections. Any services offered by a recreation facility, such as towel service, food and beverage stand, or equipment rental, should be listed on this page. If appropriate, this is also a good place to share information about renting out the facility for privately sponsored events.
Fitness & Wellness
Since this topic is quite broad, this page might feature a variety of subjects. At very least, there should be an overall description of the purpose of the department and a list of wellness classes offered. Include a list of the times and dates each class is offered. Readers will go to this section to find a complete description of the training programs for fitness and direction on how to enroll.
These activities vary significantly by campus, so this page might include a number of items. One section might detail available outdoor equipment rental or courts that can be reserved. Another might include options for activities such as biking, rock climbing, sand volleyball, and outdoor court sports. If adventure trips are offered by the recreation department, they could also be featured. Photos from trips might encourage people to go on them. Links to enroll, including required forms and checklists, could be included in printable format, making the page a one-stop location for all relevant information.
The safety handbook for the recreation department should be present on the website. If minors utilize the recreation facilities, any additional information that protects them or the staff from unfortunate accidents might be presented.
In addition, highlight any classes offered by the recreation department on this important subject. This includes AED, CPR, and Lifeguard classes and certifications.
This section looked at whether the school showcased their affiliation with NIRSA/ORSA. As the governing body of recreational sports on college campuses both regionally and nationally, any campus recreation program links will benefit from these affiliations. They should be prominently displayed. Events sponsored by these groups could also be featured.
It was noted that some schools didn’t have all the categories because of a lack of resources, or because these services were not available on their campus. Some of these schools were smaller in size and had fewer full-time staff working in the recreation facility. Some schools couldn’t support the man-hours or expertise needed to maintain the website and provide updated posts on social media accounts. Out of the 14 schools graded, nine out of the top 10 were state schools. The state schools seemed to have more resources and staff to handle and manage the social media accounts and the website upkeep.
The last takeaway from this research has to do with enrollment. It appears that the more students there are, the more relevant and important social media is. For example, Ohio State has an enrollment size of a little more than 66,000 students. Baldwin Wallace’s enrollment size is around 3,300 students. Ohio State has a greater need to utilize and update their social media accounts because of how the greater number of students and recreation facility members that they have to serve. Due to the large number of students, they need to get their information out the fastest and most efficient way possible, which is through social media. Baldwin Wallace has less incentive and reason to do that because there are fewer students, smaller facilities, and less news going on.
A school’s recreation facilities are part of the decision-making process when potential students are deciding where to enroll. The facilities are always part of the campus tour, and they tell you all the features and highlights about the recreation department. Potential students learn about the department and get a glimpse of the facility on the campus tour. They will then stack up the facilities against each other and compare benefits when deciding which university they will attend. The recreation center is an extension of the branding concept for the school. An outdated website and an older facility with fewer features as compared to a recently renovated one is a consideration a potential student takes seriously, whether a serious athlete or an occasional exerciser.
According to an article from the Associated Press, recreation centers have an important impact in the college decision making process. The article quotes a student who talks about the influence of the recreation center in his college choice. “Dominic Mann had been considering attending the University of Akron when he saw the school’s new $40 million recreation center. The expansive center, with its basketball gym and weight equipment — even a rock-climbing wall — helped Mann decide to attend Akron. “It made a difference,” the 19-year-old freshman said as he shot hoops.” (AP 2005) This shows how important the recreation facility is to a university and that it is a big part of the decision-making process for potential students.
In closing, three suggestions are offered for those schools that didn’t have everything needed to get top grades. The first suggestion is to hire more student workers. If a school has limited resources available for the recreation department, hiring student workers can provide the man-power to help the school have a greater impact. Student workers can be used to run the social media accounts, help update the website, and make sure everything is in place. Additionally, the students are likely be more social media savvy and accustomed to using social media to connect with fellow students. The second suggestion is to have more tailored social media activity. If the resources are available, then having varied posts on different social media accounts will be more effective than posting the same content on every social media account. Repetitive posts discourage people from following more than one account for a facility. By varying content, a larger audience is attracted who might before one platform over another depending on what type of information they prefer. The third and final suggestion is to have an up-to-date website. This will enable current and potential students to find accurate and timely information. Some regular maintenance though updates and current photography will keep people coming back for new content and possibly attract more people to the facilities. If that browsing experience goes well, this could lead to better enrollment in the school.
Luca Wilson is a Sport Management student, pursuing his Health and Sport Sciences degree at the University of Dayton.
Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, has more than 30 years’ experience in management in the profit, nonprofit, private and public sectors. He speaks and writes on areas of networking, organizational and personal development, educating audiences to be their own advocates.