Social Media & Recruiting: Character & Behavior Count!

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Football HelmetA few months ago I was visiting an Ohio high school to present  our Social Media program to two different groups of high school students. While waiting for the second group to enter the auditorium, the football coach approached me and said, “I wish you had been here yesterday.” I laughed and asked him, “Why?” He then went on to tell me how his number one player had just lost a $200,000 football scholarship to a Division I program for sending one negative Tweet about a girl in the school. Apparently the young man didn’t know that most Division I schools have staff that use social listening programs to monitor recruits and existing players on social media.

With social media, character and behavior count more than ever.

It used  to be that the only way to you could keep tabs on your recruits was through their high school coaches, school administration, the newspaper covering local sports  and when allowed — periodic phone calls to the recruit.  Those days have long since passed. Today, there’s social listening.

Say what? Social Listening comes in a variety of forms. In some cases it’s simply a staff member in the athletic department who manually follows high school recruits and current players through their activity on Twitter, Instagram, Vine or Facebook. For larger athletic departments, its using such tools as GeoFeedia, SnapTrends and other tools that can literally follow hundreds or thousands of feeds from athletes on most any given social media platform. Schools that might spend $500,000 in tuitions and development of a player want to be certain that young man or woman  is of good character and behavior. These tools are often part of the litmus test.

In my travels I’ve likely made the same observations as you. An 18 year old boy or girl might look like an adult, but in many ways they are still kids. Then consider that each one of them has a tool in their hand that provides instantaneous self-gratification through ephemeral texting, heavily filtered selfies, hashtag laden tweets and sentence ending emoji’s. Even the best of teens often will say and do things without any thought of the consequences.

Dr. Michele Borba, suggests that many teen are so obsessed with texting and “selfies” that they’ve never learned empathy for their peers and those in their homes and community. I think all of us have been out to eat only to see a family of 4 with their noses buried in their phones without regard to the people at their own table. The human social factor that helps to deliver empathy is often missing in today’s youth.

The resulting “Selfie Generation” has indeed created an “empathy crisis.” In her book, UnSelfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About Me World, Dr. Borba says that teens today are  forty percent less empathetic than they were just a generation ago, and narcissism has increased fifty- eight percent. Much like the boy that lost a scholarship for sending a nasty tweet about a girl at his school – our new digital culture has led to teens making rash judgments and taking quick action without regard to consequences.

However, there are countless examples of how a teen’s digital actions have created immense obstacles for their future success. It is often best witnessed during recruiting season at high schools across the country.

The problem continues when the recruit enrolls in the college. Assistant IU basketball coach, J.D. Campbell told the Indy Star, “It’s just really important to be honest and really important to remind them as much as you possibly can, that your reputation is always on the line.  Break it down to them that this is your family, you represent your family first.”

I might add that your digital reputation can follow you for life – there’s no taking back a Tweet, a post, a picture or a video. If it’s on social media, it’s now searchable.

Nebraska director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson told ESPN that social media, “Has revolutionized recruiting. Sure, cell phones have had a huge influence in the process, allowing recruiters to go mobile with their communication. But with today’s technology, cell phones are merely a vehicle for social media use.”

Unfortunately, for every good there is often a bad. Through social media, coaches can easily see what a recruit is posting; what they like or shared; and have access to their social media friends. In just a few minutes, a coach can make a decision about an athlete’s behavior and character. It might not be the reality – but as they say, “perception is reality.” You seldom have a chance to explain. In 30 seconds you could be written off of a recruiting list due to your social media activity —  and not even know it.


In the January 2016 RecruitingNation Artcle, Jeremy Crabtree wrote about SMU Defensive Coordinator Van Malone. Coach Van Malone tweeted a redacted dossier on one of the Mustangs’ commitments. It’s a tremendous insight into how coaches make decisions as it relates to a recruit’s social media activity.

Social media can illustrate a student’s work in the community, their academic and athletic accomplishments and their communication skills. Social media has infinite possibilities for those who master its positive use.

“I wish you had been here yesterday,” resonates with me still today. How many young men and women were on the radar of a college but unbeknownst to them, they were dropped from the coach’s whiteboard due to their online behavior?

Social listening has made the job of recruiting a little easier for those with access to social listening tools.

With social media, character and behavior count more than ever.


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  1. Pingback: Angry, Unfiltered Words: The Digital Tattoo | A Wired Family

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