Tale of Two Tweets

New Oregon Ducks football coach Willie Taggart wasted no time hitting the recruiting trail and going online to show that the Ducks plan to make recruiting as aggressive and innovative as the team’s on-field play calling.

New Oregon Ducks football coach Willie Taggart wasted no time hitting the recruiting trail and going online to show that the Ducks plan to make recruiting as aggressive and innovative as the team’s on-field play calling.

Donald Trump arguably won the presidency by tweeting and Mark Helfrich may have been fired as head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team for not tweeting. There is a lesson here.

Trump’s tweets commanded constant attention and served as an unfiltered way to talk directly to the American public. The absence of tweeting by Helfrich and his coaching assistants created a barrier from reaching young recruits where they hang out online.

The Oregonian’s Andrew Nemec offered a commentary on how the modern recruiting game passed by the Oregon Ducks under Helfrich. Nemec's premise is that the game on the field is often determined these days by how well you play online. His commentary could just as well apply to comfortable executives in a lot of organizations.

While Washington Husky Coach Chris Petersen tweets “Woof” when a new recruit pledges to his team and Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh puts pictures on social media of him climbing trees and hosting sleepovers, the Ducks coaching staff rested on its laurels. The bad news: Most Millennials don’t know how to spell laurels.

Nemec quotes a national scout who says top recruits pay attention to how many Twitter followers they get4 when a major university offers them a scholarship, which could swing their decision of what football program to join. “I’ve had kids straight-up tell me a school made a top five because they added more followers. If you aren’t doing that, you are going to find yourself on the outside looking it. You are going to get lapped.”

For many organizations, social media, especially Twitter, is a quagmire, hassle or mystery. Self-satisfied leaders tell themselves they don’t new newfangled tools to communicate with long-time customers, donors or stakeholders.

As Nemec notes, times change and anyone can be eclipsed. “For a program that celebrated and self-congratulated its own innovation,” Nemec wrote, “it’s jarring that the downfall came from failing to grasp new school recruiting tactics.” Jarring indeed.

However confounding digital media may seem, it is worth the effort to learn about it and interact with it. You may never become a tweet master like Trump, but at least you won’t be a twit without a tweet. As the Helfrich example demonstrates, learning new tricks can keep you relevant – and employed.

As if to underscore the point, Willie Taggart made his debut as new coach of the Oregon Ducks by flying off to Hawaii to recruit Tua Tagovailoa, who is ranked as the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation and attended the same high school as his idol Marcus Mariota. Tagovailoa committed to Alabama after he sensed Oregon lost interest in him. Taggart may not succeed in flipping him, but there he was on Twitter with a picture of Tagovailoa and him for all those young recruits to see.

A few days later, Darrian McNeal from Florida flipped his commitment from Arizona to Oregon. McNeal had wanted to go to Oregon all along, but his attempts to reach the former coaching staff on social media failed. “I didn’t think this day was gonna come,” he said on social media. It happened because Taggart was paying attention online.

Football games are won or lost on football fields or in public arenas. The ability to win football games – or a contest of ideas – is often determined by who has the best team. Increasingly, the best team is the one that wins online.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.