Behind the camera: The making of Clemson’s viral social content.
Pro sports teams have called. Athletic departments from other Power 5 conferences have called. Even European soccer teams have called. They all want to know — how has Clemson Athletics been able to create such incredible material on social media?
The answer: Students.
A handful of staff led by Clemson Athletics’ Director of New and Creative Media Jonathan Gantt sets the strategy and guides the students, but those Vines (6-second videos) that have been looped millions of times? That’s the work of Clemson undergraduate students.
“It’s really cool to be able to tell people that students are major contributors to our content team,” Gantt said. “They bring a unique perspective and passion that adds so much to what we do. And they are getting a lot of attention for what they’re doing — their resumes and portfolios are unmatched.”
There are 16 students in athletic communications working as writers, designers, videographers and editors. Their work is powered by the University’s partnership with Adobe as well as hundreds of Clemson student-athletes and coaches, including one who has an undefeated football team and a love for catchphrases and the “Whip/Nae Nae.”
“It’s just fun,” said Clemson student videographer Austin Koon. “It’s great to have a platform for people to watch. And it’s been really exciting getting to contribute to a football team that I’ve grown up watching.”
Koon, who just graduated with a communication studies degree, began his game days hours prior to kickoff. He and the other student videographer for football set up their equipment and then start shooting footage of fans tailgating and other pre-game activities such as the Tiger Walk and warm-ups.
“It’s a really long day shooting every aspect of the game. We shoot everything we can, from the fans, to the players, to the Tiger. Then we spend an hour or two after the game getting locker room footage, editing videos and uploading everything” for Gantt to post on the Clemson Tigers social media channels, Koon said.
But it’s not all done after the game. During, if they think they have great footage they head back to their work room, edit, add pre-chosen music and upload for Gantt to post or hold until later. In addition, Coordinator of Digital Content Nik Conklin is the dedicated editor during games, producing pieces like the “Most Exciting 25-seconds of…” video series.
During the Notre Dame game — which aired on ABC in prime time — almost 30 short-form videos were created, including the Vine of Coach Dabo Swinney dancing during the locker room celebration. That Vine (which like all Vines is just 6 seconds) has been looped more than 11.8 million times.
“Though we felt confident in our strategy and personnel, I could never have guessed that our work would get the national attention it has — and certainly a big reason for that is our on-field success,” Gantt said.
The same team that spent the season producing these short-form videos spent the summer storyboarding, shooting, editing and producing “The Dream,” the 75-second video that plays every game before the Tigers run down The Hill. An extended 5-minute version was released strategically the week of the Notre Dame game, when all eyes were on Clemson. The team who created the video: two full-time staff members and four students.
Everything the Athletics Department’s creative team does is focused on engaging recruits and Tiger fans. While the football content has garnered the most attention, Athletic Communications also uses the same strategies and creates similar content for Olympic sports.
Part of the reason Clemson has been so successful in this moment, is that it was ready. The team of students was assembled, and a unique partnership with Adobe provides everyone with the tools to create.
In April 2014, Clemson announced a gift from Adobe to deploy the multinational software company’s Creative Cloud tools to University faculty, staff and students. This means that Gantt and the athletics staff don’t have to worry if students will have access to the right software — they know they will.
“If Jim Bottom (Clemson’s CIO) and our Clemson leadership hadn’t developed the Adobe partnership, I don’t think we could have been to this point this quickly,” Gantt said.
It’s not just about the tools; it’s also about opportunity.
Student and graphic designer Alexa Rickard has been using Adobe tools and following Adobe conferences for years. The week before Christmas she and a small team of three staff and four students were invited by Adobe to come to the Adobe’s Worldwide Sales Conference in Las Vegas and create material for their social channels.
“It was unreal. We had a workroom full of equipment, they took us backstage and showed us how they are able to project the graphics on the huge stage screens,” said the Clemson graphic communications senior. “I’ve been using Adobe products since high school. I’ve watched their conferences online, and to be there, I was almost teary-eyed.”
Just like she does on football Saturdays, Rickard and Clemson Athletics Associate Director of Creative Media Jeff Kallin spent the conference producing graphics — text and graphic elements overlaid on images. They worked alongside an Adobe representative who provided feedback and made the final decisions on what was posted to their social channels.
“Walking into the Adobe conference with the Clemson team by my side, all the hard work paid off, it really paid off — especially for students,” Rickard said.