FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has called himself a “Twitter quitter.”
But who can really quit you, Twitter?
Swinney might not have his own personal handle, but he has embraced social media via @ClemsonFB, which has doubled its followers since the Tigers beat Notre Dame in early October. One publication recently ranked the handle the best college football Twitter account to follow, news that Swinney welcomed with glee.
“How about that!” Swinney said. “I come up with some good stuff every now and then!”
The approach is vastly different from the conventional wisdom among football programs. Once social media began to grow as a way to not only put out branding and messaging but to connect with recruits, coaches started joining up. The pressure to join began to grow. Coach X simply could not allow Coach Y to overtake him on Twitter.
Swinney signed up, too, in 2009 before quickly quitting.
Here, Swinney is not alone. Fellow College Football Playoff participant Nick Saban does not have his own Twitter account either, making them outliers among coaches jockeying for a voice on social media.
While Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (103,000 followers) and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (68,500 followers) are busy tweeting pictures and graphics from their respective playoff sites, Swinney and Saban rely on their program accounts to spread the message for them.
The strategy has not exactly hurt them. Clemson and Alabama have brought in elite recruiting classes under Saban and Swinney. And neither really needs their own Twitter handle to show their personalities or share their views. Cameras and microphones find them pretty easily for all that.
“The last thing I want to do is get up every day and figure out how many people are following me and feeling like I’ve got to document my life,” Swinney said. “That’s what Clemson football is for. Our people do a great job. From time to time I come up with something good and I try to help them but as far as me, I really try to keep my life simple. ... Everybody’s got to be who they are and so far that’s worked for me. Between my texts and emails and phone calls and all that, I’ve got plenty I need to keep up with. I know it’s a big deal and it’s the way of the times ... but who cares what I think? I don’t want it to be about me.”
The truth is, the Clemson Football Twitter handle is about him, even if his name is not directly listed. Because the goal is to reach recruits, student-athletes, fans and potential fans to give them a glimpse into what makes Clemson so special.
Swinney is a big reason why, given the way he has shaped the program since he became head coach. Though Swinney does not want to tap out his own tweets, Clemson has made a concerted effort in the past two years to beef up its presence across all social media platforms.
The school hired Jonathan Gantt as director of new and creative media to completely revamp its efforts. As result, Clemson has embraced splashy graphics, a multitude of photographs and countless videos, spotlighting Vine in particular.
With three full-time staffers and a bevy of students contributing, Clemson has a Twitter account that is entertaining, engaging and insightful, truly giving outsiders an idea about Swinney -- from his dance moves to his decision to take players out for a day at an amusement park before they went home for Christmas.
Clemson used Twitter Moments to share its favorite videos. Its most popular? Swinney doing the Dab in the middle of the locker room after the Notre Dame victory, retweeted nearly 5,000 times. At the time, Clemson Football had about 72,000 followers. Now, that number is over 145,000 and counting.
“Even though Coach Swinney doesn’t have a Twitter account, he still wants to tell the story of his program, so he gives us a lot of great material and the slogans and the quotes and dancing in the locker room we get to work with,” Gantt said. “Luckily, we’re in a culture where it’s not hard to find great things to share because there’s a lot of great things happening.”
Gantt has tried to have conversations with Swinney about getting an account. They are non-starters. Saban did say back in September he would join Twitter eventually, but he has not so far -- making him the only coach in the SEC without an account.
Swinney and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher are the only ACC coaches without their own handles.
“There’s no shortage of people sharing their message with different audiences,” Gantt said. “It’s not a necessity for them to have one because they have so many different people they can speak through to get to the audience they’re trying to reach.”
The message is clearly getting across.