Social media has invaded the college football recruiting landscape. Programs of all sizes and levels of success are tasked with leveraging their social channels to earn a leg up on its competition, while recruits use their favorite platforms to build their massive audiences of fans. Today’s athletes are earning social influence far earlier than their predecessors and are increasingly considering how their choice of school may affect their personal brand now and in their life after college football.

To learn more about this shifting landscape, the opendorse team met with recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree to review his report detailing social media’s impact on modern college football recruiting. We take a look at Crabtree’s findings and what the changing landscape means for recruiters and student-athletes.

1. Athletes are building influence earlier – and more intentionally – than ever before

In just the top two high school sports (football and basketball) the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes already have a reach of more than 1.7 million Twitter followers.

College football and basketball recruits are building their fan bases and social followings long before competing at the collegiate level. While they are young athletes, they have become one of the most savvy user groups on social media, harnessing platforms like Twitter and Instagram to rapidly grow their followings. By engaging with their prospective college fan bases and fellow recruits, these athletes are embracing an opportunity to build their online influence and personal brand. 

2. High School prospects use social to win now and in the future.

A Top 100-rated offensive lineman told Crabtree that he spends a lot of time building his name on social media because it can help him “land more offers” and “make myself more valuable after I’m done in college.”

There are thousands of teenage athletes who want to play major college athletics each year with only a select number of scholarships to go around. Narrow that list down to the premier programs and roster spots become even more selective, even for the nation’s top athletes.

In addition to recruiting camps, highlight tapes, and 7-on-7 teams, recruits have now turned to social media to stand out from their peers. For many, their social platforms act as a display case for their offers, highlights, and interactions with their peer recruits. They are able to showcase their personality, work ethic, achievements, and some can even earn the illustrious label in recruiting circles of “peer recruiter.”

On the flip side of the coin, negative activity on social can lead to losing the interest of potential suitors.

3. Social Media prowess can drive recruiting decisions

A top 2018 quarterback recruit said, “it’s important for me personally to someday have a million followers. That’s a big goal I know I can get at a place like (university redacted).”

Recruiting success for college programs has traditionally hinged on factors like player-coach relationships, location, on-field success, and potential for early playing time. While these factors remain at the forefront, social media prestige has entered the picture. Programs today are devoting more and more assets to the expansion and improvement their social presence.

Beyond the program’s own social presence, athletes like the aforementioned quarterback recruit are increasingly interested in how their potential school will help them build their personal brand. Rather than simply telling athletes what not to do, recruits today are in search of forward thinking programs that offer expert advice, the freedom to maximize their social impact, and access to share the high quality that the program is likely already creating.

4. Coaches and recruiters are taking notice

A director of recruiting at a Pac-12 program said, “If I can have my coaches sit in the living room of Johnny Five Star and they can tell him by coming to (University redacted) we can build his brand and help him make more money when he goes to the NFL, that would be an awesome recruiting weapon nobody else can match.”

As personal branding and social influence occupies the minds of the country’s top high school athletes, recruiters are sure to follow. While preparing a student-athlete for life after college athletics isn’t a new pitch, the ability to do so by providing measurable social strategies and quality content is. The programs that take the lead in embracing this new reality will be in position to win recruiting battles now and championships in the future.