Social media proves useful in recruiting, promotion for athletic programs

Mike Roley

For the common individual, Snapchat might be used for sending hilarious pictures to friends, and Twitter is for sharing funny Vines and other quick jokes, thoughts and opinions. But, for many coaches and athletic programs in today’s college sports world, social media platforms are used for so much more.

Snapchat, Twitter and even Facebook are tools employed by coaches and their staffs to aid in recruiting efforts, branding their program and engaging with a higher number of fans.

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“Twitter is just a simple way to get out any thoughts that you can get out to people who have an interest in your program,” head volleyball coach Tom Hilbert said. “I set it up where my Twitter feed goes to my Facebook page and I probably have just many people looking at the Facebook page.”

Many of CSU’s head coaches, including Hilbert, women’s basketball coach Ryun Williams and football coach Mike Bobo post or update a Facebook or Twitter account on a fairly regular basis.

For Hilbert, a tweet or Facebook update is primarily geared toward connecting and engaging with fans, while the social media platform the volleyball team employs most in recruiting is Snapchat.

“That’s more of a fan-type of thing,” Hilbert said. “In my opinion, Twitter and Facebook are really used a lot for keeping the people who follow your program engaged. From a recruiting standpoint, Twitter is probably used a little bit, but really, the thing the kids use is Snapchat.”

Assistant volleyball coach Emily Hiza, who is entering her first year of coaching at CSU, ensures that recruitable players (at least sophomores in high school) follow the Rams on social media. She also works with the volleyball communications director Zach Balside to remain active on various social media platforms and give people another angle from which to view the volleyball program.

“Zach and I work together trying to put out a few things a week on all four of our social media channels — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat,” Hiza said. “They can be things directly about the volleyball team like, ‘Hey, we play Northern Colorado tomorrow at 10.’ But we also try to give people a view of the culture of the team. … You want to tell people information, but you also want to give them a general feel for what the story of our team is, which is what social media is about.”

The flexibility and multiple facets by which social media can be used is very intriguing, but what it comes down to for Hilbert and his program is making people from the outside world feel as close to the team as possible. So, how they use these platforms can vary greatly.

“You want to make them feel like an insider,” Hilbert said. “It’s funny because there’s different demographics you want to do this with. Some for fundraising, some for fans and some for recruiting, and the approach to all these is very different.”

The role that social media plays in actual recruiting varies across different sports and even different programs. For Hilbert and the volleyball program, Snapchat has become the go-to platform for targeting and gauging recruits’ interest.

When Hiza or somebody within the volleyball program posts a story to the team’s account, they can measure the interest it generates from potential recruits. The volleyball team’s Snapchat has roughly 250 followers, many of which are recruits.

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“The nice part about Snapchat is that it is an active user interface,” Hiza said. “They have to click on it to watch it. When it says that recruit No. 1 watched it, that means they are interested in seeing our stuff. You don’t know if they see it on Twitter — they could just scroll right through. Passive user interfaces are first-rate to get analytics on.”

Perhaps what separates Snapchat from other platforms used for recruiting, at least in the case of the volleyball program, who does not annually recruit as many athletes as a sport like football does, is the specificity of it.

There can be hundreds, or even thousands, of hits on a post or other marketing items the program uses, but if it isn’t the people Hilbert and his staff are hoping will see it, it does not have the same significance.

Several years ago, Hilbert mentioned that the volleyball team created a website to aid in recruiting. Hilbert was having a discussion with former senior associate AD for sales and marketing Jason Layton, who mentioned the site was returning only about 20 hits in a given month.

But, as long as those hits were from who they wanted, Hilbert was satisfied.

“If those 20 hits were the right 20 people, it’s really important,” Hilbert said. “We don’t recruit that many people. It’s not a tool that thousands of people need to see from a recruiting standpoint — it’s very specific.”

As mentioned, the approaches and uses of social media in recruiting differs between sports.

During his signing day press conference in February, head football coach Mike Bobo even alluded to Twitter’s role in the recruiting process. After being asked a question about the upcoming dead period in recruiting, Bobo said that there really is no dead period in this day and age. He was already in direct contact with members of the 2017 class by way of — you guessed it — Twitter.

“There really is no dead period,” Bobo said. “Since I’ve been sitting here, there’s probably 15 direct messages on Twitter. They are 2017, guys that I’ve offered, guys that I’ve followed. If I’m not messaging them back, somebody else is.”

The world of social media is constantly changing, Snapchat has grown in popularity over the last year while Twitter’s stock prices have declined from $51.62 a share on April 13, 2015 to $16.57 on April 12, 2016, one year later.

New outlets continue to pop up for brief stints, such as Periscope. In a couple of years, the platforms that journalists use for sharing stories and that coaches use for recruiting and branding their programs could, and likely will, be drastically different.

The key, according to Hilbert, is to simply stay on top of the constantly-evolving world of social media.

“It’s always constantly changing,” Hilbert said. “… There’s so much flow change in this, you just have to keep up.”

Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @michael_roley.