Pitt Athletics looks to capitalize on social media through its teams’ success


Screenshot of @pitt_athletics Instagram page

The Pitt Athletics official instagram page keeps followers up to date on Pitt sports schedules, tickets and more.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

It seems so simple — just type out a tweet, click send and fans and athletes will inevitably interact with the post. Or so one would think. Pitt’s director of social media Joe Lassi said a lot goes into each post, including strategizing how to optimize the number of engagements.

“One of the big things that we are charged with is spreading that Pitt brand,” Lassi said. “We have our graphic designers. We have our photographers. We have our videographers and content editors … we all have to work together to recruit student athletes but we’re also recruiting fans.”

Within college athletic programs, Lassi’s strategies are some of the most successful in the nation at inducing engagement. Pitt Athletics’ main social media page ranked No. 3 in total engagements with 512,000 in December 2021, trailing just Notre Dame and Cincinnati, according to SkullSparks, a company that partners with college athletic programs to help build a digital brand. Pitt also saw a 170% increase in its total yearly engagements from 2020 to 2021. Lassi said a point he emphasizes with his interns and staff is to always provide content that’s in the moment and authentic.

“If a moment happens that we want to push, we’re ready and have that piece of content from the moment,” Lassi said. “If you want to see the engagement, it has to be authentic … you can’t be trying to tell a story and mismatching it with something that happened three weeks ago.”

While Lassi is the only person whose job is specifically social media, he said each team’s sports information director runs the team-specific Twitter accounts, and he has a few student interns to help him throughout the year. Grace Davies, a sophomore studying global management and political science, is one of Lassi’s interns who helps drive engagement. Davies said she has enjoyed learning some of the ins and outs of what it takes to drive fan engagement.

“[Lassi] doesn’t want our page to just be a retweet machine,” Davies said. “He posts a lot of different content and that’s something unique that we do that other big schools don’t do because they have the good program. They don’t have to think about unique ways to get interactions.”

Like Davies, Lassi was introduced to the social media field when he was a student at Pitt. Lassi was a student leader of the Oakland Zoo where he helped to build the Oakland Zoo Twitter page. But as an exercise science student, Lassi never thought that he’d find himself working in the field past his education.

“I never guessed I would end up doing this,” Lassi said. “You definitely saw the power of [social media] early on when it was at its infant stage … it was certainly a good introduction and a good way to see how engaging the things you put on there can be.”

Davies said she never really envisioned herself getting into the social media field either, but has enjoyed being a part of Pitt’s rise on digital platforms.

“I never thought about it until I got the internship,” Davies said. “It’s really fun, like being able to just go to a basketball game as my job is. So now that I’m in the field, yeah, it would be something I pursue.”

Pitt Athletics placed No. 10 in the Learfield Directors’ Cup for the fall, which measures athletic programs’ overall success for the academic year. Football’s ACC Championship, volleyball’s trip to the final four, men’s soccer’s run in the NCAA tournament and men’s cross country all earned the program points. Lassi said while success from the teams certainly helps to boost engagement, he and the rest of the department need to capitalize on the success through social media.

“You need to then be in a position to build off of that success,” Lassi said. “You’re planning for success … when that comes, we’re ready to make sure that we’re telling that story to everybody because that’s when the engagement is going to come off of that.

Lassi said he and his team especially enjoyed promoting Kenny Pickett. The redshirt senior quarterback is Pitt’s first Heisman Trophy finalist since 2003.

They launched a campaign for Pickett to be named the Heisman winner through hashtags such as “#Heisman2Pickett” and other graphics. While Lassi’s campaign for Pickett may not have ended with the quarterback hoisting the trophy in New York City, it was far and away some of the most engaged with posts he could remember.

“I knew that it would probably do well,” Lassi said. “But the numbers we saw around that, they really took off … it was millions of impressions off of that stuff.”

Social media presence is more prevalent than ever for players with the new rules put in place to allow college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. R.J. Sepich runs the Pitt football social media accounts and said this season players thanked him more often than in the past. He said he thinks that players are aware of the power of social media now more than ever.

“With the NIL stuff, I’ve noticed more and more players being more aware of the value of their own social media and our social media,” Sepich said. “I’ve gotten thanked for a tag probably 10 times more this year than I ever have because I think players realize ‘Hey, Pitt football tagged me and I gained 25 followers’ … I think they’re appreciative of being seen on the Pitt football accounts and I do expect more and more questions and suggestions to pop up as time goes on.”

Recruiting, NIL and continuing to capitalize off of the teams’ recent success remain priorities for Lassi and his crew. But he said the main goal is to tell the stories of Pitt’s sports teams.

“We’re the ones that are here to tell the story of our teams and our student athletes,” Lassi said.