Q&A: Chris Yandle

Chris Yandle is the Assistant AD for Communications & Public Relations at Georgia Tech, where he is a member of the department’s senior leadership team and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Communications & PR office. He is regarded as one of college athletics’ leaders in social media and progressive public relations. He is also an adjunct PR instructor at Kennesaw State, the co-author of a college textbook of social media plans in sports, and host of the #SportsPR Podcast available on SoundCloud and iTunes..


SPR: Congratulations on launching the #SportsPR podcast! You are only five months in and you’ve already produced 25 episodes. Tell us more about how it’s going and why you felt it was important to do this.

CY: This is actually version 2.0. Back in 2013, I had a video blog with a similar premise, but no one wanted to watch a video podcast — I didn’t know how to strip the audio into a podcast format and I had no time. In the time since I dropped the video podcast, I felt there was a void in the market for a resource like this. With the #SportsPR Podcast, I had grandiose plans of 1-2 episodes per week with guests from far and wide. The good news: I started off the strong, but I have faded since because my spare time is limited these days. I try to record a few episodes at a time so I have some in the can to spread out.

The feedback has been more than I ever expected — the amount of people who say they learn so much from these episodes. I didn’t do it to hear thank you. I did it, initially, to feel better about myself. My goals for this are two-fold: 1) I want to learn something new and 2) I want to add value. No matter how stressed I am at work, how busy I am, or how late I record an episode, it is a stress release for me. I enjoy it. I thought about stopping it, but my wife told me not to because she knows how much I enjoy it.

SPR: You’ve been in collegiate athletics your entire career and have seen digital media transform communications. Are there different challenges you face today when student athletes have essentially “grown up” with social media vs. years ago when you had to teach them how to use the tools?

CY: Digital media has transformed our profession. As PR professionals, it has made our lives easier, harder and more efficient all in the same breath. When I was a student worker in communications, I had to learn how to send box scores via fax machine. We were just starting to use email press releases and information that way. That was 2003 and it still wasn’t main-stream. I’m dating myself a little bit — I remember when The Facebook launched when I was a senior in college in 2004.

It was during my time at Baylor when social media entered the sports landscape; Then, we were all still learning about the social platforms — both on the personal and professional levels. Our student-athletes were learning alongside us. While students now have “grown up” with social media more so now than 6-7 years ago, we still face the same challenges: we still need to educate everyone on the proper social media usage. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequence. We still hear about athletes, coaches and administrators getting reprimanded for what they do online. No matter the amount of social media education, we are still going to hear those stories, but that shouldn’t stop us from educating our athletes, coaches and staff on proper and positive social media use.

SPR:  How closely do you monitor your student athletes online and how often do you have to intervene / what actions do you take?

CY: I don’t like the word ‘monitor.’ Monitoring is illegal in several states. We take the “positive education” approach. We give social media talks prior to the start of each season, we include our student-athletes in our social media strategy throughout the season and we try to be a positive example for them to follow.

In the event a student-athlete makes a mistake, we reach out immediately to him or her to tell them “Hey, I wouldn’t post that.” If it’s something egregious, we ask them to remove it immediately and we contact the coach, or director of operations immediately and notify other administrators if it’s something worse (we have procedures in place for those instances).

SPR:   On the organizational side, departments all have different approaches when it comes to digital media and you actually co-authored a book with Clemson Professor Jimmy Sanderson to help organizations establish consistency and develop successful social media plans.  What are they key components of a successful organizational plans and what kind of dedicated resources are needed?   

CY: The first thing you need to determine is your “Why.” Why are you posting on social media? You need a reason. Don’t do it to check the box. Do it because there is a purpose to it. Once you figure out your “Why,” determine “What” you want to post: behind-the-scenes, Q&A, in-game photos, stories, etc. Your "When, Where and How” will be answered by your most important resource. The most important resource you need in a social and digital media strategy: time.

There’s a new social network every week. You don’t have to be everywhere. With your “Where,” determine what networks are best for you. Many times, a team’s social media staff is one person, so time is of the essence. Start small and gradually build from there. If you are going to be on 10 social networks, then you need to have 3-4 people on your social team to coordinate those efforts. Social media is not a one-man band. It can’t be.

When people ask me, “Why aren’t your teams on more social platforms?” My response? I’d rather be kick-ass on four platforms than suck at 10.

SPR:  Where do you see digital communications going next in collegiate athletics? IE: what trends/tools do you see increasing in influence?

CY: Everyone is saying 2016 is the year of mobile. That was two years ago. I think people will finally figure out “Hey, 60% of our traffic comes from mobile devices, maybe it’s time to change our approach.” Those who haven’t thought mobile-first by now will be left behind. Virtual Reality could take off but not until you can do it from your mobile devices which could be very soon.

We saw AT&T’s recent announcement that’s going to a Netflix-like content package. I think this is going to become a more popular model for many providers. Taking it a step further, I think you are going to see more sports teams allowing consumers to personalize their web/mobile experience.