Up until a few days before the Gator Marching Band departed for a monumental trip to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, it had no public Twitter account and a neglected Facebook page that reached less than a thousand people a week.
How did a marching band accomplish this?
Timing is everything.
And, of course, having a good backpack helps, too.
Before the band stepped foot on foreign soil, the band directors, university relations and I carefully constructed a plan of updating content both live and delayed to get the maximum impact from the trip.
Pushing out daily updates through DropBox, our team was able to provide media outlets with photos, video and daily briefings before the evening news deadlines.
Don’t discount the army of band parents who also took to social media to check up on the status of their kids and spread the word. Multiple news outlets received phone calls from band parents and Gator fans asking why there wasn’t more coverage of the band’s trip.
Taking to Twitter, the band also made contact with key media outlets covering the event, specifically the major NBC affiliates in Florida to get our content out.
Coordinating all of this overseas, in a different time zone and trying to film the trip, was no easy task.
Each day started at roughly 5 a.m. (London time), which is midnight back in the states, to check up on the news outlets in the U.S. before the day started. Usually the band had at least two events per day - this could be rehearsals, performances or visit to a historic site or venue.
Once the day ended (for the band), I would usually venture through London to shoot additional footage of the city by night for packages to be produced about the trip. Then I’d take the last train back towards the West side of London near Heathrow Airport - the blue Picadilly Circus line to be exact - to the Hatton Cross Underground station and take the 285 bus (a 24-hour route) back to Feltham station, which was across the street from our hotel.
I’d get in about 1 or 2 a.m. (London time), which was perfect to check up on the evening news in the U.S., edit some more footage and distribute, and then sleep for a few hours before doing it all over again.
This was beyond exhausting and photos can be found when I am often sleeping on tour buses with the band to get a few extra minutes in between stops.
All of this was worth it. The buzz surrounding the Gator Marching Band was unheard of. For all of the other events going on in London, the band was published in majors newspapers across London and the United State, made it on the BBC directly after the Opening Ceremonies, and glossed the pages of TIME Magazine with Michelle Obama.
There are countless other articles, news reports, tweets and shares online that featured the band, and I cannot take credit for all of them. But it was the coordinated efforts and months of planning between myself, Steve Orlando and Bruce Floyd with the UF News Bureau and the band directors that made this possible.
This trip only scratched the surface for what social media can do to a brand. What I have learned through my experiences of backpack journalism can also translate into backpack public relations.
Not only did our team manage one of the most recognizable brands in the U.S. (the University of Florida) while traveling abroad - it grew the brand of the Gator Marching Band to numbers that are normally reserved for the athletic teams on campus.
... All while taking thousands of photographs, writing countless updates and shooting and editing video to create finished packages documenting the trip.
Social media is more than just a tool to promote a brand, it provided a sense of pride with the Gator fans to feel connected with a brand, a band, that was representing their school and their country.