Social media and sports recruiting: Coaches go online to sell program, learn about players

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 8, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Apr. 9, 2018 9:51 am


The options John Wood Community College men's basketball coach Brad Hoyt presented a few years ago to two of his players were made crystal clear.

Change your persona, or change your address.

Shortly after the school year began and well in advance of the start of basketball season, Hoyt read posts on social media that he felt didn't portray those players or his program in a favorable way. He immediately addressed the matter.

"I had them into our office and gave them an option of leaving town or changing their social media personality," Hoyt said. "Quite frankly, they left town."

A similar incident took place at Culver-Stockton College.

About five years ago, before the current coaching staff or administration was in place, a C-SC football player made a disrespectful and threatening comment about a campus employee on social media. He was dismissed from the team.

"We monitor everybody as best we can," said Tyler Tomlinson, the women's soccer coach at C-SC and a communications teacher. "We want the social media presence to be the right one."

Determining that begins well in advance of a student-athlete reaching campus. It's now an integral part of the recruiting process.

"You don't have a choice but to embrace it," Quincy Univerity football coach Gary Bass said. "As much as I hate to say this, people don't like talking on the phone. People would rather send direct messages via Twitter and things of that sort.

"It is a great marketing tool. It is a great way to show off what you're doing, what you're trying to do and how you're going about trying to do those things."

That's why each morning the first thing Bass reaches for is his phone.

"I post a Bible verse to my Twitter account and to my Facebook page," Bass said. "Then I get on our QU football accounts and post something, whether it's a quote or a picture or something. Just the other day, it was saying thank you to everyone for purchasing something from our team store.

"It's a way to stay connected."


Branding your school

Major college programs are creating coaching staff positions devoted to social media. At the University of Illinois, the football program has a graphics/social media coordinator, and the men's basketball program has a director of creative media. The University of Missouri football program employs a recruiting graphic designer, while the University of Iowa has a director of new media for its football program.

Smaller schools don't have the budget to employ someone with social media and graphic skills, which means coaches have to learn to use Photoshop and other tricks to create eye-popping graphics and intriguing ways to connect to recruits.

Tim Bergstrasser has done that for the QU men's basketball program. The Hawks had two recruits on campus this weekend, and Bergstrasser, an assistant coach, created graphics for them to share on social media. One showed a player in action in a Quincy uniform superimposed on a billboard welcoming him to Quincy.

"Those are the things that set you apart," QU men's basketball coach Ryan Hellenthal said. "Kids look to see what you're doing on social media. It's how they connect to you."

If you're not embracing that notion, you're going to lose recruits and fans alike.

"It's a branding option," Hoyt said. "Any more, for kids and families and people, it's about the branding, the marketing, the message. It has to be in short snips. It has to be attractive. It has to pull people in.

"Social media is a terrific way to convey that message in a concise way. If you do not have an active presence on there in some way, you're missing out."


‘An outlet to your personality'

If recruits believe coaches aren't watching what they say and do on social media, they are missing out as well.

Coaches use social media in a variety of ways. They gain a sense of a recruit's personality and interests by what is posted on social media. They learn what other schools are recruiting those players. They see how they connect with teammates and friends.

"Perception is reality," Bass said. "We tell our kids that all the time. The perception of who you and what you are about is something you have to live by. What you're showing people is what you're about it. What we try to make them see is you're being evaluated at all times."

Often, aside from looking at a highlight video, social media sites are where coaches begin the recruiting process.

"Any kid we come in contact with and are interested in developing a relationship with, it's always one of the first things we check," Hoyt said. "You spend time looking through their social media. Unfortunately, there have been guys we recruited who we have taken off the list based upon the personality they have shared via social media.

"We're recruiting the person, the thought process and the personality. Social media is an outlet to your personality. It tells you a lot."

It unveils negatives, too.

"When I recruit a player, I hope to see some interest in soccer through social media," Tomlinson said. "It can show their commitment level to the sport. Past that, I expect it to be pretty normal. Friends, fun GIFs, that kind of stuff. After that, what am I looking for? I'm looking to see if there is there alcohol or is there smoking or is there something on there that shouldn't be on there for a 17- or 18-year-old?"

If he sees questionable posts, Tomlinson will address it.

"I'm not afraid to tell the player what I saw and what I feel is appropriate," Tomlinson said. "If that is going to end our relationship, so be it. But my goal in being open and honest about that is to do what I'm doing now. I want to make them a better person. I want to make them a better citizen. I want to make them more marketable to get a job.

"So I'm not afraid to say, ‘Hey, I saw these pictures on your page. You probably need to take them down, and here's why.'"


Social media can be factor

Bass sees it as an opportunity to educate recruits and players.

"They don't really understand. If it was a business and someone is looking for a job, it's no different," Bass said. "Employers are looking at the same things. That's a hugely important thing kids have to understand that they can do themselves a disservice by not doing a good job of how they are acting on social media.

"When it comes down to it, there are a lot of good football players and a lot of good athletes. So you have to look at where they fit and how they impact what you're trying to do culturally. A lot of times, kids don't see that. If I have 10 kids we are deciding between and they are all good players, there has to be a deciding factor.

"Social media is one of those things you can use as a deciding factor."

Bass and his staff have used in deciding not to offer a player a scholarship.

"It's happened a handful of times," Bass said. "You get a good observation of what they're about because they don't think about a coach going on Twitter or Instagram to see what they're posting."

One negative post or one unsightly picture won't necessarily end a prospect's chance. When a theme develops, it can be the end of everything.

"Every spring, we go through a process where there is a guy or two who we come across social media-wise who we end our discussion based on what we find there," Hoyt said.

It's because coaches don't want to be caught off-guard.

"I need to know who is coming here," Tomlinson said.