The following is one of a series of articles on how high school football had changed in Alabama over the last decade.
Social media has become a huge part of high school football for the school, the players and the coaches. We are to the point that coaches can no longer ignore it without taking the chance of falling behind.
The most popular social media platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc. are bring used more and more by parents and athletes on a daily basis. They are replacing newspapers, television and email as the method that people of all ages get their news and communicate their activities with others. Sports are at the top of that list. There are good and bad issues with social media and coaches must educate everyone associated with their program about proper procedures in using these platforms.
Coaches need to create a strategy to use social media within your program. It has become much more than just having a coach run an account if you want to do it the most effective way. But it all starts with a philosophy and a strategy and a plan.
There is usually at least one coach on your staff that is younger and understands Twitter, Instagram, etc. more than the rest. Having a strategy that the head coach wants to accomplish will give that assistant some guidelines with which to work. On larger staffs, the social media responsibilities can be divided up. One coach may be responsible for scores, meetings and parent information. Another may deal with player highlights, awards and recruiting.
The ability to get your message out has become so important that some head coaches control this narrative themselves. If you want the story of your team and players promoted, social media has replaced newspapers as the best way to do that. Stories, scores, photos and videos of the contest can go out instantly as they are occurring. With some small town newspapers, it may be several days days before the paper is published with those accounts.
The two most popular platforms for schools seem to be Twitter for the athletes and Facebook for the parents, although many of them use Twitter as well. Today, over 80% of high school athletes use social media on a regular basis and most are using it to communicate what is happening on their sports teams.
It is amazing how many people see the posts you make. Through your platform and through retweets and shares, a post can be seen by thousands of people. All of those people see your brand.
Here are a few of the ways high school football teams are using social media to promote their program.
1) Highlight players efforts during the season.
You can have offensive, defensive, special teams or scout team players of the week. A picture and a few short words about the player can send a positive message to everyone in that team community and beyond. Stats are an important way to promote. A player may set an individual school record or the team may rush for 400 yards. These are great opportunities to get that information out to the community or maybe publicize the guys on the offensive line.
2) Highlight players during the off season.
Whether it is making the academic honor roll list or volunteering in a community project, your social media can be as much alive in the off season if you look for opportunities to promote your athletes. Players on your team that are a part of other sport teams can be highlighted. Football athletes accomplishments in the off season program can send the message about work ethic and off season improvement for your squad.
3) In game reports
It is easy to have a student, parent or a JV coach tweet out pictures, video and scores of a game from the sideline as it happens. You will be amazed how many people will be checking - from those who could not attend the game to those parents sitting in the stands. "The Wildcats had 275 yards passing in the first half" with a picture of the quarterback can provide info to fans everywhere.
4) New equipment
Whether it is a new sled, new helmets, new decals or uniforms, social media can get the message out to all. If the school district, booster club or a donor was responsible for the new items, it is a very good way to say "Thanks".
5) Promotion of game/events
There is no better way to create enthusiasm for the game than with social media. Encourage everyone to invite others to come and be there early. Junior varsity contests with locations and game times can be promoted as well. Got a big pep rally coming up? Send out the word with pictures of the cheerleaders at the last pep rally. Get the students there with giveaways on Twitter!
6) Highlight the coaching staff
Some good PR for your coaches is always appreciated. Highlight a coach and use pictures of him with his family and some of his favorite sayings.
7) Highlight Your Alumni
Get your alumni back involved with pictures from long ago and a little info about their lives and families. This goes a long way to connect the past players with the current team and supporters. It is also helpful when teams are trying to raise money for equipment, facilities, etc. Comments from the alumni about the program or what they loved about playing football in their day can be great public relations. Keep up with alumni that are still playing in college and tweet their picture with stats.
8) Promote athletes for college
It is easy to take some highlights of some of your best recruits and post them. Put a link to their highlights on your post. It lets people know you are helping the students and gets the word out to smaller colleges. Announcing college commitments and pictures and video of signing day have become an important part of promoting your program and the recruits as well.
9) Use as primary announcement and news site
Coaches have started using platforms like Twitter to get the word out to their players and parents about team events. Whether it be a booster club meeting, a cookout or selling raffle tickets, social media can be the way to get the word out. Coaches will let parents know at that first team meeting that they should follow the team on Twitter and parents and players have instant access to team announcements. Links to newspaper articles, stats, etc., can also be posted to keep the parents and fans informed throughout the season. One of the most important aspects of social media as a news outlet is the ability to promote sportsmanship. Having a sportsmanship hashtag, showing pictures of athletes showing good sportsmanship or newspaper articles or retweets about the subject can go along way to promote this important aspect of athletics for players and parents.
Whether it is informing parents, fans, or alumni, promoting fundraising has become part of the job for most football coaches. Social media is the best way to do that. Whether you are soliciting donations, raffles or selling strawberries, you can touch a lot of people through your followers and through the people that they will send that post to themselves. There are often those who would be willing to write a check for that new sled if they knew that there was a specific need, and social media can get that message out to many people.
Companies like Pure Game Sports here in Alabama can be used to help with combing social media platforms to promote your program using technology. They can help you create a brand with graphics, promote your team and help with fundraising.
If you are just starting social media with your team, start slow and look for examples by other teams of great posts that send a positive message about their program. The best way to learn is often by watching others.
The other side of social media can be difficult. Young people have in their hands the ability to speak to thousands of people at once and many adults don't handle that well. Coaches should meet with players, parents and even their own coaching staffs about the responsibilities of using social media. A policy with general guidelines is important in helping parents monitor their son's media platforms.
Coaches need to be careful about using their personal accounts to promote school activities and students. When they communicate with student-athletes, it should be for informational purposes and not conversational. When an adult crosses over into the conversational realm, it can lead to misinterpretations and unintended consequences.
Coaches should monitor the accounts of their players as much as possible. This is important particularly for those of high profile athletes or those who the coach might think could use a little guidance. A preseason meeting with guidelines is important, especially if the students can be given examples of things to avoid. A solid policy with consequences is the best way to go. There are a number of policies on the internet that coaches can use to get started.
Criticism of players, coaches and parents by others on social media is one of the biggest problems. If a player is upset by his lack of playing time, social media is not the place to discuss that. If a parent thinks the team lost because the coach made a bad call, posting it on social media is detrimental to the team in more ways than one.
Pictures of players in compromising situations is another problem with social media. Players and parents that are constantly promoting themselves or their children can tear down team morale as well.
Here are some things to remember when using social media:
1) It is a tool not a toy.
Use it as an asset to help your program and not to just entertain you and others.
2) Nothing is truly private.
Everything posted should be considered as though it will be printed in the local paper tomorrow. Even if you delete it, someone has already seen it and shared it.
3) If you share it, you own it.
Many think that if they share someone's comment it relieves them of responsibility. Not true.
4) Personal Branding - Every post reflects who you are.
The goal of every coach should be to use social media to positively reflect their football program and limit the problems that come with these platforms. Educating themselves, their players and staff will go along way to making that happen.