Murray State University and Viral Marketing Success

How Do You Create “Viral”?

As we turn the calendar over on another month in 2015, March is the herald of many things for those of us living in Kentucky. Daylight Savings Time has begun, as well as the thaw of winter. Yes, the Earth has shifted on its axis, but March Madness may actually be the reason why.

For those working in the Branding, Marketing and Communications department at Murray State University, that often means there’s plenty of work to be done. Controlling a viral sensation is more than a full-time job, and to talk about their recent work we’ve tapped Catherine Sivills and Dana Howard to explain what goes on when viral marketing takes off.

Even for those who don’t watch sports regularly, March Madness inundates our timelines, Twitter feeds, and every other media outlet you check. It’s impossible to turn a corner without seeing a school banner of one affiliation or another. And over the past few years, you’ll more often see the blue and gold of the Murray State Racers.

“Social media is no longer something you can call a ‘fad’,” Dana Howard, social media manager for Murray State’s Branding, Marketing and Communication department, said. “It has fundamentally changed the way a brand or business communicates with the public. What was once a one-way road is now more like an eight-lane freeway,” she said.

Murray State, most notably the alma mater of Isaiah Canaan of the Philadelphia 76’ers, has seen a meteoric rise for their basketball program over the past few seasons. The men’s basketball team has been to the “big dance” in 2010 and 2012 in recent years, and looks to add another notch in their belt with the help of their viral campaign, #RacersDeserveABid.

“The hashtag was started and is continued as a collaboration between our BMC and Athletics departments,” Catherine Sivills, Assistant VP of Institutional Advancement for Murray State said.  “It was created by our Director of Athletics Marketing and Promotions and our Social Media Manager who pushed it out immediately after the championship game had ended at the OVC tournament,” she continued. She also added, “We wanted to start something that would convey the feelings of all Racer fans and hoped it would go viral in the prime time of conversation after the game.”

As you can see from the pictures, the hashtag has made its way thoroughly around the internet. The sentiment not only echoed by loyal students, but local news anchors, blog writers, national media, and even Dick Vitale.


This isn’t the first time Dickie V has gotten involved with Murray State either.

“The Dickie V campaign did give us some insight into the power of social media and how our fans react to it,” Howard told us.

“You are only as powerful as your audience allows you to be, meaning your people have to care enough to take it and run with it when you do a social campaign,” she said.  “We definitely recognized with #BringDickieVtoMurrayState that our fans wanted to use that platform to project their voice.  That audience not only includes current students, but faculty, staff, community and alumni.”

As you can see, it clearly worked. Dick Vitale showed up with his personality in full force for the bracketbuster game against St. Mary’s that was nationally televised. The game shattered the attendance record for any home game hosted in the CFSB Center, with over 8,000 showing up in their blue and gold regalia.

It’s hard not to root for them either. More than just “the home team”, the men’s basketball team is led by a passionate and empowered head coach, Steve Prohm. In his own words here, he tells a harrowing story of how a group of freshman and sophomores have brought back the mentality of success we’ve seen seeded in years prior.

And as of this article’s penning, even Fox Sports and CBS Sports are covering the plight of a mid-major much maligned for being good, but not good enough by statistical standards of a far-away selection committee. How does a school handle the pressure of such a strong media spotlight?

“We definitely take a more hands-on approach with social campaigns.  Any time we see the opportunity to get the campus community on board for a social campaign, we not only push it out but we are very aggressive with our tactics and strategies,” Howard told us via e-mail.

“Because of this, we have captured historical opportunities through social strategies like the #BringDickieVtoMurray campaign and the CMT College Sweepstakes.  We didn’t pay any money to promote and engage in either of these campaigns,” she said, also adding that, “it was simply the power of social media and the effects of all of them will continue to benefit the university through exposure and learning opportunities for our students.”

It’s a lot to handle, but brand management and social media execution must be pristine when dealing with a viral news sensation such as we’ve seen here.

“We have a talented team on deck here,” Sivills said. “Handling the media is a big task but with the right team and experience on your side, we feel confident in our ability to handle situations as they arise.”

Our fingers are crossed, we hope #RacersDeserveABid will lead to the success they’ve seen in the past.