ACCC

ACCC new rebranded website homepage (2015).

ACCC new rebranded website homepage (2015).

Web Presence Rebranding

I was asked by the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference (ACCC) to create a common and consistent user experience for their website in 2015. When it comes to sports organizations, especially ones that had a poor online presence like the ACCC, I find that solving the most obvious problem is the best place to start. Usually, that obvious problem is quickly discovered by conducting a simple test of their content channels:

Do you create interesting content?
Is your content easy to find?
Do you use social media to share your content?
Is your branding used consistently across all your content?

This test led me to an understanding of their core problem: lack of consistent content.

Creating a Common Thread

All of these test cases led me to design a user experience (UX) strategy that attempted to connect the ACCC with a common thread: a consistent user experience. I believed that the ACCC could create a capability that would send people to their website if they could link all their efforts under a single banner. This would allow them to collect interest student-athletes via an email list, recruit potential team members from their own student population, or even entice advertisers to become a sponsor. If all of their communication channels were working in their favor, they could even recruit enough talent to fix their broken publication cycle.

Establishing UX Redesign Goals

The first UX redesign goal should always be to fix the obvious problems first. I had the opportunity to help the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference (ACCC) repair its online presence using the process I just outlined above. The ACCC existed at the time as a collection of cycling clubs representing colleges and universities from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and one of eleven conferences that make up the collegiate program within USA Cycling, the national governing body of cycling in the United States. Unfortunately, with the graduation of college students after every season, their online identity had to (so to speak) go back to school.

Creating a Consistent Identity

At the time I teamed up with ACCC, it had very little support from alumni. Its existing identity did not reflect any type of organizational cohesion that alumni needed in a collegiate team. Additionally, none of its communications carried any kind of unified voice and no one seemed to care what the ACCC was doing online. The ACCC appeared to be an online ghost to alumni and student-athletes alike.

To breathe life back into the ACCC, I began by learning everything I could about other collegiate cycling efforts and observing how the other ten USA Cycling conferences behaved online. I also took a look at what professional cycling clubs were doing to communicate with their members and fans.

My analysis showed that the ACCC was essentially dead when compared to better organized, involved, and maintained collegiate cycling conferences. This meant that if the ACCC wanted to become relevant to its members and alumni, it needed to move forward with a strategy that took on the three most neglected parts of the organization’s communication channels: brand identity, website, and social media.

Establishing a Single Brand Identity

The first part of my three-part UX strategy was to redesign the ACCC identity. The old logo included a clip-art design that no one in the organization had a quality copy of, nor had they reproduced it for other media. Instead, they were pulling the web version off the website and using it in emails, documents, and even jersey designs.

Since the old logo did not represent any elements of what the ACCC wanted to become, I created a simplified version of it using one of the ACCC’s prime colors: orange. Playing off the concept of both bike wheels and how collegiate riders racecourses that are essentially big loops, I took the letters A-C-C-C and put them in a loop behind an orange field. The final design could be read both forwards and backward making it easy to read and recognize on a website or on an ACCC rider’s jersey at 30 mph.

New ACCC logo (2015)

ACCC rebranded website logo (2015)

Additionally, I created the new logo in multiple sizes and resolutions so that it could be used on anything from letterhead, flyers, and clothing, to websites and emails. With a clean, simple shape replacing the amateur logos of the past, the ACCC had the first sophisticated logo that it could use for years to come.

New ACCC leader cycling jersey logo (2015)

ACCC rebranded leader cycling jersey logo (2015)

Improving Website Visitor Interactions

The overhauling of the ACCC web presence was my next strategic move. Through researching the history of the ACCC website, I discovered that a common trend among collegiate clubs is the unfortunate reality that — get this — collegiate riders eventually graduate from college! Who knew! Often, these graduations wipe out entire clubs in a single season, including the student or student’s maintaining both club and ACCC websites.

This revelation led me to suggest that the ACCC needed to first remove the web director position from the student’s hands. Then, by recruiting alumni instead of students, the website could be properly and consistently managed without the complete loss of knowledge or oversight. The second move was to scrap the outdated HTML version of the ACCC website and install a more robust WordPress CMS.

ACCC rebuilt website (2015)

ACCC rebuilt website (2015)

With students now out of the IT business, the WordPress software provided the ACCC with its first editorial accounts that could be given to the new student role: content creators! The final theme of the site made the ACCC look active, alive with new content, and search engine optimized for the first time.

