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The Power of Social Networking Highlights NU's First Global Red Out Campaign
Omaha Photographer Rick Anderson shot this “Red Out” photo last Saturday afternoon in Lincoln.
Photo Courtesy None
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
10/20/2010
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Randy York's N-Sider

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For a fan that never used Facebook until he discovered Nebraska's Red Out Around the World site two months ago, Scott Smith fully understands the power of social networking now.

Smith, 60, saw his first Husker game with his dad 48 years ago when Bob Devaney arrived and now attends Nebraska football games with his own son, Morgan, a UNL Law School graduate and Deputy County Attorney for Platte County in Columbus.

Last Saturday night, driving 30 miles-an-hour from Lincoln back to his home in Omaha, Smith was listening to Led Zeppelin and "Stairway to Heaven" when he wondered how many of his new-found Facebook "Friends" would still be connected after the Huskers' disappointing 20-13 loss to Texas.

He was surprised when he got back home how positive the comments were on his own little section that he carved out in Cyberspace - a spot he now calls Husker Planet - because he's heard from so many people around the world.

"I can see why the Red Out Around the World map has people registered from almost every single country on the planet," Smith said, "because my own little personal Facebook Event page got almost 115,000 responses, including 39,000 'Attending' from people in countries from one end of the planet to the other."

Smith heard from a Central American government official, a South American "futbol" coach, a retired teacher from Kansas, young men and women from all over Europe and Asia, plus American military personnel both at home and abroad. Such responses explain why he's learned how to translate Go Big Red in Dutch, German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Greek, Russian, Portuguese and Chinese.

Big Red Fans the 'Greatest on Planet Earth'

"This whole Red Out experience proved to me what I always suspected - that Nebraska is loved by many and has the greatest fans on Planet Earth," Smith said. "I was very proud to have been a very small part of Red Out Around the World. If I learned one thing, it's that Husker Nation doesn't really describe who we are anymore because we now have proof that we are Husker Planet, and I think it would be a shame if all of this international connectivity just faded away."

To help keep his communication alive, Smith made Husker Planet "a child" of his own Red Out Around the World Event page. He created it thinking the Red Out site would vanish after Saturday night, and he did not want to lose the connection to his newfound cyber friends. But he can rest easy. Red Out Around the World will remain live and fully functional for the foreseeable future.

The Nebraska Athletic Department, the Nebraska Alumni Association, UNL Communications and The Omaha World-Herald - the four groups that partnered to make Red Out a reality - see the site as a possible foundation for future Husker events and therefore can continue to stand on its own.

"This campaign was successful not because of anything we did but really because of the unwavering support of Husker fans all around the world," said Michael Stephens, Nebraska's Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing, Licensing and Concessions. "While some schools may be close, there really is no other place like Nebraska, and I again salute the passion and loyalty of our entire fan base.

"We will continue to create campaigns that focus on our fans and our great football tradition," Stephens said. "I think we always need to be innovative in our approach while, at the same time, we always keep in mind and build on our strengths."

Nebraska's Marketing team was the catalyst for recognizing and thanking Big Red fans before and during the Red Out, and that team never ceased to be amazed at how Husker fans showed unwavering support while a robust, interactive web site focused on all aspects of Nebraska's athletic and academic tradition.

Mendenhall: Saturday the Reddest Crowd Ever

Diane Mendenhall, the executive director of the Nebraska Alumni Association, thought the Red Out campaign did a great job of reflecting Nebraska's truly global fan base. "It helped bring all of us together so we could celebrate our unity and our traditions and watch our brand grow around the world," she said.

"I was talking to an attorney from Omaha Monday, and he mentioned how effective the campaign was," Mendenhall related. "He said the stadium is always red, but it's never been that red."

Those who shoot photographs from airplanes and helicopters could see the difference. While some questioned the need to ask Nebraska fans to wear red, we learned that a Red Out is more compelling when all fans wear red, even those who would prefer to honor the Blackshirts or wear the cream rather than the scarlet.

"We were encouraged by how much interest there is in creating and expanding international chapters of our alumni base," Mendenhall said. "We've always known that the unity created by the football team provides a spark for the whole university, but we think it's an even bigger springboard for recruiting and communicating in places all over the world, including China, Malaysia and Singapore."

As the director of both domestic and international alumni groups, "I couldn't ask for a better platform than this worldwide promotion we all worked on together," Mendenhall said. "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you collaborate with groups around you. I think we're all pleased with what we have and interested in how we can take Red Out to the next level."

Jon Humiston, the UNL Communications creative director who designed the Red Out posters and screen savers, said he was "blown away" by the intensity of social media surrounding the event.

"Although the crowd was upset about the outcome, leading up to the game, there was a buzz on campus, in town and everywhere Husker fans live," Humiston said. "The excitement was electric. It gave you goose bumps and made you want to run onto the field. It was a great day to be a Husker. When you break it all down, it was a great experience for what I call the four A's - athletics, academics, alumni and admissions - because we all hit some really significant numbers in social media."

