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As Selection Sunday hits this weekend, coworkers around the country will distribute March Madness bracket sheets to get their office pools going.

How can your brand get in on the fun? Let’s do a little social media listening with Instant Search to gauge the conversation around the NCAA’s annual basketball tournament.

March Madness Is Bigger Than Basketball

Although the NCAA in recent years has opted to simply call the annual event the NCAA Division 1 Tournament, Dummies.com believes the March Madness moniker will always remain.

That argument holds water when you look at the conversation volume – nearly 200K posts in the past week, and sentiment at 87% positive.

Part of the reason for this is the life March Madness has taken on beyond the basketball court. Despite the historic association with the NCAA tournament, the term is generic enough to suit any brand’s March promo needs – and the alliteration doesn’t hurt – so many have co-opted the term for themselves.

Looking at the Top Hashtags we see there are a number of terms that pretty obviously have nothing to do with basketball – and they’re accounting for a lot of the conversation.

Though the overarching hashtag #MarchMadness mostly refers to the NCAA tournament, there are quite a few hashtags eclipsing mentions of #basketball, #sports and the #NCAA thanks to Zimbio.

The entertainment site has their own version of March Madness going for the 7th year – namely a battle between favorite TV couples. Actors and fans are sharing their picks to win using show and character hashtags like:

  • #SwanQueen and #EvilRegals for the characters of Regina and Emma Swan on #OnceUponATime
  • #Clexa for the characters Clarke and Lexa on #The100
  • #Malec and #Clace from #ShadowHunters

What’s the prize? Bragging rights for the fandom that wins. And lots and lots of engagement for Zimbio and the shows in the tournament. It’s genius, really. Especially if your show is in the mix.

Co-opting a trend is always a risk – but when it pays off it’s worth it.

Maybe this is why the NCAA has steered away from the March Madness name?

Hashtags Aren’t the Full Story

Then again, there are other factors to consider when gauging the social conversation, and where social users’ hearts and minds lie.

When looking at Top Terms we see some other conversations out in front:

Take note of the emojis, as well as the terms. There’s a lot more conversation about basketball happening here, but people are also talking about Chris Brown’s one-footed backflip to the song March Madness (“Chris Brown,” “flip”), as well as the upcoming Selection Sunday “show” – which is changing formats again.

Some sports fans took to Twitter to express displeasure about the change, however, sentiment on the term Selection Sunday is holding strong at 87%, so TBS – the network airing the show – doesn’t have much to worry about there.

And searching on @TBSNetwork in the past day – given that the format change was announced yesterday – also shows a rosy picture for the network.

Sentiment on March 7 was at 100%, thanks to excitement over the upcoming iHeartRadio Awards.

So there doesn’t seem to be any real backlash over the Selection Sunday change at the moment – but it’s certainly something the network should continue to track over the new few days, and in real-time during the Selection Sunday broadcast.

Even if they can’t make changes now, they can address any fan concerns and promise to do better next March, if it comes to that.

Engagement Is Better With Friends

Meanwhile, how else can brands leverage the March Madness trend? Certainly athletic brands should watch social sentiment to see if any influencers emerge from the NCAA Tournament.

What about the NCAA itself? In looking at Top Brands associated with March Madness, they were way out in front, so how can they grab more of the social conversation?

Perhaps a partnership with an unlikely brand – like Merriam-Webster? The dictionary brand could continue to ride the wave of increased Google searches that occurred after Frances McDormand mentioned “inclusion riders” in her Oscar acceptance speech, by offering information about March Madness for newbies.

Or perhaps the NCAA could simply take sports fans’ temperatures about the transparency of their process, and do a better job of communicating things. As this article illustrates, there’s plenty of misinformation out there.

Even if you understand how it all works, there are moments throughout the tournament that are harder to follow than others – like the second and third rounds. Brands and media outlets can connect with fans by offering information and reminders to social audiences interested in specific teams.

And remember, you don’t have to be an athletic brand to leverage the March Madness trend. Whether you have a segment of college basketball fans in your audience, or decide to put your own spin on March Madness, you can succeed. Just let social media listening tell you which way to go and you’ll win.