Social Media and March Madness: Predictive or Problematic?

March 25, 2015

With a week of March Madness behind us, the social media sporting landscape is buzzing with fans celebrating victory and lamenting defeat.  We often find that major events like March Madness attract bad guys looking to take advantage of the massive audience.  To see what’s going on, we analyzed the Facebook pages of all 68 participants (including the “First Four®”) and the official NCAA March Madness Page.  Beyond looking for security issues,  we also looked at fan tone and rowdiness to see how they reflect team fortunes and even how they might predict winners (for you gamblers out there).  Here’s what we found...

We Have a Winner
If last year is any indication, there is a correlation between “rowdiness” (where rowdiness = number of comments) of a team’s social media account during the first week of Madness and winning the championship . Last year, University of Connecticut fans posted more than any team analyzed during week one.  Sure enough, they won it all.  This year Kentucky is looking to make it a trend.  Their fans blew away the field with 16,790 comments - more than three times the total of second place North Carolina Tar Heel fans.  So far, Kentucky is also blowing away opponents on the hardwood (as expected).  Here’s the list of the first week’s top 10 rowdiest teams.

X*&^%$#@! - The Ducks Lost
Similar to our recent study of NFL playoff teams, we thought it would be fun to look at the most profane fans.  At the top of the Madness profanity list were Oregon Duck fans who included profanity in 3.1% of their posts.  (Maybe they were ticked about being ousted for the second consecutive year by the Wisconsin Badgers.)  The second place Iowa State Cyclones (2.4%) and third place UC Irvine Anteaters (2.4%) suffered (brutal) first round losses in close games.  Do fans vent frustration in social media?  It looks that way.  Maybe it’s all part of a healing process that leads to hope for next year?  Here’s the complete list of the top five most profane teams.

What’s going on with Arizona Wildcats and NC State Wolfpack fans?  What do they have to be angry about?

Scammers and Spammers Drawn to the Audience
The large audiences and massive activity levels of current events inevitably draws scammers and spammers.  We found 146 scams/spam incidents including chain letters, work-from-home schemes, and weight-loss scams. Here’s an example of an account owner that distributed spam across multiple Madness Pages to collect “Likes” for his own page.  As there are approximately 1 million subscribers to these four Pages, the spammer potentially reached up to 1 million people.

Gambling and Madness
Gambling is a big part of the March Madness culture, so it’s no surprise to find a gambling presence in March Madness social media . We found 87 incidents of gambling, with the official NCAA March Madness Page containing 90% of these incidents.  This is a good example of how social media brand and audience can effectively be hijacked by a questionable third party.  Here is one example.  

Fake Madness
Similar to our research on Fortune 100 and Top UK brands, we found around 300 unauthorized Facebook Pages and 150 unauthorized Twitter accounts that mimic official March Madness accounts. These unauthorized accounts include Pages and Accounts that are not verified or are unofficial. These accounts use team branding and imagery to steal audience from legitimate accounts, attack the brand, and perpetuate scams.  Consider the following two Twitter accounts that claim to represent March Madness.

The text of the first Twitter page claims it is the “official” page.  The second is the actual verified page, (indicated by the blue checkmark next to the account name). However, the unauthorized page has already stolen more than 5,000 followers!  The fact that it’s so easy to set up unauthorized pages that look legitimate makes it very difficult to defend hard earned brand equity from social media imposters.

Bad Guys Playing a Rigged Game
The social media security game today is rigged in favor of the bad guys.  A fake account that steals team fans and defrauds students can be created in minutes.  A scammer can post a message that reaches thousands of potential victims in seconds.  Meanwhile, teams (or brands) would have to employ teams of people to moderate thousands (or tens of thousands) of messages per week to protect  themselves.  Even then, brand moderators don’t have the expertise to detect most hacks.  Without automated security and content filtering - smart money is on the bad guys.