Bracket Busting: Predicting the College Basketball Tournament with Social Media

It’s called madness for a reason.

This year, an estimated 40 million Americans will fill out more than 70 million brackets as part of the NCAA Championship Tournament. Put into context, that’s more brackets completed than ballots cast for Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential election.

The craziness that surrounds the tournament—with multiple attempts to get it right—is understandable. Because for many of us, it’s basically a shot in the dark. Allegiance to alma maters. End of season rankings. Jersey colors. The rationales for filling out a bracket vary, and at Sprout Social, we’re driven by the data.

The social media engagement levels of the 64 teams that made it through Selection Sunday paved the way for our 2015 college basketball bracket. So, without further ado, here is our crack at it:

Sprout Social Media Madness 2015

The Method to Our Madness

Of course, Sprout’s algorithms and fancy formulas can’t exactly dictate a team’s athletic ability, but they do provide some indication of a school’s overall investment in the game. Community engagement is critical to success—especially for colleges and universities—and athletic departments that tout school spirit among current students and alumni alike are more than utility players.

To determine who may be the best at rallying their fans, we turned to the Sprout Social Twitter Engagement Score, a helpful metric available within the Sprout platform. The formula is core to our social business philosophy because it addresses rates rather than raw numbers: how many messages you are pushing out (think: pure advertising) versus how many messages you are replying to (think: having an actual two-way conversation). This function also lets you see how responsive you are compared to other businesses, including your competitors.

For our bracket, we looked at the athletic department Twitter handles of the 64 schools that made it through Selection Sunday. We then reviewed how engaged they have been with their followers since January 1, 2015, and made our NCAA bracket predictions, using social media metrics.

If all goes according to plan, we predict the Final Four teams will see an uptick in their social activity and, with the right tools in place, increased engagement with their fans and followers. Watch out for underdog upsets and buzzer beaters to significantly affect social activity. We’ll be keeping an eye on their Twitter scores throughout the tournament. Because that’s our game.

Meanwhile, a few players on Team Sprout will be taking to the court to benefit future startups in our hometown, Chicago!