Inside the Xs and Os of CFB Recruiting Social Media Accounts

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A look at one of the graphics created by the team at LSU celebrating the players who have wore #7 at the school. (Image via LSU)

The more savvy segments of college football’s fan base are well aware that Division I programs have separate recruiting departments devoted solely to attracting the best high school athletes from around the nation.

One of the more recent trends in big college football, however, has been those recruiting departments not only having a presence on social media but utilizing a strategy and approach to content different than that of their parent programs.

“It’s been interesting seeing the similarities and differences between team accounts vs. their recruiting departments,” remarks Joe Centeno, art director at Team Infographics (TI). “While they both are trying to attract eyes, the team accounts are still serving a more informative role.”

Centeno and TI have helped college football programs all over the country develop content designed to tell their stories as well as attract the game’s top talent.

“They each have specific goals, campaigns, and information they need to get out. The recruiting departments might have a little bit more creative freedom in what they can push out on social, which may lead to some more unique ideas. The great part is that they can both borrow from each other to keep all content informative, creative, and engaging to their entire audience.”  

One of the main differences that you will find between the recruiting department and team accounts: the use of direct messaging. In a high school recruit’s junior year, colleges are allowed to actively recruit them through direct contact, like social media messages. Using these accounts helps streamline the process, especially for departments with coaches who don’t personally use Twitter or Instagram themselves.

From a compliance point of view, making contact with recruits through one central account also makes things significantly easier to keep track of.

On the content side, most outside observers of a football program will find the main team account telling the story of a team on a day to day basis. For example, this is where you’ll usually find updates about statistics/scores, upcoming games, or press conferences. Recruiting department accounts, on the other hand, will try to focus on content that highlights aspects of the program and the university that 17 and 18-year-old prospective student-athletes would find attractive.

For example, most future college students want some assurance that their college of choice will put them on the path to working with their dream company. Hopeful future professional football players want the same thing. This is why many recruiting accounts will highlight players who came through the program now succeeding in the NFL. One program currently doing this in a unique and interesting way is Louisiana State.

After some recent discussion on Twitter from some from some former LSU football players about Tiger greats who wore the number seven, Jason Feirman (Executive Director of Creative Services at LSU athletics) and graphic designer James Pawelczyk conceptualized the #7EGEND series on @LSUFBRecruiting.

On the seventh of every month, the account puts out a graphic highlighting current NFL stars such as Leonard Fournette, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu, all of whom wore the number seven during their time in Baton Rouge.

“It’s always been a celebration of our former guys that play in the league,” Feirman says of LSU’s recruiting account. Feirman and the LSU recruiting department also put out a high volume of content highlighting things like the NFL Draft, NFL Combine, and pro days to better illustrate how many players have found their way to the NFL through their program. It also helps the program’s overall message when those now professional players notice these tributes to them, repost on their personal social channels, and participate in the conversation.

“The fact that these guys are tweeting about this on their own personal accounts and hashtagging it, we were just playing off of that and utilizing it,” Feirman says. “It’s more authentic that way.”

Something else that you’ll find recruiting twitter accounts highlighting in their content is the unique aspects of the school and the city that specifically of interest to potential students. Carl Schmid, Director of Digital Media at the University of Cincinnati, took this approach when he created the account for the Bearcats’ football program several years ago.

Originally, the @UC_Recruting account served as an amplifier for the main football account retweeting and reposting content from @GoBearcatsFB. Then, the account found its own voice highlighting aspects of life in Cincinnati that make calling the Queen City home sound like the great idea that it is.

“What makes Cincinnati appealing for these kids?”, Schmid asks. “Anything that’s specific about campus and/or downtown. The number of Fortune 500 companies with opportunities for internships or jobs after graduation, for example. Or the amount of options for entertainment here is off the charts. Whether it be down at Riverbend for concerts or Kings Island for roller coaster rides or the professional teams here like the Reds and FC Cincinnati.”

“Any of those kinds of bragging points that are good fun facts to know, but that maybe are not the right thing to highlight for that general football fan visiting the team’s main page. The recruiting page is more about showing what we have to offer that other schools and cities might not.”

Kelsey Sharkey, Director of New Media for Cincinnati football, currently manages both the team’s main account and the recruiting account. She added her thoughts on the subject as well.

“These players are considering spending the next few years of their lives here, and maybe even more, so the account focuses on selling the city of Cincinnati and the future of our team as a whole.”

“You’ll see a lot of posts highlighting bragging points about the city or where Cincinnati ranks nationally in different categories.  We’ll also retweet guys talking about their official visits, announcing their commitments, and welcoming their future teammates to the Bearcats family.  It’s a faceless way to be able to constantly connect with recruits.”

Another thing many recruiting departments end up doing with their social media presence is finding ways to highlight some of their newest signees. One of the more common ways is through graphics with them in uniform, typically made using photos taken at recruits’ official campus visits.

These make great, simple content for two reasons. One, showcasing new players in this way makes them feel like an important part of the program even though they may not have even played in a live game yet. Two, being able to do small things to put a spotlight new signees quickly builds excitement for prospective student-athletes considering a school. They see things like that and will want the same thing for themselves when they eventually choose the program they will spend their college career with.

As platforms like Twitter and Instagram continue to evolve, so will recruiting practices and how recruiting departments use those platforms. Just as fans grow savvier of the nature of the recruiting world, coaches and marketers will need to grow savvier of what type of content makes their program look the most attractive to prospective student-athletes.

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One thing remains the same, though: recruiting departments with a unique content strategy and strong understanding of the space will be the ones to wow the next generation of sports superstars.