Nebraska Has Almost 70,000 Signed Into Facebook

Nebraska Athletics has more than 69,000 signed into Facebook and 5,400 signed onto Twitter. "Without a doubt, Red Out helped us expand our numbers on Facebook and Twitter, and we appreciate all of the Husker fans who signed up," said Ethan Rowley, Nebraska's assistant director of athletic marketing and coordinator of the Athletic Department's social media networking efforts

Rowley would like the Red Out to trigger more growth spurts on a consistent basis. "We know there are a lot more Big Red fans out there," he said, "and we want to make sure we find every one we can."

Rich Warren, director of Marketing for The Omaha World-Herald, said his company invested wisely in creating the international map and the rolling lists of countries that are now connected to the Red Out site.

Even the most casual fan would enjoy scrolling a mouse over such obscure countries as Belize, Mozambique and Tanzania and seeing Husker fans registered for the Red Out. You can't help but wonder how Big Red fans dress up and amp up in Antarctica and Iceland on Game Day. And wouldn't it be fun to Skype and share memorable moments with fans in Madagascar, Macedonia and Mozambique?

"It's a very good site, and we enjoyed building it," Warren said. "The Red Out site was linked off the World- Herald's website, Omaha.com, which is the most trafficked news site in the region, and we were very proud to share the site with all of our online readers.

"Everyone made important contributions, and we enjoyed working with UNL's Athletic Marketing Department to build the site and bring the Red Out idea to life," Warren said. "We like what we were able to get done, but feel there's still so much more we can do. I can see this site getting reconfigured and being relevant and useful as we all move forward."

Try Facebook and Twitter. You Might Like It

Smith believes older Nebraska fans can embrace social networking and catch on just like he did.

"The power of social media is incredible," he said. "I had no idea I would be using it until the Red Out site was launched. I'd look at Facebook because my son is on it, and it was kind of fun. I had to laugh, though, at the stuff I was doing and accomplishing once I got into it."

Initially, he just wanted to keep up with his son. Then he decided he might as well learn how to launch and improve his own site. "It's easy," Smith said. "It's child's play to get on and then you just need to keep fooling with everything. You don't have to know what you're doing. The more you try things, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the better you get. Then, all of a sudden, social networking can become an unbelievable experience for you."

Smith hasn't seen the blockbuster movie The Social Network, but the premise won't be hard for him to grasp. After his experience, it makes complete sense to see how a Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius can blog and program in his dorm room and then build a global social network that revolutionizes communications with 500 million "friends" six years later.

"I think the Red Out Around the World site needs to stay around and have at least one major event every year," Smith said. "It's a wonderful tool, and I think everyone who gives it a try will warm up to it and keep it around. I don't think you need a blockbuster game to make it relevant. I would use a Red Out for the first game of the year or for the Homecoming game every year."

Smith compares Red Out to a welcome mat and a familiar face for Big Red fans everywhere.

"I guess you could say I was born into being a Husker fan," Smith said. "Over 100 years ago, my great grandfather took my grandfather to his first Nebraska game. After World War II ended, my grandfather and my dad both had season tickets, so I got to see Coach Devaney's first game against South Dakota when I was 12 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday (perhaps because he still has a picture from that game with this inscription: To Scott, Thanks for being with me on the first one! Bob Devaney).

"I had never seen anything so exciting before in my young life - the pitch plays, the pass plays, the power running plays, the roar of the crowd and being able to share all of that with my dad," Smith recalled. "It was a great day, and I've been hooked on the Cornhuskers from that day on."

It's Still about One Thing: A Common Bond

Smith remembers listening to the radio, including the broadcast of Nebraska's first ever bowl win over Miami in the Gotham Bowl. He remembers driving to a motel in Lincoln to watch Nebraska beat Oklahoma in 1963 because his dad couldn't get enough tickets, and the game wasn't televised in Omaha. He remembers the Scoring Explosion years, beating Miami for a national title, destroying Florida for another and then whipping Peyton Manning and Tennessee for national championship No. 5.

"I remember all of the games my son and I attended together, including the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, beating Notre Dame in their house and ours, the 300th consecutive sellout celebration and beating Oklahoma last year," he said.

Since 1990, Scott and Morgan Smith have attended games together and continued the family tradition.

"That's what makes Nebraska football so important in our lives," Smith said. "It's not just a football team as some proclaim. It's a beloved bond. It's something families share together, every game, season after season. It doesn't matter if you're a bank president, a retail clerk or a farmer. It doesn't matter whether you live in Omaha or Funk, Nebraska, whether you're 60 like I am or 30 like my son is. Football is a common bond. It's a wonderful world of togetherness where you can forget about your worries and share your memories - memories that are made and can last a lifetime."

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