Zion Williamson electrified the sold-out crowds of Cameron Indoor Stadium with his awe-inspiring dunks during his lone season at Duke.
For the 9,314 in attendance, it was magical, and for the millions of fans not as lucky to witness it live, they were still lucky enough to catch a glimpse almost as soon as the ball hit Coach K Court.
Oh, the power of modern social media.
Whether it’s fueled by love, hate or a combination of both, Duke men’s basketball has skyrocketed over the last 30 years to become the most recognizable brand in college basketball. That's something Creative Director David Bradley has run with, as he and his staff have elevated the social media presence. Bradley graduated from Duke in 2004 and has been on staff for 15 years, two of which spent in his current role.
“It’s a sign of the times. I think we were a little bit ahead of it, especially Dave Bradley, who runs it,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We try to stay as current as possible, but tastefully. We can have social media, but you better have something to social media about.”
'What we're all looking for'
Bradley has found plenty of ways to market Duke’s stars of the last decade and help turn the program’s image into a successful social media following that grosses over $45 million in brand value each year, according to GoDuke.com.
Around 2007, Duke Blue Planet video blogs were introduced, giving fans an inside look at the life of a Duke basketball player. The program’s recent utilization of “#TheBrotherhood” has helped bring in a host of new activity, with Bradley and his staff running with the premise that 40 years of players under Krzyzewski all share a special bond. In 2018, all of the program’s social media accounts relaunched under a unified handle, @DukeMBB, to make the accounts more accessible.
“I think Duke’s social media is the best in the country, regardless of sports, honestly,” current Blue Devil Cassius Stanley said. “It’s the best, top of the notch. Everybody’s involved in it. I think it’s just so well thought out, and everyone in there is looking for the next thing. I think that’s what we’re all looking for too, everyone who is involved in social media and the generation now is always looking for the next.”
As much as the social media pages are tailored to giving the Cameron Crazies more access to their favorite players, the reality is that out of @DukeMBB’s 1.2 million Instagram followers and 2.2 million Twitter followers, the content has a very specific purpose in helping the program—reaching the dozen or so recruits that Krzyzewski and his staff are targeting in each class.
With some of the best facilities, amenities and access in all of sports, Duke has used its social media as a huge recruiting tool and is a big reason why the Blue Devils have secured a top-two class nationally each of the last six years, according to ESPN. It’s also worth noting that Bradley’s official page on GoDuke.com says he “assists the coaching staff in recruiting.”
'We're going to put you out there'
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Stanley was the last of the four freshmen to announce his intent to come to Duke, and although the Blue Devils didn’t enter the race for the four-star recruit until late, the allure of the Duke brand was a key component in bringing Stanley to Durham. The Los Angeles native even cited the program’s social media following as a factor in his decision when he committed in April.
“I was definitely looking at Duke’s page because how could you not?” Stanley explained. “Especially this past year, it was everywhere. I was just noticing the little things like watching some of the Duke Blue Planet episodes before I committed and just getting a feel for how they handled things.”
From an official January Duke Athletics report, the men’s basketball social media, in addition to being the most-followed program on the internet, racked up 29.41 million engagements on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook in the 2018 calendar year. The next-closest team in collegiate athletics? Alabama football, which could only muster up less than half of what Bradley and his staff accomplished.
“We’ve had good players and we’ve had good teams, so it’s been a combination of that and the intense interest that social media has,” Krzyzewski reflected. “It’s been great for our program, and our program’s been great for it.”
The social media staff certainly gets an added boost with personable, talented stars, but the staff has underscored not putting too much emphasis on promoting themselves on their personal pages. Instead, Stanley and his teammates have been using their platforms to show support for one another.
“The first couple days they told all of us, ‘You don’t have to advertise yourself. We’re going to put you out there and all you have to do is play basketball, just show love to each other,’ and that’s what we’ve done,” the freshman guard said.
Blue Devil fans got a taste of even more social media frenzy this past spring, as point guard Tre Jones made shockwaves around college basketball with a series of Instagram posts teasing a potential return to Durham for a sophomore season. Two days later, his decision was official, but the massive response on Jones’ account—which now features 319,000 followers—was yet another circumstance of Duke’s stranglehold on the biggest brand in college athletics.
'I shouldn't say never'
Despite Krzyzewski’s support for what Bradley and his staff have built with @DukeMBB, the Hall of Famer is one of the only premier coaches, along with Roy Williams, to not have a public social media account associated with himself. However, he does use a private account so he can keep up with former and current Blue Devils.
“I go back to something I learned as an Army officer—we should function on a need-to-know basis, and I really believe in it,” Krzyzewski said. “I follow a number of guys because I feel I need to know something about them. I don’t think anyone needs to know anything more about me…. I’m interested in what my guys think. I’m not trying to win a poll, but I understand it. I think it serves its purpose.”
Once the five-time champion does finally decide to leave the bench and retire, he has said that he may finally decide to go public on the internet. Don’t expect Krzyzewski to go around starting Twitter beef, though.
“I shouldn’t say never, because when I stop coaching, whatever I’m doing, I might then feel that that would activate more of an awareness for maybe the Emily Krzyzewski Center, the V Foundation or whatever,” Krzyzewski said regarding whether he'll make a public social media account. “But right now, it’d be conflicting. When I’m not coaching, maybe it wouldn’t.”
Thankfully, the program’s social media following doesn’t need Krzyzewski online to keep growing, and believe it or not, it’ll keep on moving even without Zion Williamson and Co.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.