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Special Project

Special Project
From the 4th Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

Sport for the Mind: Sportscasting Robotics with a Multi-Channel Social Media Campaign

Entered in Multi-Platform Campaign


Experts estimate that the United States alone will need to fill 3.5 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs within the next five years, with as many as two million positions going unfilled because of lack of qualified candidates. This shortage hampers progress in areas from climate to medicine.

For thirty years, FIRST – For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – has used exciting robotics challenges and competitions to inspire PreK-12 youth around the world – in particular, underrepresented populations like woman and minorities -- about the possibilities and accessibility of STEM careers. FIRST channels traditional sports by promoting robotics competitions as a “sport for the mind”: highlighting top teams and technical accomplishments as if they were athletes; celebrating the coaches and mentors who teach practical, hands-on skills (from shop work to team-building); and enlisting the large community as a fan base to watch events, amplify the mission, and recruit new players, coaches, and volunteers.

Communicating this complex narrative beyond the internal audience required activating FIRST’s large and passionate community -- over 570,000 youth participated in the 2019 season, supported by 300,000 volunteer roles – with a small official HQ staff numbering in the low hundreds. We needed a strategy that would establish FIRST HQ as an authentic voice in the STEM youth community, generate excitement around the accomplishments of our participants and sponsors, and inspire our followers to amplify the message to their personal followings. We also had to work within our existing staffing and budget.

Strategy and Execution

The FIRST Robotics Competition – FIRST’s program for ages 14-18 – runs from January to April and features thousands of matches between approximately 4,000 teams using self-constructed robots to overcome various on-field objectives while racing a clock. FIRST decided to approach the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition season as if FIRST was a sports network. Most of the FIRST Robotics Competition matches are livestreamed via local Twitch feeds. Unfortunately, these by themselves do not reach an extensive audience. A multi-channel strategy was needed to reach the broader community.

A small team of commentators was assembled from the community for a weekly livestreamed Twitch show called “PLAYxPLAY,” inspired by the NFL Network’s “whip-around” coverage of top football highlights. The team monitored the local livestreams and called out top matches and high-profile teams for live commentary by the PLAYxPLAY commentators. The commentators focused on not just the skillful play of the teams’ drivers, but the technical ingenuity of the young engineers who designed and built mechanisms to overcome the game’s challenges.

Then, social media staff captured video excerpts in real time from PLAYxPLAY and the live match feeds using Twitch’s “Clip” feature. These exported clips were stored in a cloud-based content hub and reformatted for rapid syndication across FIRST Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. Instagram Stories was used as the primary live-reporting channel.

Furthermore, noting the success of organic, authentic content with our young social media community, and building on the raw, in-the-moment feel of the converted Twitch clips, the FIRST team adopted a tone for the campaign that sounded like a highly invested commentator, modeling the sports fan mentality that we wanted from our community. This was reflected primarily in the captions of highlights that were posted to our Instagram feed and Facebook accounts.

Finally, we curated and amplified community posts that captured the “sports fan” tone. We also reached out to social media-active teams to encourage them to generate or forward highlights from their season for amplification on the official FIRST channels. This was handled mostly through Twitter.


The “robotics sports network” social media campaign was FIRST’s most successful social campaign ever, dramatically improving the performance of all social media activity during the campaign period, both campaign-related content and otherwise. Average post reach increased 366% on Facebook compared to the same period during the previous year. Instagram followers grew over 70% in five months, and average post impressions increased by 29% on Twitter. Instagram engagement is estimated to have been over 400% higher than the previous season coverage, averaging nearly 15% per post. The top performing posts on each platform experienced up to six times the reach of the previous season’s top posts: the top Instagram post reached 65,000; Facebook 230,000; and Twitter 141,000.

The campaign led to increased visibility of the annual FIRST Championship in April 2019 – attended by 75,000 -- and created maximum exposure for the announcement of a new partnership with Star Wars, which capped the campaign and positioned FIRST for the start of a new season with minimal loss of momentum. Season and Championship sponsors such as Boeing, Qualcomm, and LEGO Education were engaged throughout the campaign, strengthening strategic relationships and validating both STEM as an issue and FIRST as a solution.


Video for Sport for the Mind: Sportscasting Robotics with a Multi-Channel Social Media Campaign

Entrant Company / Organization Name

FIRST; JK Productions LLC


Entry Credits