Social media: Twitter ruling college sports

College football coaches might not be the most obvious target demographic for social media, but many are embracing -- or at least accepting -- what has become an inescapable reality in sports culture.

Texas coach Mack Brown opened a Twitter account this summer, and he’s not alone.

According to one recent survey, half of Division I football coaches are on Twitter.

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone recently joined Facebook, saying the social networking site gave him the ability “to sit down and reach out to media, alumni, fans, people that are interested in our program.”

Using social media gives Marrone and his program the opportunity to release news and respond to it directly.

“I always thought I had a good feel for social media,” Marrone said. “But [since becoming an active user], I obviously sit here and see more value in it than I thought.”

Getting coaches educated and engaged is the key to social media, said Kevin DeShazo, founder of Fieldhouse Media. The company has long offered social media education for student-athletes but recently added an education component for coaches to its offerings. DeShazo works with college coaches on everything from using social media in recruiting to what the NCAA allows to Twitter and Facebook 101.

“There are a lot of old-school coaches, but a lot of them are embracing social media,” DeShazo said. “It’s just coming at it saying ... this is where we’re going, and if you want to relate to kids, this how you’re going to have to do it. This is how kids are communicating.”

There are certainly holdouts. Clemson, Florida State, UNC, Iowa, Kansas and Boise State have made headlines for prohibiting football players from using social media during the season.

“A lot of times, the first instinct is to ban it,” DeShazo said of coaches and social media. “They think it’s a distraction. You’ll hear, ‘We need to focus.’ But they’re not tweeting during practice. They’re not tweeting during games. There’s no correlation between winning games.”

Kansas banned tweeting. The Jayhawks went 2-10. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher banned his players from using Twitter after a 35-30 loss to Wake Forest last year. The Seminoles went 7-1 after the ban en route to a 9-4 record. Alabama allows its players to tweet. The Crimson Tide won the national title. Indiana allows its players to tweet, and the Hoosiers went 1-11 a year ago.

Marrone was among those coaches initially considering an outright social media blackout for his players.

“My thought process was I can go two ways,” Marrone said. “I could say, ‘That’s it, we’re banning it.’ But in my opinion, if I would have done that, I’m leaving an opportunity for a player later on to make a [social media] mistake. If I get started now with freshmen, I can keep pounding in, ‘Hey, this is a great avenue, but also something you have to be careful on and think about.’ … It is a tool and it is an unbelievable engine. You need to respect that.”

Though social media bans and athlete Web gaffes tend to make bigger headlines, social media can provide a major PR boost to a program when used well. Fans want to follow their favorite players and programs in a social media-savvy age.

“A lot of coaches will say, ‘I didn’t think of social media as being a good thing,’” DeShazo said. “All they see in the media are the negative stories. They don’t ever think about how it can be used in a positive way.”

That is, until they started using it themselves.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

Kentucky universities are monitoring their athletes’ social media use.

Football versus football. Mashable looked at how the NFL and the English Premier League stack up in the social space. And how Spain’s La Liga fairs against EPL.

Curt Schilling said social media has changed sports culture for the worse.

Some NHL fans are planning to take to social media in protest of a potential lockout.

Purdue athletics launched a social media rewards program.

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