Social media has forever changed the world we live in. It has not only become a way for users to keep up with former classmates or a method of remembering friends and family members birthdays, social media has also caused a major shift in the constantly evolving news and sports industries.
Social media is a way to determine one's "cool factor," and the users are all about it. It is not a coincidence for celebrities to have millions of Twitter followers, fans want to be in the know and apart of the cool crowd. The same could be said for college football fans.
Twitter has somewhat devolved into a popularity contest among college football coaches. Some of the best in the social media craft are also dominating the recruiting field.
"I think social media makes a coach become more accessible and relatable," Head of Social Media for Rivals.com Lyndsay Lee told Bleacher Report. "If a coach is great on social media, I absolutely think he could make an impact on a kid's interest in the school."
Football players are coached to adjust and adapt to their opponent's game plan. If they do not make the necessary adjustments, they will get beat. The same could be said about football programs adapting to the changing times of social media. And the schools who have not evolved are being left in the dust by opponents.
In the case of Texas football, the Longhorns appeared to be ahead of the curve, but have not invested the necessary efforts to keep up with the changing of times.
The Social Media Struggles of Texas Football
|Big 12 Football Twitter Stats|
|School||Twitter Handle||Join Date||Followers||Tweets|
|Baylor||@BUFootball||April 28, 2009||35.5k||9.6k|
|Iowa St.||@CycloneFB||May 26, 2009||24.8k||6.3k|
|Kansas||@KU_Football||April 16, 2010||11.8k||2.5k|
|Kansas St.||@KState_Football||Feb. 17, 2010||15.4k||147|
|Oklahoma||@OU_Football||Nov. 7, 2011||72.9k||11.2k|
|Oklahoma St.||@CowboyFB||Sep. 1, 2010||42.4k||7.2k|
|TCU||@TCUFootball||Jan. 3, 2012||15.1k||2.5k|
|Texas||@Longhorn_FB||April 22, 2009||49.4k||4.4k|
|Texas Tech||@TTU_WreckEm||Feb. 20, 2013||8.7k||366|
|West Virginia||@WVUFootball||April 2, 2009||32.1k||2.2k|
|Twitter Join Date via Tweettunnel.com|
It can be a daunting task to effectively communicate emotions and opinions in 140 characters or less. Some college football programs excel at this task, while others are struggling.
Texas is somewhere in the middle.
Twitter was created in March 2006 but did not really gain a lot of popularity until it launched at the SXSW Interactive festival in 2007, which just so happens to be hosted in Austin, Texas every year.
Texas football deserves credit for being one of the first Big 12 schools to create a football-specific Twitter account—formerly @MBTexasFootball now @Longhorn_FB—in April 2009. Kudos. However, opponents have caught on and some could argue have since surpassed the Longhorns in the Twitter world.
Oklahoma football—@OU_Football—joined Twitter in November 2011 and have more than 11,000 tweets and nearly 73,000 followers. Oklahoma State, @CowboyFB, began tweeting in 2010, and has since grown its following to roughly 42,300. @Longhorn_FB has gained 49.3k followers in a little less than five years.
As the chart above shows, the Longhorns rank second among Big 12 football Twitter following, but number of followers does not always equal effective tweeting. There is not a single method to determine a user's effectiveness on Twitter, but a good measurement is from national signing day on Feb. 5, 2014.
Texas kicked off the morning by tweeting highlight videos of the Longhorns' three early enrollees, which was a good start. However, the tweeting shifted course and only mentioned the names of the remaining members of the 2014 class once they submitted their letter of intent. Not a terrible decision, but definitely not as exciting as being able to see what talent is coming to Texas.
After all was said and done, @Longhorn_FB tweeted the names of 22 signees for the 2014 recruiting class. However, Texas received 23 letters of intent, which means whoever was in charge of tweeting forgot to include one signee on the list—wide receiver Roderick Bernard.
The Longhorns' tweets announcing the official signees received 226 retweets and 272 favorites. Meanwhile, rival Oklahoma appeared to have poured much more effort into its national signing day campaign, which made for a successful Twitter presence.
@OU_Football constantly tweeted quotes about signees from Oklahoma coaches, retweeted recruits when they announced their official commitment to OU and created custom graphics for each signee. The 26 signee graphics accumulated 3,089 retweets and 3,634 favorites.
Baylor was also a Twitter winner on national signing day. @BUFootball effectively used the hashtag #SignBU throughout the day to announce the 2014 class, constantly retweeted pictures and announcements of recruits signing their letter of intent and, similar to Oklahoma, tweeted custom graphics of each signee. In fact, Kansas State and Texas were the only two Big 12 schools that did not tweet out custom graphics for its signees, and both schools were at the bottom of the list in terms of Twitter engagement on national signing day.
|N.S.D. Twitter Stats Announcing Signed Letters of Intent|
National signing day is somewhat similar to a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays rolled up into a one-day celebration for college football programs and fans. It's a glimpse into what the future may hold for a football team, and is a way for both die-hard and casual fans to learn about the incoming class.
