In the realm of social media, Mississippi State has made a habit of being first. For instance, the MSU football team was the first to have a hashtag in the endzone, even if that was later outlawed. This week, MSU was the first SEC team to have a Periscope feed of football practice.
And late this summer, MSU became the first college in the country to have its own emoji keyboard. Not only were they first, but they’ve been extremely successful in their efforts.
Partnering with a group called Snaps, MSU’s athletic department launched the keyboard on July 22, and in the two weeks following, Snaps recorded over 33,000 downloads.
“It spread like wildfire,” said Leah Beasley, MSU’s Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing. “I think it’s been one of the most innovative and successful new launches that we’ve had in my two years here. People want Mississippi State stuff. They crave it. So we’re in the business of giving them what they want.”
MSU and Snaps expected good numbers on the downloads, but the true test was the level of interaction and how often the keyboards were used after the first day. According to numbers from Snaps, expectations on that front were far exceeded.
Individuals have used the keyboard an average of 25 times per person, each user sharing an average of 10 content items since download. Further, 38 percent of users have shared the keyboard with a friend (the average is 28 percent), while the MSU keyboard has a 39 percent engagement rate, compared to the average of 23 percent. All told, the MSU keyboard has seen 1.15 million interactions, an impressive number.
“So far,” said Snaps CEO Christian Brucceleri, “Hail State is the best performing sports keyboard, and the best performing college keyboard on our platform in terms of shares of content. The top emoji shared by MSU fans is the Hail State logo, which has been shared over 20,000 times in the past three weeks. Clearly, branded emoji are meeting a passionate fan base in Mississippi State.”
The final product was something nearly a year in the making, as MSU’s marketing department began conversations back in 2014. Those talks became a little more serious when MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said he, too, would like to see an MSU keyboard. Once MSU saw the success of the keyboard launched by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, they decided they wanted to be the first college team to have their own.
Not that there weren’t challenges, of course. Coming up with ideas for what images and gifs to use was easy enough, a group effort by those in the department, but the hangup was the active use of the keyboard. MSU loved the idea of having one, but the lack of compatibility on Twitter and Facebook was problematic. In fact, the keyboard would have launched sooner, said Assistant Marketing Coordinator Rhett Hobart, if MSU hadn’t been determined to exhaust every possibility to make the emojis compatible with other social media programs.
The science behind it is actually fairly interesting, as Hobart describes it. There actually exists an international consortium who approves or disapproves images for the official emoji keyboards such as the native ones on iPhones. Those particular emojis are something called Unicode, which assigns alphabetical value to the symbols. In effect, those keyboards are considered their own language, the same way one could use English, Mandarin or French keyboards.
The application process for Unicode can take as long as two years, and most people are denied anyway, Hobart said. Naturally, that was not a realistic option. What the consortium recommends is image-pasting, which is where Snaps comes in.
Snaps creates a keyboard that basically runs as a gallery of images to be easily copied and pasted. At present, Twitter and Facebook don’t support the pasting of images, though there’s hope that could change in the future.
In the meantime, MSU has a far more flexible and easy to use board. One of the advantages to this route is the ability to add and remove emojis whenever they like. MSU’s staff has already added a few since launch, and they have plans to keep the rotation fresh, reflecting the various seasons of athletics for the Bulldogs.
The fall, of course, is football heavy, and that will change as basketball and baseball seasons arrive. Hobart said there are plans for old school logos for Throwback Thursdays as well as Christmas and other MSU-themed holiday emojis.
“I picture it,” Hobart said, “as let’s say we win the Egg Bowl and we immediately add the Golden Egg Trophy to the keyboard. We send out a push notification that we’ve added something, and immediately, that will be sent thousands of times.”
In the couple weeks since MSU’s keyboard launched, Hobart said he’s fielded calls from double-digit schools across the country looking for information on how they can get their own versions. It’s clearly a unique feature to offer fans, though benefits are felt elsewhere, too.
As Hobart pointed out, it’s a recruiting tool, too. As it stands today, Dan Mullen is the only coach in the country who can send custom emojis and gifs of his school to recruits. The same holds true for all of MSU’s coaches, naturally.
To hear MSU tell it, the service will only grow, both within their own keyboard and across college athletics. Not only is MSU proud to have it, they’re proud to have done it first.
“It was one of the coolest things we’d seen,” Beasley remembered thinking when she first saw the Hawks keyboard. “No other college was doing it, so we said hey, let’s go for it. I want our department to be in the business of being the firsts and the onlys.”