Football recruiting
Monday, July 15, 2019
By Tom Snee

College football training camps start next month and a new study from the University of Iowa suggests that Twitter may have played an important role in how many of the players on the field received their scholarships.

The study found that high school athletes who talk themselves up on social media are more apt to receive scholarship offers from Division I universities, especially lower-rated recruits. It found high school football players who had Twitter accounts were as much as 179 percent more likely than athletes who don’t tweet to receive at least one scholarship offer, with more offers coming to athletes whose tweets were more self-promotional and ingratiating in nature.

“Our results highlight the growing importance of social media as a recruiting tool and suggest that recruits’ online self-presentation may have significant offline impacts,” says Kristina Gavin Bigsby, co-author of the study and visiting assistant professor of business analytics at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. Most of the benefits came to two- and three-star recruits, suggesting Twitter provides an opportunity for below-the-radar athletes to get coaches’ attention.

The researchers examined 5.5 million tweets for impression management made by 2,644 high school football players between August 2015 and March 2016. The researchers looked at original tweets, retweets, replies, mentions, hashtags, URLs and links to other media, and then determined how many of them were either ingratiating—or those that intend to make the student look likeable (“glad you all beat them boys bro”), or self-promotional (“I’ve picked Clemson to be my @drpepper #onefinalteam”) in nature.

Their analysis showed 19.2 percent of the tweets were self-promotional and 13.9 percent were ingratiating.

They then looked at how many of those students received scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision colleges and universities. Using several analytical models, they found that football players who tweeted were significantly more likely to receive scholarship offers than those who didn’t. Depending on the analytical model, players were anywhere between 109 percent and 179 percent more likely to receive an offer, depending on the number of times they tweeted per month.

The analysis also found that more scholarship offers came to those who talked themselves up more with self-promoting or ingratiating tweets. One model found a 1 percent increase in the number of scholarship offers for every 1 percent increase in self-promotional tweets.

Ingratiating tweets were even more likely to lead to more offers, with every 1 percent increase in ingratiating tweets leading to a 1.6 percent increase in offers.

The effect is amplified for recruits who are considered one- or two-star by scouting organizations, who receive anywhere between 116 and 187 percent more scholarship offers, depending on their Twitter output. Self-promotion is less significant for three- to five-star recruits, presumably because they are likely to receive offers regardless of their Twitter activity.

“Social media offers unheralded athletes with a way to stand out from the crowd,” says Jeffrey Ohlmann, co-author and associate professor of business analytics.

The study also found that Twitter use varied widely among players with an account, with 12.5 percent posting zero tweets per month, and 11.7 percent posted 300 or more a month. Six percent tweeted on average more than 10 times per day.

The study, “Keeping it 100: Social Media and Self-Presentation in College Football Recruiting,” was co-authored by Kang Zhao, associate professor of business analytics at the University of Iowa, and published in the journal Big Data. It was based on Bigsby’s doctoral dissertation from the Tippie College of Business and can be found at https://www.biz.uiowa.edu/faculty/kangzhao/pub/BigData_2019.pdf.