NU embraces social media as resource

The world of college football is ever changing, with each school looking to gain an edge for recruiting purposes. Northwestern has turned its focus to social media, using it in a unique way. The Wildcats' goal is to constantly stay ahead of the curve, using new tools to engage recruits. The plan has been a success.

It was during a meeting of Northwestern's coaching staff in April of 2009 where a key question was raised to the room.

"How can we be ahead of the curve?"

The world of recruiting is ever changing, with each program looking to gain an edge.

Northwestern coaches turned to social media -- which as a whole was then in its developing stages -- with hopes it could reach and engage high school recruits in a way others were not.

"[NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald] has always been very progressive and has challenged the staff to come up with innovative things to appeal with recruits and fans alike to bring exposure to our program," said Cody Cejda, Northwestern's director of football operations.

The plan in 2009 when started with Fitzgerald creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account, with the goal of reaching prospective recruits. At the time, Facebook was less of a resource and more of a personal tool, while Twitter was more of a marketing outlet more than anything else.

In present day, most coaches and nearly every college program operates a Facebook page and Twitter account in order to contact prospects within NCAA rules. Northwestern had been caught up with, and it was time to decide what was next.

The Wildcats turned to Instagram, Tout, and Tumblr, three of the hottest growing resources in social media.

Each of these tools offers a new way to reach high school recruits, different from everyone else.

"It's one of the things that has helped us be successful," Cejda said. "It's finding an edge to reach prospects and finding a way that sets you apart from the crowd."

The next step to run away from the Joneses was putting each social media tool in one place.

During the offseason, a project was launched, spearheaded by Cejda, to create a new website for the Northwestern football program, TheWildcatWay.com, a social media hub which connects each of its resources -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, YouTube, Tumblr, and Tout -- in one home.

Keeping with the theme of social media usage, there are pages dedicated to the program's Twitter accounts, including those of the coaches, team best writers, and even distinguished Northwestern alums.

"The purpose of this site -- the reason we go on Instagram, Tout, and Tumblr -- is that's where the kids are, realistically," said Cejda. "Our players are on Instagram and they love it. They ask for those pictures, ask to have a picture of them taken. They really enjoy it. That's the fun part of about it."

But the purpose isn't just to have fun; it offers an opportunity for Northwestern to stay ahead of the curve.

With a coach like Pat Fitzgerald, looking to stay ahead of the game, Northwestern can maintain an edge over its rivals.

"It's a great benefit for us because Fitz sees what it can provide," Cejda said. "He understands the benefit these different things can provide with recruits. Having a coach that's technologically savvy like Fitz who wants to push the envelope and allow us to be on the forefront of the curve."

The challenge, though, is staying with the times, with new resources constantly being unveiled. What is next for the Wildcats?

"Give me about six months and I'll tell you," Cejda said with a laugh. "That' the question our staff always discusses; what's next and what else is out there? How can we be ahead of the curve?

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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