If you don’t follow recruiting, it has to be among the most bizarre things to contemplate from the outside looking in. Fans of a college program watch high school players’ highlights, read about their weekly performances, and an increasing number pay memberships to sites dedicated to recruiting coverage like 247Sports. These fans follow the offers their favorite school send out to players, stay up to date on profiles noting the favorite to land their letter of intent, and even follow them on social media now.
Given the public nature of Twitter, it’s no surprise that the platform has exploded in recruiting. Programs are using tweets to channel their brand 140 characters at a time, coaches are building an online following, and recruits are learning self-promotion one tweet at a time.
As a fan of Nebraska, I often hear from older fans about how they became a fan because Nebraska was one of the few teams that were regularly shown on TV each weekend. These were the days when so called ‘blue bloods’ dominated TV time on Saturday and created fanbases nationwide.
Those days are long gone and are never coming back. Today, appearances on ESPN are just a piece of a team’s branding as recruits and fans alike spend hours online consuming pictures, videos, and stats on game day. The best of the branding comes from the teams who are controlling the message – those taking a proactive approach.
When it comes to tweets, every piece of the institution and program is in play. Facilities, academics, current and former players, and accolades all provide content for people to sift through. If it connects with fans, it’s content a school should be publishing.
Sticking with the Nebraska theme, it’s easy for me to point to Nebraska’s new staff as examples of how Twitter is changing recruiting. One note I do have to make simply because I’m impressed: Michigan’s new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, is up to a whopping 161K followers — after just a couple weeks on Twitter. Now back to Nebraska.
Mike Riley and his staff at Oregon State were known for their presence on social media and his online persona exploded upon arriving at Nebraska.
Coach Riley, now sitting at 88K followers, has taken Twitter by storm with constant tweeting including pictures, location updates and more. His staff made waves across Twitter last week with a graphic noting where the coaches were going to recruit. Knowing where the coaches are going enables the diehards of recruiting to connect dots and keep track of who the coaches are visiting in-person.
In the same way social media has changed the way people look at programs, it’s changed how they view coaches. Nebraska Basketball’s head coach Tim Miles almost equals Mike Riley in followers online. That’s as close to apocalyptic as it gets in the state of Nebraska. Yet, it’s not surprising. He’s engaging, humorous, active, and in-tune with the fans of his program. For any marketing or communications staffer trying to show a coach what Twitter can do, Coach Miles is among the best examples. Recruiting is no longer just a matter of who you are in a recruit’s living room while on their couch. It’s who you are on TV, in interviews, and online. Every bit matters and given the potential reach of any given tweet – It adds up quickly.
I don’t think it’s debatable: Of all the ways Twitter has impacted recruiting, fans have to be the most significant.
Never before have coaches enabled fans to be a part of the day-to-day lives in the way Twitter enables. Coaches update when they’re getting on a plane, when they touch down in a destination, the car they’re taking to a visit, and everything else. It’s all a matter of how much access an individual coach or staff is willing to grant.
The downside to this online transparency, in my eyes, is the way select fans utilize Twitter to reach out to recruits. Knowing that a recruit and coach must follow one another to direct message, fans are now eyeing who a coach follows to keep on top of recruiting news. I say it as often as I can on one of my accounts: There’s absolutely nothing right about tweeting a recruit as a fan. Whether you’re 19 or 49, there’s no reason to hound a teenager about what is likely the biggest decision they’ve made to date.
Maryland Compliance had a terrific tweet that made its rounds, particularly through recruiting circles:
As Twitter continues to evolve, so too will the way it’s used for recruiting. Each day has been different in the way programs, coaches, players, and fans use it. There’s no reason to think that’ll change anytime soon.