Social media is key to college football recruiting — and BYU is trying to do it better than anyone else

Newly in the Big 12, BYU is making a bet that social media can bolster recruiting.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Madi Allphin films fans as BYU hosts Southern Utah University, NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

Provo • You remember that flashlight thing from “Men in Black”? The one that erases people’s memories for a time?

Well, Tyson Hutchins apparently remembered it too. And if BYU’s associate athletic director for creative strategy ever had one, he might’ve used it just before BYU’s biggest social media moment of the year.

Months before July 1 — the day BYU would officially enter the Big 12 conference — Hutchins announced he wanted to delete every post the program had ever put out. A Men in Black-type move, as the staff took it.




It seemed crazy, he realized, but Hutchins explained.

This would be a way to generate interest in the middle of summer. Plus, it would clean the slate. So when July 1 came, BYU could control exactly what people were looking at rather than be distracted by past posts.

“Taylor Swift does it,” Hutchins said with a smile.

So Hutchins assigned Stuart Call — who runs digital strategy for BYU athletics — and a small army of content creators to get to work. They sat up in the office all night archiving over 5,000 Instagram posts.

They left just one post up that said, “7.1.23″.

The comments swiftly rolled in, calling for the social media team to be fired.

But as July 1 hit, the interest was there. And with the attention on them, Hutchins’ staff orchestrated a social media onslaught that peppered recruits and fans with content reintroducing the program.

They put out a montage of highlights from the past 15 years showing the program’s reach; from Matthew McConaughey picking the Cougs on GameDay to Barack Obama getting caught up in Jimmermania. The day acted as one big recruiting pitch to BYU’s new Power Five status — and put it directly on the phones of thousands of recruits.

“We wanted to put as much out there so that people could just open up their phones and feel the culture, not just a football team,” football communications director Kenny Cox said.

The entire day, and the lead-up to it, served as a prime example of college football recruiting’s latest facet: the content creation team.

Because maybe 10 years ago, coaches would’ve sent letters and made phone calls. Five years ago they would have shown off the facilities. Now, one way to get recruits is by cutting through the noise and delivering unique videos and graphics right into their phone.

“It’s a resource that a lot of times people don’t realize is needed,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Recruits love seeing all the content that’s there. And you can picture yourself [here] when you see all the variety and the creative ways that they’re doing it. They are super valuable to us.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) as BYU hosts Southern Utah University, NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

The vision

Teams have been using social media to connect with fans and grow their audience for awhile now.

But it is hard to pinpoint when content became king in recruiting. It’s different at each school.

For BYU, it started with the baseball program back in 2017. Hutchins and Call were still trying to convince coaches of the benefits of social media.

Then-head coach Mike Littlewood opened his doors to have them capture the entire postseason run. They traveled with the team, stayed in the dugouts for games and had carte blanche to execute anything they wanted.

“It kind of blew up,” Call said. “Ever since then coaches have been asking for more, and [asking] what can they get. Everything we do for those guys revolves around recruiting. And they’re very hands on with what everything looks like because of how it impacts their recruiting. They’ve been the drivers.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU social media team member, Coy Johnson, works the football game between the Southern Utah Thunderbirds and the Brigham Young Cougars, at LaVell Edwards Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

From there, BYU poured money into social media and funneled resources into football. Sitake was on board, but the question lingered about how the team wanted to be presented to the world.

A good social media strategy has to be unified and clear. And Hutchins had a vision.

“We want it to be like an extension of the team group chat,” Hutchins pitched. “That’s the way I describe it. We want there to be a familiarity when a recruit comes on campus. … They’ve seen the behind-the- scenes stuff that we provide. So that when they come on a visit, it’s not shocking. They feel like they know it.”

It meant the social media grid would be filled with anything players would text to their friends: like people dancing in the locker room after a win or swapping highlight packages of a big play. Funny videos, hype videos or day-in-the-life pictures would work too. If it reflected the mood of the team, they posted it.

The hope was recruits would feel the culture. And they would see it so often that one day they’d want to be a part of it.

“It’s vital that our social media matches the vibe,” Call said. “If you’re being fake, or you’re trying to portray something that it’s not, it’s super obvious to the fans, super obvious to recruits.”

It’s why BYU’s different accounts have different feelings. Volleyball, for example, is more serious while football is more lighthearted.