It would be silly for college football programs to not utilize Twitter and other social media platforms to the fullest, especially on national signing day. But the Longhorns signing day Twitter presence was subpar compared to its Big 12 and in state rivals.
Coaches on Twitter
The NCAA does not restrict private messaging between coaches and recruits on Facebook and Twitter, which is why many college football coaches have signed up for social media accounts. Coaches' ability to have constant communication with prospects is huge for recruiting, but is not the only positive when it comes to coaches presence on social media.
Twitter and other social media platforms provide a less time-consuming way for coaches and athletes to directly communicate with fans. It can also serve as a method for prospects to see how coaches interact with players.
"Social media has drastically changed recruiting simply because it makes almost any athlete accessible to a coach or a fan base," Lee told Bleacher Report. "Instead of the days where people would have to wait for stories in order to get updates on a target, now it's almost as if you're expecting the recruitment in real time."
Since the NCAA prohibits coaches from mentioning recruits by name, many coaches have created unique ways to announce verbal commitments to the fans, without violating NCAA rules. For example, any time the Sooners receive a new verbal commit, head coach Bob Stoops tweets "BOOM!" plus the area code of the commit.
TCU head coach Gary Patterson tweeted #FunKyTown15 on Feb. 8, which apparently refers to the Horned Frogs' 2015 recruiting class, according to the Dallas Morning News.
But the leader of the pack is Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin tweets YESSIR to announce that the Aggies have picked up another verbal commit. And a social media frenzy is almost always guaranteed to follow when Sumlin's YESSIR tweet appears on Texas A&M fans' Twitter feeds.
Sumlin's Twitter presence is not the only positive social media force coming out of College Station.
The Aggies are 10-6 against conference opponents since joining the SEC, and finished third in the SEC West in 2012 and fourth in 2013. Those numbers are not extremely impressive when compared to Alabama, which has a 14-2 two-year record against conference opponents, and finished first in the SEC West in 2012 and second in 2013.
But in the state of Texas, the Aggies are dominating the popularity contest, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Although winning big games against SEC opponents and having a Heisman trophy winner are more than likely the main reasons for the burst in popularity, a portion of the credit should also be given to the Aggies' social media presence.
Texas A&M football—@AggieFootball—has 92.7k Twitter followers, which is the most of all Division I college football programs in the state of Texas. But the Aggies went outside of the Twitter box and created a separate Twitter handle, @AggieFBLife, in June of 2013. Its headline reads: "Experience the life that is Texas A&M Football. #WHOSNEXT! #AggieFBLife." And this Twitter handle delivers exactly what its headline states.
@AggieFBLife is constantly tweeting pictures and videos of Texas A&M football. It is essentially the social media poster child of the website AggieFBLife.com, a branch of the Texas A&M Football website, which may responsible for causing a sports media frenzy when it referenced the Swagcopter—a booster-owned helicopter that has been used to transport Texas A&M coaches to visit recruits.
When asked about the Swagcopter, Texas head coach Charlie Strong said the Longhorns are not going to be a gadget program. But imagine being a high school football player and the head coach of a major university arrived in a helicopter just to watch your football game. Excessive or not, the Swagcopter is a genius recruiting strategy, and tweeting pictures of it only adds to the growing appeal of Texas A&M football.
Whether you love them or hate them, the Aggies and Sumlin have created a social media monster that not only attracts more fans, but also helps relate to the younger generation and has become a huge tool for recruiting.
Texas head coach Charlie Strong's social media impact has yet to be seen. Prior to his arrival in Austin, Strong often updated his Twitter followers, and had 1,836 tweets. Since taking over the Longhorns, Strong has tweeted once.
All hope is not lost for the Longhorns' social media footprint. Texas has a new athletic director, a new face of the football program and an entirely different football coaching staff to help revamp the Longhorns' social image.
Considering he had 30 days to find nine new assistant coaches while keeping the 2014 recruiting class intact, it is difficult to judge Strong for his lack of a social media presence.
But maybe it's time for Texas to join the ranks of other college football programs and unveil the hashtag #HOOKED when the Longhorns receive a verbal commit. Hashtag or not, it will be interesting to see if Strong follows the path of Sumlin, Stoops, Patterson and many others, and effectively utilizes social media as a way to communicate with recruits and fans.
All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's Lead Writer covering Texas Football. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar
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