How to Enjoy A Richer March Madness Using Social Media

If it's NCAA basketball, it's March Madness. And if it's 2011 and a live media event, it's gone viral. And if you're wondering what the crucial element of the "Big Dance" is this year, it's social media.

If it’s NCAA basketball, it’s March Madness. And if it’s 2011 and a live media event, it’s gone viral. And if you’re wondering what the crucial element of the “Big Dance” is this year, it’s social media.

So file away your paper brackets, charge up your iPhone and enjoy a new, richer March Madness experience.

Perhaps it was a sign from the basketball gods that Apple released the iPad 2 just as March Madness got underway, or perhaps Apple knows more than the rest of us about an under-reported segment of Apple geeks and basketball fanatics. Either way, iPad and iPhone users rejoiced when the powers-that-be (aka, the NCAA, CBS and Turner Sports) announced that the “March Madness On Demand” app would be free this year. It is estimated that more than 11 million hours of live streaming games will be played online during the three-week tournament so charge up your device, but put away your credit card, lucky Apple fans.

Social Buzz

Perhaps no company better displays the “take the ball and run with it” social media strategy than Coke which is spending more than 20 percent of its NCAA tournament ad budget on social media this year, compared to 2 percent last year.

Dubbed the “Social Arena,” Coke has created a social-media gathering place where fans can chat with other fans, read top Tweets and trending teams, and find all of the official Twitter handles and hashtags of each school in the tourney. They’ve also included Facebook in the game, providing a “bracket” link with Facebook “like” buttons for each team so you can broadcast your team favorites on your Facebook wall.

Virtual Brackets

Yahoo! Sports Tourney Pick ‘Em is offering $1 million to the basketball, and gambling genius, who can come up with a perfect bracket. Odds are that won’t happen, but the overall winner does win $10,000.

The ESPN Tournament Challenge is also giving $10,000 to the overall winner of its bracket pool, and an extra $5,000 to the runner-up.

The CBS Bracket Challenge is offering a trip to the 2012 Final Four to the overall winner of its pool, and promoting it as a Facebook app so you can ‘share’ with your friends that you were smart enough to not pick Pitt to go all the way.

AOL Sporting News also has a Facebook option, this one giving you the chance to compare your results against participating sports celebrities such as Troy Aikman and Gary Payton. The site also has teamed up with T-Mobile to offer a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy 4G.

Not to be outdone, Facebook is running its own ‘Social Bracket,’ based on the number of “Likes” each team in the tournament receives. No prizes here, except perhaps some consolation for teams booted in the early rounds but still ‘liked’ a lot by their fans.

Facebook

The more than 6.6 million, and growing, fans of chocolate and peanut butter bar favorite Reese’s Facebook page can enter for a chance to try to shoot a half-court basket for $1 million at the 2012 March Madness tourney.

If you would rather reminisce about NCAA tournaments of old, Unilever’s Dove brand is posting tales from tournament legends such as former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and Georgetown University coach John Thompson III on its Facebook page.

AT&T upped the ante with a NCAA Facebook friend app sweepstakes that asks fans to pick which Facebook friend they would choose to take with them to this year’s NCAA Final Four. Enter and you could win a pair of tickets to the finals and a pair of Motorola Atrix 4G phones, but also, be warned, lose a lot of your Facebook friends in the process!

Twitter

The NCAA has its official March Madness account, and more general Basketball account, to keep track of all the action.

If it’s the experts you want to follow, ESPN’s always-excitable Dick Vitale is Tweeting, most likely in ALL CAPS, along with Andy Katz, and the full list here.

For news networks, Yahoo is offering NCAA coverage on Twitter, along with CBS, SB Nation, and The New York Times, to name a few.

Also on the site, ESPN.com is partnering with Verizon to host the “Tournament of Tweets.” You can vote for a team by sending a tweet with the corresponding hashtag, and see the latest team tweets alongside the bracket.

And now, the air ball: in this case it is a reminder that wherever social media and live events followed by millions go, concerns over online privacy closely follow.

Read this refresher from this year’s Super Bowl on how to protect your digital identity while enjoying sports on the Web.