The Social Gridiron: How the Nation’s Top College Football Coaches Leverage Twitter

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By: Myles J. Robinson

With the recent release of the new AP Top 25 Poll the 2013-14 college football season is officially upon us. Numerous athletic programs have been in the national news lately spending big bucks off the field.

Recently, James Maddox wrote an interesting post about the top college programs on Twitter in various sports. I decided to take James’ article a step further focusing on the Twitter presence of the head coaches running the nation’s Top 25 Football programs. Below are some interesting notes from these coaches:

  • 10 coaches in the AP Top 25 Poll have verified accounts:
  1. Stanford’s David Shaw (@CoachDavidShaw)
  2. Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (@CoachSumlin)
  3. Louisville’s Charlie Strong (@CharlieStrongUL)
  4. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly)
  5. LSU’s Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles)
  6. Texas’ Mack Brown (@UT_MackBrown)
  7. Nebraska’s Bo Pelini (@BoPelini)
  8. UCLA’s Jim Mora (@UCLACoachMora)
  9. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (@CoachFitz51)
  10.  USC’s Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin)
  • Of those that University of Georgia’s Mark Richt follows, 85% are high school football recruits
  • Louisville’s Charlie Strong follows Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M
  • Nebraska’s Bo Pelini shows his personality and off-the-field hobbies by following Larry the Cable Guy, TaylorMade Golf and the Cleveland Indians

With the dawn of the new season, it comes as no surprise that the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide is sitting atop the AP Poll. Ohio State, ranked second, is an early preseason favorite to join the Tide in the BCS National Title game later this year. While many coaches are leveraging social media as an extra recruiting tool, the nation’s top two coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, have chosen to refrain from using Twitter.

On the other hand, some coaches like LSU’s Les Miles have taken to Twitter and built an online, national brand. Coach Miles tops my list (see below) of college football head coaching personalities, boasting over 100,000 Twitter followers. With over 95,000 followers, Brian Kelly currently has the number two spot following Notre Dame’s near perfect season last year.

Twitter’s Top 10 Most Followed College Football Head Coaches  (as of 8/19/2013) 

Head Coach School Twitter Handle Number of Followers
1.Les Miles
LSU @LSUCoachMiles 114,567
2. Brian Kelly Notre Dame @CoachBrianKelly 95,422
3. Mark Richt Georgia @MarkRicht 72,516
4. Bo Pelini Nebraska @BoPelini 50,250
5. Will Muschamp Florida @CoachWMuschamp 44,493
6. Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M @CoachSumlin 39,263
7. Mack Brown Texas @UT_MackBrown 35,156
8. Mike Gundy Oklahoma State @CoachGundy 31,666
9. Charlie Strong Louisville @CharlieStrongUL 31,177
10. Lane Kiffin Southern California @Lane_Kiffin 30,732

To echo the words of former NFL coach Herm Edwards “You play to win the game!” In social media the game of engagement is won with contagious content. Klout is a popular social media tool that rates online influence on a scale of 1-100, with a high number signaling great engagement on various social media networks. Below, I took a look at the Top 25 head coaches for this coming year to discover who has the most influence off the field.

 Twitter’s Most Influential College Football Head Coaches (as of 8/19/2013)

Head Coach School Twitter Handle Klout Score
1. Les Miles LSU @LSUCoachMiles 81
2. Lane Kiffin Southern California @Lane_Kiffin 80
3. Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M @CoachSumlin 69
4. Mack Brown Texas @UT_MackBrown 66
    Mike Gundy Oklahoma State @CoachGundy 66
    Brian Kelly Notre Dame @CoachBrianKelly 66
    Mark Richt Georgia @MarkRicht 66
5. Will Muschamp Florida @CoachWMuschamp 65
6. Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern @CoachFitz51 63
7. Bo Pelini Nebraska @BoPelini 62

Recently during the College World Series, Miles congradulated the LSU Baseball Team on a successful season, signaling to many Tigers fans his genuine love for the University. His post was retweteed over 300 times as a result. Les Miles recently discussed his take on Twitter at SEC Media Day: “Here is what’s happening. Somebody gave me the magic. They said there’s 500 million on Instagram…there’s 3 billion on Facebook. These are phenomena that are not just youthful…it’s an amazing thing. What we really are trying to do is educate and give [our football players] their brand and the responsibility that they have to understand that this is a media outlet.”

Coach Les Miles is one of few coaches in the country who effectively capitalizes on his brand equity. One of Miles’ most engaging posts came on March 18 when he posted a YouTube link of the LSU Football team doing the Harlem Shake, a viral dance that swept the nation prompting brands, celebrities and athletic teams alike to join in the video frenzy. Miles’s single tweet that evening has since been shared over 1,300 times and “favorited” another 376 times.

In a world where 140 characters has proved detrimental to many college athletes, it is great to watch those on the field who leverage social channels in a positive manner. Considering Les’ own pull in the Twitterverse, I think we all can take a brand lesson from Coach Miles’ playbook.

Myles J. Robinson is a junior at UNC Chapel Hill studying public relations and social entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter @mylesjrobinson for more #sportsbiz talk.

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