How To Start a Killer Athletics Instagram from Scratch

3 Suggestions to get your local athletics page off the ground

Photo credit: @abrandbox/Instagram

Sometimes, it feels like social media was made with sports in mind. SportsCenter popularized the concept of highlight reels and clip shows in 1979 but social platforms have taken the idea to new heights.

We tweet during the NBA Finals. We tweet during draft nights. Athletics, which are inherently shared experiences, from the field to the fandom, embrace the idea of conversation. Sports encourage people to share highlights, and what they think of them, and social media facilitates the process.

For big time organizations — think professional teams or those playing NCAA Division I football and basketball — effectively using social platforms to grow their brands is simple. Fans crave access to players and teams, and Twitter has filled that need with curated multimedia and recommendations on users timelines and trending topics.

But what about on Instagram? While Twitter is great for spawning conversation and immediate reactions, Instagram serves a different purpose, hosting more photos and videos and less text to drive interest. How can smaller time clubs and organizations, like community colleges or NCAA Division III schools build an engaged audience on Instagram?

1. Harness Your Community

One of the biggest mistakes Instagram goads users into believing is that everyone cares. Influencers pop up on the app everyday that seem to have incredible reach, boasting millions of followers and hundreds of thousands of engagements.

Likewise, large-scale athletic organizations — take the Duke Blue Devils — have a huge followings, underscored by decades of relevance in sports.

It might seem futile to try and build an Instagram following in 2020, but with the right audience, you can break your first 1,000 followers in no time.

Smaller teams need to think locally. Consider a developmental soccer league in New Jersey, like @kempsoccerdevelopment. The immediate goal for accounts like this is to make current players aware of the account.

This can be accomplished by incorporating a reminder to “follow us on Instagram!” in a weekly newsletter, or reminding players where to find their practice and game photos when you see them in-person. The important thing is starting with this local community, however small it may be. If the people using your service don’t buy into your digital presence, how can you expect to build a larger following?

In Kemp’s case, his first day on Instagram saw him post a wave of content featuring the people, past and present, who have enrolled in his clinics. That ranged from a U15 team to Tomas Rosicky, a former Czech Republic national player.

The posts established who Kemp was and what his organization was about. Now, with 1,600 followers, @kempsoccerdevelopment is successfully branching out into broader content ideas, like showcasing at home workouts for anyone looking to improve their skills during the pandemic.

2. Build Your Own Superstars

Once you have your initial following, it’s time to make good on the content you’ve promised. Just as important as taking stellar photos is telling the story behind it. Large organizations can get away with broad, sweeping statements. They’ve established a brand that speaks to a widespread fandom. The NBA can’t possibly talk about everything going on, so it focuses on the moments that will drive the most traffic.

For example, ESPN’s documentary, The Last Dance just finished airing over the course of the last five Sundays. With COVID-19 shutting down sports, the NBA used the slower schedule to intersperse archival Michael Jordan photos into their usual run of highlights and top 10 moments. Its viewers were engaged with a pop culture phenomenon, so the NBA leaned into with its massive media catalog.

A community college or high school can’t do that (well, not unless they want to deal with the backlash of stealing copyrighted images). Instead, smaller organizations have to build their own superstars.

Let’s say you have a photo of a player stepping up to bat. Rather than posting it with a basic, softball emoji caption, consider telling the narrative around the plate appearance. Did she end up hitting a home run? Did she bring home a runner?

By reminding your followers about the successes they’ve had, you are subtly are encouraging them to share these happenings on their own accounts. Athletes love to reminisce about their best moments, whether it was a perfectly pitched game in preseason or a two-run homer in the playoffs.

Sharing their successes will not only please them, but encourage them to share straight from your feed, bringing more eyes to your content, and username, in the process.

3. Pick a Theme (And Stick With It!)

Take a look at the University of Florida’s page (@floridagators). You would be hard pressed to find a post that didn’t feature their patented blue and orange colors.

On Instagram, the importance of color can’t be understated. Organizations center their entire feeds around the hues that symbolize their brand.

Your brand might not have a color combo as readily identifiable as UF, but team and jersey colors are a great jumping off point for Instagram feed curation.

Even when the subjects of your posts aren’t wearing a team uniform, you can center shots around your colors. Themed merchandise, like sweatshirt or caps are great to keep on hand and incorporate into your non-action photos or videos.

Editing your photos can also add a splash of color to keep things consistent. Hamilton College baseball, which just announced five new acquisitions for the 2021 season, was forced to use photos of their incoming players in their high school uniforms (obviously).

Rather than incorporating a variety of clashing colors on their feed, Hamilton College flipped the photos to grayscale and overlaid a welcome message that featured the team’s deep blue and pale gold. Problem solved.

As Instagram’s algorithm continues to assume the types of content its users want to see, there is still opportunity to grow a following organically. And with so many sports fandoms boasting millions of followers, it might feel like there isn’t any room for your organization.

Don’t be intimidated by the big guys. It all starts with playing to your localized audience. By becoming a trusted name in your local community, you can grow a unique and engaged following that will support your organizational goals on Instagram and beyond.



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Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson

Forever hunting for my new favorite music sample. Founder of & 🌴🦩