Two decades of social success: Telling their story their own way

Few college basketball programs have as compelling a story to tell as Duke, especially during coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 42-year run of dominance. Situated in a state where many of the sportswriters attended journalism school at North Carolina, however, Krzyzewski seldom felt that the Blue Devils were getting the benefit of the doubt from the media, no matter how successful they were on the court.

He and his staff responded by drawing up a strategy that would enable Duke’s basketball program to tell its own story, providing insider access like where they eat their meals and where they practice.

One of the first efforts at “insider access” featured Jon Scheyer, the coach who will step into Krzyzewski’s enormous shoes after this season. Scheyer was the subject of a 2007 video (crude by today’s standards) on a day in the life of a Duke basketball player.

“We’re just normal kids trying to have a good college experience,” a youthful Scheyer said in the video 15 years ago.

His teammate on those Duke teams in the late 2000s, Nolan Smith, became a prominent vlogger, taking a camera almost everywhere he went around Duke’s intimate Durham, N.C., campus. Smith, a guard on Duke’s 2010 national championship squad and now an assistant coach, “was the original ‘vlogger’ before vloggers became a thing,” said David Bradley, Duke basketball’s creative director. “I would give him a handheld camera, and he would film his thoughts and life around campus. He’d give the camera back to me, and I would edit it. The videos were a bit raw and quality isn’t what it is now, but Nolan has an amazing way about him and he showed fans, coaches, everyone the potential of authentic content and access early on. It grew from there.” Buoyed, of course, by Krzyzewski’s record-setting success.

What evolved was a trendsetting approach to digital media nearly two decades ago that in subsequent years would provide a road map for other programs as they began to embrace digital and social media. For Duke, the point was to tell its own story with much of the content geared for recruiting purposes. In fact, Bradley’s original title was director of recruiting before he became the creative chief.

The initial effort was called Duke Blue Planet, a digital storytelling platform. ran its course as a website, but the Blue Devils still use Blue Planet as the brand for a long-form video channel on YouTube.

The focus remains: Tell your own story.

The outcome is a basketball program whose social media handle @dukembb has made the Blue Devils the most followed team in all of college sports with 4 .5 million followers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, more than half of the pro teams from the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.

“The strategy is fairly simple,” said Jon Jackson, Duke’s deputy athletic director for external affairs and a longtime Krzyzewski aide. “We just stay ‘on brand.’”

5-On-5: Master of Communications 


Krzyzewski is in the 17th season of co-hosting “Basketball and Beyond” on Sirius XM with Dave Sims, where their guests have ranged from Dr. Anthony Fauci to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Most of their guests do not come from a basketball background, so the show has provided Krzyzewski with a broad range of topics, whether it is tennis with Roger Federer or USA Basketball and the military with Gen. Martin Dempsey.


Coach K started to become a highly sought-after endorsement personality in the mid-2000s, first with American Express and later with State Farm, Capital One and other brands. Krzyzewski, known for his fiery sideline demeanor, showed a different side of himself in the Capital One spot (above), where he had fun talking about his five national championships. 

Digital media

Duke Basketball’s YouTube channel has 160,000 subscribers and features insider content that goes back more than 15 years. A subset of that channel is “Duke Blue Planet,” whichprovides long-form content on the Blue Devils.

Social media

Duke’s basketball handle @dukembb is the most followed team in college athletics with a combined 4.5 million followers across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. That’s a staggering achievement for a small, private school (just under 7,000 undergraduates) that doesn’t have nearly the number of graduates as its public school rivals. It also shows how Coach K’s success and guidance have boosted the iconic brand. As one supporter said, Duke basketball is a perfect entwinement of two global, iconic brands. It’s pretty powerful for recruiting, too. 


Krzyzewski has written five books on topics like winning national championships, leadership and teamwork.

“The Gold Standard:Building a World-Class Team”
“Beyond Basketball:Coach K’s Keywords For Success”
“Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life”
“Five-Point Play:The Story of Duke’s Amazing 2000-2001 Championship Season”
“Coach K’s Little Blue Book:Lessons from College Basketball’s Best Coach”

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