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Inside the 140-Character Communication Strategy of the New @PennStateFBall Coaching Staff

Dr. @Joe_Mazza ‘00 serves as Innovation Coach at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (@PennGSE). He is the K-12 Director for Connected Teaching, Learning & Leadership in a large school district outside Philadelphia, PA.

In my varying roles as an educational leader, I’ve evolved my practice to leverage social media personally and professionally on a daily basis. I’ve witnessed how social media cannot not only engage students in today’s K-college classrooms, but support organizations in other fields looking to collaborate and create strong bonds in virtual ways.

Most of those I know inside the Penn State community choked on their New Years’ Eve drinks when ESPN’s Adam Schefter sent the following tweet at 10:14PM on December 31, 2013.

Yet, just 35 days later, the fanbase which includes current students, the largest alumni association in the United States as well as the small tight-knit town of State College are buzzing with the efforts the new coaching staff has put in place to reach out physically and virtually in shaping a new brand of Penn State Football.

Most big time football programs these days have a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram accounts, Youtube Channels and a website where information on their programs are pushed out to the world. Penn State is no different, garnering an official Twitter acct (@PennStateFBall) as well as a Twitter account dedicated just toward recruiting (@PSUrecruits). The program’s Youtube channel posts videos of past and present including the popular “pump up” videos prior to football games. To embed various media and strike up global conversations around the program, the PSU Football Facebook page has racked up over 500,000 likes. Finally, one of the newer social media tools, the PSU Football Instagram account is a place where pictures are posted daily using #hashtags to share the events in pictures.

The hashtag (#)

Many Twitter and Instagram user include a “hashtag” (a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic) at the end of their tweets. Popular PSU-related hashtags being used on by PSU coaches have included #WeAre, #PennState, #PSU, #DominateTheState, #100KStrong, #NittanyNation, #PSUnrivaled, #whiteout, #LinebackerU, #oneteam. The staff is no stranger to catchy hashtags used to generate excitement and enthusiasm. At Vanderbilt, they used #AnchorDown more than any other hashtag by students, alumni, fans and coaches. In the coming weeks, expect to see the staff and the entire PSU community use #FTK and #THON in the days leading up to February 22, 2014, the PSU Dance Marathon. @THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world raising funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.

It’s not a surprise the program has so many social media accounts pushing updates out to the world, but it’s how the new coaching staff is using social media, especially Twitter thus far that has fans, students, alumni and current players buzzing with enthusiasm heading into National Signing Day. Below are the coaches and their Twitter handles if you’d like to follow them.

2014 PSU Football Connected Coach Roster

@CoachJFranklin, James Franklin – Head Football Coach
@CoachJ_Donovan, John Donovan – Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends
@Coach_ShoopPSU, Bob Shoop – Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach
@Coach_Gattis, Josh Gattis – Offensive Recruiting Coordomator/Wide Receivers
@CoachHand, Herb Hand – Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line
@CoachHuff, Charles Huff – Special Teams Coordinator/Runningbacks
@CoachPry_LBU, Brent Pry – Asst. Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
@RickyRahne, Ricky Rahne – Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks
@CoachTerryPSU, Terry Smith – Defensive Recruiting Coordinator/Defensive Backs
@SpenceChaos, Sean Spencer – Defensive Line
@DGalt3, Dwight Galt – Director of Performance Enhancement
@PennStateFBall, Official PSU Football Twitterfeed

*Full coach bios can be found over at the Official PSU Football Coaches page.
*For non-tweeters, here is a link to read the tweets of PSU Football coaches anytime without officially registering for Twitter.

Inside the Tweets

If you missed all or any of the tweets sent by the coaching staff since they were introduced, find below an archive of all 140 character tweets posted since James Franklin was announced as the 16th Head Football Coach at Penn State on January 11, 2014.

As you read through the tweets by the coaching staff, you begin to understand the value of a series of 140 character messages for today’s coaches, teachers, principals and leaders of organizations to both embrace and leverage social media tools in their day to day duties as leaders. The following are 12 ways I see the 2014 PSU Football Coaching Staff utilizing their Twitterfeeds to communicate.  

