Clemson University is known for school spirit. Fans follow their team around the United States, particularly football. And why not? Clemson’s football has built an impressive history. Clemson has played in 34 bowl games, won 18 conference titles, and even took the National Championship in 1981. To celebrate these successes, fans have taken to sharing their unmatched team spirit on social media, particularly YouTube.

With access to thousands of Clemson fans through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms, each player serves as a widely visible brand ambassador for Clemson. Players Martin Jenkins (#14) and Darius Robinson(#21), aka Yoda and D-Rob, have posted two popular songs on YouTube to rally the Clemson fans around the team.

While most social media posts do not threaten the Clemson brand, stories abound of college athletes showing poor judgment, posting offensive or distasteful things, and riling up the opposing team.

Recognizing the threat posed by a “social faux paux”, players proposed, and received coaches’ support for a ban on using Twitter during the season. Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney views Twitter as “just one more distraction, one more thing, one more obligation.” While being a distraction is a legitimate complaint, a much bigger concern remains. Absent Twitter, Clemson rivals lacked bulletin board material during game weeks. This led Will Folks, an influential South Carolina fan and blogger, to lament “Tajh Boyd should tweet something.”

Clemson’s fan experience with YouTube and Twitter offer three useful takeaways for any organization interested in leveraging the power of social media to build community.

Every employee, customer, and stakeholder is a potential brand advocate

Although the ban on Twitter was originally the players’ idea, the decision about when and what to post reduced the potential for controversy around Clemson’s team. Because most social media is viewable by anyone on the web, the potential risk is enormous. One offensive or misunderstood “tweet” or status update could be seen by hundreds of thousands, and could reflect negatively on that individual, as well as the associated program. Businesses are no exception. Having a game plan that provides guidance on acceptable behavior lets an organization put its best foot forward.

Advocates must be empowered to use an authentic voice

Because rules for appropriate behavior empowered students to appropriately express pride in their team, Clemson anthems went from being online expressions of pride to offline actions on game day (chants, wearing t-shirts etc.).  By enabling success, organizations can benefit from their fans, employees, and even their critics, promoting the organizations’ brand – thanks Will Folks!

Empowerment requires recognizing that social media can have a lasting impact on individuals and organizations.

Social media posts’ impact are not ephemeral and their impact can persist over time. While Clemson anthems have motivated fan support for three years, social media can also negatively impact individuals and organizations.  Loose-lipped comments by organizational representatives have a lasting impact on individuals and brands reputations.  For example, a clip of a distraught Clemson fan has been viewed over 1.5 million times. Comments on that video from the ESPN broadcast team of Jesse Palmer, Craig James, and Chris Fowler linger on as a striking illustration of how unprofessional conduct can negatively impact the ESPN brand, and more importantly, negatively impact a young fan’s life.

If organizations implement social media strategies that recognize these three principles, they have the potential to build a rich community around their products, brands, and companies.  Clemson’s new fan driven anthems have helped to do just that.

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