Restarting Social Relationships

The final part of my strategy was to overhaul their Facebook and Twitter accounts. I quickly discovered that students that had long ago left the ACCC still controlled the ACCC social media accounts. With years of neglect and random postings, the ACCC social media presence (not unlike their website) was a ghost town too. So my first major effort was to track down and reclaimed all access to the ACCC social pages and then make it the exclusive domain of the director’s position. This would allow the same administrative control as the website and reign in the messaging that the ACCC needed to start communicating.

This included connecting the Website with only Twitter and Facebook for starters, with the possibility of adding additional social media sites as the ACCC matured. I then rebuilt the ACCC Facebook and Twitter pages utilizing the new logo and website theme so that all web communications looked consistent. It was an important step to make sure that all of the ACCC online resources look more-or-less the same since it directly contributed to the brand cohesion it wanted to present.

ACCC updated Facebook Page with new logo (2015)

ACCC updated Facebook Page with new logo (2015)

The final step was to begin crafting a list of potential post topics that student editors could use to maintain a single voice when writing blog posts, Facebook updates, or Tweets. The end result was the ACCC’s new, robust social media presence where once only sporadic emails existed.

Standing Up a Content Publishing Process

Once the ACCC had an improved identity, updated web presence, and multiple social media channels, the next phase of the strategy was to implement a new ACCC Communication Plan. Having channels rebuilt was a huge improvement, but now the ACCC needed to know what to say using those channels. The ACCC could not pull itself out of obscurity and begin growing those channels if it didn’t have anything to say.

The funny thing was, however, is that college kids within the ACCC actually have a LOT to say. They just didn’t have a platform to say it – until now. To capitalize on content creators, I created an editorial cycle that the ACCC could use during each given cycling season. This cycle included weekly blog posts based on weekly races, posting blog post links to Facebook along with status updates, photos, and upcoming race announcements, and event-specific Twitter tweets during races.

All of this content includes something the ACCC had never done before: actually, capture recent photos of college kids having fun racing bikes! This plan also includes the creation of new student content creation positions and their understanding of what they should post, and when they should be posting. The first year of this plan did not go well. Student content creators that span multiple schools in five separate States are difficult to coordinate, especially when they do not all attend the same events each year. However, the second year proved to work better when non-student leadership was put in charge of finding and training students to create content.

Delivery and Reflection

Like any new organizational change, it took time and commitment to get any traction (and results) from the new processes. The ACCC Communications Plan was still a work in progress as students continued to come and go throughout the ACCC’s collegiate cycling program. However, the ACCC now had the tools to actually communicate on multiple levels — something they could not do before.

Furthermore, by creating a new conversation between existing student-athletes and previous alumni, the ACCC learned something that it had not known from previous years: Alumni actually care! Not only did alumni want to know what the conference was doing, but that they wanted to be a part of it too. Which converted into sponsorships and real donations into the conference’s tiny bank account. As it stepped up to maintain the new processes, the ACCC continues to realize how important this new attention has become.

Strategic Outcomes

The end result was a system that prioritized the ACCC’s identity, web presence, and social media communication channels, and made them relevant to the organization’s renewed success. As the project neared completion, ACCC management had already started learning from its online consistency with the selection of a new director (who is not a racing student), and better coordination through the creation of a steering committee called the ACCC Council. All these changes contributed to a seachange in the ACCC’s overall structure.

It was when the USAC started taking the ACCC seriously again that the changes started to matter for the student-athletes and coaches involved. They hadn’t realized how updating the conference’s branding would attract much-needed attention. The improvements to a revitalized ACCC’s brand not only made its members feel like they belong to a real collegiate organization again, but it directly impacted volunteer participation, sponsorship opportunities, and a desire for new athletes to inquire about attending and racing for ACCC schools.

Ultimately, USA Cycling took all conference web content in-house in 2018. Fortunately for the ACCC, the USA Cycling content strategy was heavily modeled after the ACCC’s web presence success.

Role and Acknowledgements

  • ACCC Conference Management gave me full control over the design and implementation of their strategy.
  • I handled finalizing the UX scenarios, UI design of their website (using WordPress), rebuilding their Social Media accounts, and creating a content delivery process.
  • I created the new ACCC logo (using Adobe Illustrator) for use in both Print and Web.
  • I taught the ACCC web content managers how to use WordPress, post articles with images, and who was responsible for maintaining the publication schedule.

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Last modified: July 15, 2021

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