By now, most students of Western Carolina University have heard that Western Carolina was trending during the recent 91-93 loss to Davidson in the final round of the Southern Conference men’s basketball tournament. While this was exciting for students who are a part of the catamount nation, even those who do find themselves well connected in the fast paced world of social media may be left wondering, “What does that mean?”
In order to answer the “what does it mean” question, let us (in true Twitter fashion) boil it down to bare essentials. When users log into a twitter account, they are faced with the essential question, “What’s happening?” During the game, the answer to that question became Western Carolina. The catamount nation managed to put up a fight that that was exciting, fresh and engaging—so much so that we generated a twitter trend.
From Twitter, “Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously. The Trends list is designed to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The Trends list captures the hottest emerging topics, not just what’s most popular. Put another way, Twitter favors novelty over popularity…” Before our brains explode from geek speak, let’s boil this down too; Twitter trends reflect what users have suddenly started tweeting about. So when WCU started draining the 13-point wildcat lead in the last 2:47 seconds of regulation play, people started talking about it and Twitter noticed.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, WCU was still put on the map—arguably more so than its victorious counterpart. With a reported 100 million active monthly users, the twitter trend put WCU on an international stage with exposure that couldn’t be bought. The ‘Western Carolina’ trend was not a national, regional or local trend, but a worldwide trend. Meaning that more people suddenly started talking about Western Carolina than any other issue in the world, at the time.
Western Carolina wasn’t the only topic from Cullowhee trending that night. WCU’s own basketball player, Harouna Mutombo, saw his name (albeit misspelled) also trending on Twitter.
“I had about 165 text messages when I finally got to my phone that night,” Mutombo told his communications class the day after the game.
Some were photos of his name trending, some were telling him Western Carolina was trending, and some were simply saying how he had to make that free throw he was about to take, said Mutombo.
If the world took notice, then surely the students at WCU took notice as well. I asked some of my twitter followers to answer the question, “What did it mean to you that WCU was trending during the SoCon Championship?” Sam McCarson, a WCU senior with the twitter handle, @MamScCarson, said this, “to me it showed that the size of a school does not dictate the heart or support of a school, and that any college sporting event is really about the relationship between the fans and the players.” Heath Brown (@hfbrown1), a WCU junior studying communications said, “it meant that the community even outside the school was helping in full effect and the world was pulling for us. The underdogs.”
A student athlete, who requested not to go on record said, “It was cool. It was nice knowing that many people were watching us play, and supporting us all over the nation. Very humbling.” Another member of the catamount nation (and due to athletics regulations, also wasn’t allowed to go on record) said that although she wasn’t familiar with twitter trends, it was still great knowing that people were watching the game and showing support. Because people don’t really know much about WCU, she said, it opened a lot of eyes and made catamounts everywhere proud to be a part of the turn around that is happening with the new changes throughout the school.
So how will this unplanned visibility play out in the long run? Truth be told, we don’t know; but, past, current and future catamounts can rest assured that even in losing, the catamount nation is still #winning.