Written by: Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District
In what shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s seen any kid under the age of 22 years old, the demographic of individuals between the age of 16-24 represents the second-highest – if not the highest – percentage of users across every single major social media platform you can think of.
In other words: Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others of this ilk are loaded with high school and college-aged kids. Given that, it’s no wonder that these new mediums of communication have brought in interesting challenges in the world of collegiate sports; specifically, those challenges most often pertain to how individuals at each school are allowed to contact and recruit prospective high school student-athletes, with the goal of having them attend a given institution of higher learning.
In 2016, the NCAA took it’s first step towards limiting the nature in which college coaches, especially college football coaches, can use social media as part of their recruiting efforts. Colloquially referred to as “”click, not comment,” these new measures effectively stated that coaches and individuals employed by a college cannot directly communicate with a high school student-athlete (with the goal of recruiting the high schooler to a given college), but they are allowed to engage with a high school student athlete’s social media post (for instance: they can like, retweet, favorite or endorse that high school athlete’s post).
But the way social media is being leveraged within the high school recruiting process is so much more complex than simply using these sites as a way to directly communicate with them, on top of the phone calls, emails, and text messages that are already taken place. Sure, it’s no secret that many universities will hire numerous interns and social media coordinators to closely monitor every single post made by a four-star or five-star recruit being targeted by that school, and perhaps even empower certain people affiliated with the school to interact with that recruit.
But at a higher level than that, social media has given rise to the idea of “branding” in the high school recruiting process: both for the student-athlete, and the college or university they’ll attend after high school.
With the aforementioned proliferation of social media among this specific age group, high school athletes of any notoriety are able to quickly amass enormous followings online. Because of these followings, these high school athletes can quickly learn about a college or university’s fan base, and perhaps interact with those fans online.
But even more importantly, these high school athletes can also position themselves not only as someone who can instantly impact a given college football team on the field but even contribute to the school off-the-field – specifically, giving their University a large group of individuals to whom they can further market.
And the schools themselves? They’re adapting to – or, at least the coaches, anyway. Forever charged with finding ways to connect to the young men that they’re charged with leading, many coaches – especially the younger ones – are using their own social media platforms in a way that captures the attention of high school athletes, and makes that latter group more interested in playing for a coach that “speaks their language.”
Case in Point? When Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell first met with his coaching staff, a part of the staff’s discussion was about the best usage of hashtags and emoji’s. Mark Richt found numerous pro-University of Miami tweets and posts on social media and began to amplify him to his social media reach of over three hundred thousand people, only seconds after the NCAA’s “click, don’t comment” rule was implemented. P.J. Fleck, a borderline millennial himself who previously took Western Michigan University to a BCS Bowl game, put the little-known school in the national spotlight by utilizing his social media presence – specifically, Twitter – in a way befitting of today’s high school and college kids.
In the cutthroat world of high school football recruiting, every school – and every important individual at that school – will find a way to out-maneuver the competitors, to land the best high school student-athletes. Similarly, high school recruits themselves will find a way to stand out amongst a sea of other talented athletes.
And as social media becomes even more intertwined with each aspect of our lives, we can only expect this trend to grow.