In the whirlwind of the 2012 Super Bowl, Sarah Janiga, ’13, spent two weeks experiencing how social media not only changed the future of communication for pro football fans but the average person’s interactions via emerging media journalism.

The journalism major from Hammond, Indiana, and dozens of other students from Ball State and other universities volunteered at the Super Bowl Social Media Command Center, the first such operation created by a Super Bowl host committee to manage all social media for the big game. The 2,800-square-foot center—developed by Indianapolis-based Raidious, an Internet communications firm—handled all the communications for the major sporting event and entertainment options just a few blocks away in downtown Indianapolis.

“This is the direction news is headed, and I am glad I got a preview of tomorrow’s newsroom,” says Janiga, a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America and a social media editor for The Ball State Daily News.

“The Super Bowl is the largest sporting event in the world, and I couldn’t turn it down. Every time I turned around, there was another celebrity coming through to see the operation. That led to the opportunity of assisting a social media team for NFL receiver Chad Ochocino to create a promotional video for one of his sponsors.”

Janiga and other students monitored social media on a large bank of computers and monitors on a wall. They promoted event coverage, replied to fans and Indianapolis visitors in town for Super Bowl XLVI, and retweeted messages to more than 23,000 followers. The command center averaged more than 3,500 retweets and 2,500 Twitter favorites or Facebook likes per day.

“Our top priority during the event was safety,” she says. “During one of my shifts, we got notification from the Department of Homeland Security and FBI that there was a temporary evacuation due to extremely high winds. Since we got that information first, we made history by releasing that information on our Twitter account—before anyone else.”

Janiga and other volunteers approved videos and photos taken by visitors to Super Bowl Village. Each day, more than 900 guest experiences were recorded and uploaded to the host committee's YouTube and Flickr pages.

“I was interested in doing this to network with professionals and understand the backend of promoting large events,” she says. “Working in that fast-paced environment provided me with experience I can take into the classroom as well as into my future employment.” 

John Strauss, a Ball State journalism instructor and advisor to the student-run Daily News, says Janiga is an example of a student who energizes the Ball State experience.

“She’s jumped at the chance to polish her traditional writing and editing skills—plus led the social media efforts of our digital news operation,” he says. “You can’t find many textbooks that tell how to do this, so Sarah and her fellow students are learning even as they lead. They’re helping develop the next-generation tools and techniques that the industry—and all of us—will one day take for granted.”