Social media madness: How FDU turned bizarre elevator incident into free publicity worth millions

When men’s basketball team got trapped in elevator before recent game, school turned incident into 140M impressions — and $12M worth of free media

Fairleigh Dickinson University was the social media darling of March Madness in 2023 after its men’s basketball team produced a stunning upset of top-seeded Purdue — an event that brought billions of social media impressions and millions of eyeballs on the school.

It would be impossible to match that once-in-a-lifetime moment — right?

FDU nearly found a way.

In the ultimate example of using social media to create free earned media, the school took advantage of being stuck in an elevator.

That’s right, being stuck in an elevator.

Last week, before a game at Long Island University in Brooklyn, the team had 13 players stuck in a service elevator before the game started.

Once pictures and video of the scene were released, the story went viral, netting over 140.2 million impressions combined from television, radio, online publications and social media. Firefighters from FDNY Ladder 110 rescued the players from the stuck elevator.

FDU took full advantage by being quick to act.

@FDUKnightsMBB, the official X account of the men’s basketball program, posted a final score graphic after the triumph with a caption that read: “Going UP! Just not in that elevator.” The post was shared more than 180 times with 3,600 likes and over 343,000 views, all metrics that factored into the above.

First & First Consulting founder and CEO Devon Zdatny was impressed.

“While the incident itself was quite entertaining, I thought how FDU followed up on the moment on social media was brilliant,” she said. “We’re constantly pushing our clients to be unafraid to have fun at their own expense.

“FDU embraced this moment with humor and fearlessness.”

FDU President Michael Avaltroni obviously was thrilled — but his happiness began with the fact the team escaped unharmed. That they went on to win the game, in overtime, was nice, too.

“Above all, we thank the rescue workers who helped our students emerge from the elevator in time to make it to the court,” he said. “They are the ones who enabled the story to begin, and the fact that we won the game in thrilling fashion in overtime just made the story even more captivating.”

The moment, Avaltroni said, matched the mission of the university.

“You often can’t plan for every obstacle, but, when challenges occur, you must deal with them, stay focused and seize the moment,” he said. “That continues to be a big part of the FDU story.”

One that so many people discovered.

FDU received 8,100 mentions across X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram, resulting in 97.2 million impressions and 187,000 engagements, according to the renowned First & First.

The school’s efforts undoubtedly helped boost attention elsewhere.

From television and radio alone, the incident was mentioned over 670 times by local and national stations, reaching viewership of nearly 41.75 million nationally for a total publicity value to FDU and Knights men’s basketball of nearly $1.55 million, according to TVeyes.

Key television mentions that factored into this historic figure include: ESPN’s “SportsCenter”; PIX11/The CW; CBS2 NY and ABC7 Eyewitness News (New York); and “Today” in New York (WNBC). FDU was mentioned nationwide on more than two dozen local news shows on both television and the radio.

FDU also enjoyed a healthy readership mark from online publications such as CNN, ESPN, the New York Post, Barstool Sports and the Asbury Park Press, with more than 1.2 million combined views for a total publicity value in excess of $10.6 million, per Meltwater.

In total, the free publicity value of the event was worth more than $12 million.

The exposure is priceless.

And, here’s the beauty of social media: FDU and the elevator event was mentioned in over 320 articles, with pieces in several international publications, including the Daily Mail (United Kingdom) and ESPN Australia, among others.

For a school that recruits internationally, the moment was gold.

Or maybe silver.

The school didn’t match the unbelievable numbers it hit last March, when it got 8 billion social media imprints.

But that’s OK, Zdatny said. That was a lifetime event. One that made the school ready for the next opportunity.

Zdatny said she felt the school made the most of the moment and then some.

“It’s a best-in-class example I’ll be using with clients for many years to come,” she said.