      1. Transparency – Most if not all of the new coaches on the staff are unknown to the Penn State Community. By sharing their lives, their families and their efforts while serving Penn State, the staff has begun to break down walls and present themselves as everyday people like you and me. They are working to build real relationships between the program and the community, nationally and globally knowing “Penn Staters” are spread around the world.
      1. Honoring & Respecting Tradition – The new staff has spent a great deal of time reaching out to former players, the Letterman’s Club and are on record for calling the seven home football games next season “family reunions.” Franklin and staff understand many players, coaches and fans built the program to the caliber it is today. It is vital he embraces this fact, reaches out to former players by name (and Twitter handle). See Superbowl 48 Champions & former lettermen @RealMikeRob (Michael Robinson ‘04) & @J_Hill_47 (Jordan Hill ‘13)
      1. Building A Brand – Why wait for the newspaper when you can tell your story in your own words, being certain to include the details most important to your organization’s vision for success? From the time Coach Franklin got off the plane from Nashville, he began building a brand of community outreach and strong relationships by greeting little Nittany Lion fans waiting for his plane’s arrival.
      1. Recognition – The team has begun strength training under Dwight Galt III. D-Line Coach Sean Spencer tweeted out from weight room, “Just walked into the weight room. My dogs were eating those weights. I am fired up to begin training them in the art of chaos.” I think we all got fired up by reading that.
      1. Announcements – “The Signature Event” is what the program is calling National Signing Day this week. During the event held at the Bryce Jordan Center (BJC), the staff spoke about each new member of the 2014 recruiting class. Pedro Gomez (@PedroGomezESPN) was on campus all day capturing the signing day events from the Penn State perspective. Former lettermen @LaVarArrington & @Michael_Mauti also attended. At Vanderbilt, NSD was also a big deal for this staff as evidenced in this video.
      1. Building Trust / Vision – The more accurate a picture you put out about your organization, the more reputable your “brand” becomes. Helping others understand you are committed to doing everything within your power for the betterment of the organization is the key to building trust. For Penn State Football, they’ve begun preaching 4 core values: 1) Everyone must have a positive attitude. 2) No coach will out work them. 3) Compete in everything they do. 4) Every player will know they have to sacrifice. From reading their tweets over the last month, I’d say they are doing exactly what they set out to do – create a brand you want to be a part of as a student, student-athlete, a fan, alumni, a community member and a casual fan.
      1. Bringing the Passion – Every time a new recruit commits to play Penn State Football, Coach Franklin tweets “We Are… Better!” signalling to the fanbase that the team just got better by adding a student-athlete at a position of need for the upcoming season. Number of exclamation point used in James Franklin tweets since joining the team – 28.
      1. Depth of Reach – Fans and alumni from all over the globe have reached out, retweeted, favorited and replied to Coach Franklin and staff since they took their outreach online. You don’t have to be in the stands to yell out at the coach in support or in criticism here in 2014. You are only a 140 character tweet away from interacting with this coaching staff whether you’re in State College or you’re a Penn State alum watching from a naval base in Japan.
      1. Recruitment – Franklin came to Penn State known for his strong recruiting skills, but few anticipated his entire staff would be out on the recruiting trail flying all over the United States visiting the top high school football players. In his initial press conference, Franklin vowed to “Dominate the State,” but daily check-ins from every corner of the country leads one to believe that no recruit is too far from State College to garner interest from the new staff. (Commitments from seventeen different states). Recruits can easily follow current players and coaches on Twitter with many of those “follows” becoming relationships that develop throughout the recruiting process.
      1. Civic Duty – Even with his hectic recruiting schedule leading up to NSD, Franklin was on hand for last week’s State of the Union Address in Washington D.C. as the guest of Glenn Thompson, U.S. Representative who represents PA’s 5th Congressional District. Franklin’s thoughts on the honor: “I look forward to hearing the President’s vision for 2014 and beyond and what we, as citizens of the greatest union in the world, can do to help move our nation forward.”
      1. Setting A Digital Example – It’s no secret that students, educators, coaches and employees of many organizations have gotten themselves in trouble for sharing their unfiltered personal thoughts using social media. For educators and coaches alike, kids need good digital role models in today’s social media world. All of us need to take full responsibility for the content we produce from both our virtual and physical mouths. What Franklin and his staff have done is set the bar in terms of how to behave online with one secret ingredient: Don’t post anything you aren’t proud or wouldn’t yell out the front door of your school or house with pride. Statistics found in articles like 37% of employers use social networks to screen potential job candidates and 30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered information online that had negatively affected an applicant’s prospects fuel the need for digital leadership on the part of coaches, teachers, principals and the overall adult population.
      1. Student Relations – On Monday when new OLine Coach Herb Hand tweeted “Quick stop at @PSULionsPride to pick up some swag for my kids followed by lunch at @CanyonPizzaPSU (get the General Tso’s slice & thank me L8r)” he set off a huge discussion on Twitter over what was the best pizza joint in State College. Students sounded off recommending Pizza Heaven, Mama Mia’s, Bell’s Greek, College Pizza, Brother’s Pizza, Margaritas. Canyon Pizza, a popular late night destination for PSU students, brought on notable tweets like “You’re such a freshman, Coach Hand.” “You’re not supposed to eat Canyon Pizza during the day/while awake.” The playful conversation is just one thread of many since the new coaching staff has stormed the social media world already taking place by young people everywhere.

When Twitter first arrived in 2006, most Americans used the medium to follow the lives of movie stars, music stars and celebrities. Today with over 500 million active users sending over 300 million tweets per day, Twitter and other social media are now being used to complement face to face communications, build real relationships and allow those near and far to experience the vision, ongoing efforts and daily pulse of the organization. Schools, Universities, high school & college coaches, CEOs and those looking to take control of the media story and “tell their own story” will only further 37 year-old Twitter founder Jack (@Jack) Dorsey’s goal of “reaching every person on the planet.” Social media is no longer considered “a bad word” and “only a place for kids.” 73% of online adults now use social networking sites.

It’s been a rough couple of years for anyone connected to the University, but with the arrival of Franklin and his staff, the Penn State Football program is now considered high energy, hard-working, innovative, service-oriented, relationship-based and a top destination for high school kids looking to play big time college football while being part of a close knit community both on and off the field. In the tweeted words of Coach @SpenceChaos #WeAre #swag.


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About the Author

Joe Mazza

Social media expert Dr. Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) serves as K-12 Director of Connected Teaching, Learning & Leadership in @NPSD outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is the former principal at Knapp Elementary School where he began tweeting in 2009 to tell his school’s story and keep his families apprised of the pulse of the school day. His doctoral dissertation at @Penn studied school principals’ use of social media to connect home and school. He works at the University of Pennsylvania as @PennGSE's Innovation Coach, writes and speaks on leveraging social media here in the US, Canada and most recently in Australia. More on Joe at his website leadlearner.com. Joe is a Penn State University alumnus, graduating in 2000 with a BS in Education and Spanish.

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