Social media, recruiting changing

SUNSET, S.C. – Dabo Swinney and Jeff Scott say it repeatedly: in the ultra-intense world of college football recruiting, Clemson's biggest advantage is campus itself.

Get a recruit on campus, they say, and the hardest part of the job is done.

As recruiting coordinator, Scott is Clemson's point man for the recruiting process, and a good one: he has signed top-17 classes in each of his last three years in the position. Still, when prospects show up for a visit, it is often the first time he has had a chance to meet with them face-to-face. But they know exactly who he is.

Such is the power of social media in recruiting.

Scott fully believes that Twitter and Facebook – along with other social media platforms – are "game-changers" in how the Tigers' staff recruits, communicates and builds relationships with prospects.

"Because of us following each other on Twitter, you feel like you already know them (when they visit)," he said. "I think having a chance to develop a relationship, get into that prospect's mind, right in front of them early in the process, it's a positive."

Clemson coaches say social media has its positives and negatives, but two main topics emerged when they were asked about its role in recruiting: information and communication.

Social media allows coaches to gather information on prospects (and vice versa), and communicate with them while legally circumventing established NCAA contact rules. Once a prospect's senior year begins, coaches are allowed one phone call per week, which turns into unlimited calls after Thanksgiving. During the season, social media is a critical conduit. Running backs coach Tony Elliott says he can gauge a prospect's interest by how quickly he responds to a message.

"Social media, the guys that can handle it, I love it for them as much as coaches," says defensive ends coach Marion Hobby, who will send direct messages via Twitter and Facebook messages to reach prospects who won't pick up their phones. "Boy, they won't answer the phone if they've been talking all night. Different sites, all that. ‘Yeah coach, yeah coach.' What's wrong? ‘I've been on the phone for the last hour, and mom's on me to get some studying done.'"

It is also far more pervasive and perhaps effective than printed communication: Swinney wondered aloud this week if prospects even read their "snail mail."

"15 years ago, that meant writing a lot of hand-written letters and getting in front of them, but now it means, these guys have that phone in their hand all day long."

"You're trying to get in front of that recruit as much as you can," Scott said. "15 years ago, that meant writing a lot of hand-written letters and getting in front of them, but now it means, these guys have that phone in their hand all day long."

Coaches can also gauge a player's personality simply by following him on Twitter and Facebook and watching what he posts, says and likes. Previously, Scott said, a coach would have to visit a school and talk with high school coaches and teachers to gain such information.

That level of diligence remains, but coaches can learn about a prospect's personality within five minutes online.

"You use that first and foremost, to see what they're saying, the language they use, the stuff they retweet, so you get a better feel for what he's about," Elliott said. "You go to the coaches, the people in the school to verify, ‘Is this a persona he's created for social media or is this s true reflection of who this kid is?'"

"A lot of times, they're not the same. The reflection of the kid in social media as the actual kid is not the same. I told a kid,' I'm not messing with you because of your social media. You need to clean it up. Not only will I monitor it, I'll take it upon myself to say this for your future. Not just for Clemson, you need to clean it up.'"

Does it sink in?

"Some kids it has, some kids it's turned off," he said. "The ones it turns off are the ones you don't need."

Hobby agrees.

"I watch on Facebook. I have a Twitter account," he said. "I follow, I don't ever post. I told some, ‘Remember, you're in the spotlight. The camera is on you now. Some of them get it, some of them don't. If it gets stupid, I'll erase it. And if I erase you from Facebook, I'm basically erasing you from recruiting."

Clemson coaches' level of social media involvement varies. Swinney has over 20,000 Twitter followers, but he hasn't tweeted since September 2009 and follows no one. He banned social media for players during the 2012 regular season and will do so again this fall, considering it an unnecessary distraction.

Scott has over 10,000 followers and is extremely active, posting pictures, behind-the-scenes information and posts that enhance Clemson's "brand." Offensive coordinator Chad Morris has over 8,000 followers, while Elliott has 1,100; new defensive backs coach Mike Reed has over 1,700.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hobby has seven followers. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has 78 (although an account he has not used since his days as Vanderbilt interim head coach has over 1,100). Tight ends/special teams coach Danny Pearman has 82, while veteran defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks and defensive coordinator Brent Venables are not believed to be on Twitter.

"We've got a lot of coaches on our staff who've had a lot of success coaching college football, and they didn't have to deal with things like Twitter and Facebook in the past," Scott said. "A lot of times guys are apprehensive to jump into that, but I've had a lot of success with our guys. They may not post as much as other people but they use it, follow guys and communicate with them on a daily basis. It's always changing, something new is always coming out in ways to communicate with one another. But this is a good way to get in front of guys." Top Stories