“It’s to match Kalani and how he wants a program to look,” Hutchins said.

For a time, Hutchins left to do the same thing at Clemson. The Tigers’ head football coach, Dabo Swinney, noticed the next recruiting wave early and wanted to capitalize on it.

But when BYU was admitted to the Big 12, Hutchins returned to his alma mater. Athletic director Tom Holmoe was ready to make a bigger commitment to the staff. BYU needed better recruits, and this was one way it was going to do it.

Now, BYU has four full-time videographers, multiple social media strategists, two photographers, three football communications staffers and 25 paid students. It just renovated its studio for recruiting photo shoots. More resources are on the way.

“If we want to be a big-time program like we are, then we want everyone to know about us and what we’re doing,” Sitake said. “[This] allows us to be a little bit more open about what our program is.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU social media team member, Anna Brewer, works the football game between the Southern Utah Thunderbirds and the Brigham Young Cougars, at LaVell Edwards Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

How it works

Before three-star linebacker Ephraim Asiata arrived for his official visit at BYU last summer, he received a video personalized to him.

It started with an iPhone calendar update, reminding him of his trip to Provo. And then it cycled through fake billboards with his name on it and highlights of a game day experience at BYU.

Pursuing a recruit with offers from USC and Utah, BYU needed to emphasize experience and home. This was step one.

“BYU’s team is always on it,” Asiata said.

When he arrived on campus, BYU’s social media team was ready for more. After a meeting with the coaches, they sent him back to his hotel room where the graphics teams had made dozens of images with him in royal blue. The bed was covered in different photos.

Later on, the staff took him up to the studio, put him in a BYU jersey and captured the moment. They went out to the stadium and got his entire family photographed.

“We want them to have that wow experience,” director of player personnel Justin Anderson said. “... The videos help to bring it home and convey that.”

For some programs, a visit like this would have been taxing. With as many recruits as teams bring in, the social teams can be spread thin trying to photograph every family.

BYU once had that issue. Before they had a renovated studio, photographer Jaren Wilkey would have to take them on location to get a good shot.

But now BYU’s team is big enough to make it work. It has several departments — with photo, social and communications — keeping up with demands.

The visits are only one part of the equation. Each Monday, the social media team meets with Sitake’s recruiting staff. They give them a list of around 30 recruits they are targeting and tell them what they need.

Usually, each recruit will get a tailored “good luck” video before their Friday night football game. Since BYU is typically working with a smaller pool of recruits than most programs, the recruiting staff will give personalized details to include in the content.

If a player likes the rap group Migos, the staff will include that soundtrack.

“Nobody likes a mass mailer,” Sitake said. “It’s trying to make it feel personal so it’s actually like, ‘Hey, this is for you, we thought about you.’”

There is also a constant group message with the social staff and the recruiting staff. Sometimes Anderson will text them he needs a graphic to send to a recruit unexpectedly. The social and graphics teams will have that for him within minutes.

Much of this content will never see the light of day on social media. But it is about being on a recruit’s phone and building a connection.

“Every time they open their phone, the program’s in their face,” Hutchins said.

A production

Before BYU’s first game of the season, Sitake walked off the bus and saw an army of content creators first.

BYU’s team is everywhere around the program — ready to document each aspect of life. On game day, there are people devoted to getting clips of players walking into the stadium. Others are on locker room watch, uniform duties or any other detail that might entice an audience or recruit.

By the time the game is done, BYU’s Instagram grid will have been updated 36 times in 24 hours.

But it isn’t just on Saturday. Content creators go to weightlifting sessions in the offseason to get to know players. At the beginning of each season, the content team speaks to the new arrivals about why it is important both for the program and the player. Each piece of content is delivered to players individually.

The relationship ultimately leads to better posts. One of the most noticeable examples is when a big play happens, the player will look to BYU’s camera to get the shot. Or, in a lineup of dozens of fans, the team knows which people are parents to get the moment.

“Internally it is something we emphasize,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins’ staff has been curated to play to each social media strength. There are students who are good at keeping up with trends on social media. A current favorite is creating a “Question of the Day” for players to answer as they walk out to practice.

But others are good at creating a hype video that will go viral, or editing a “Day in the Life” video.

They need it, as BYU will put out different types of content to reach the most people. Throughout a game week, they will produce three versions of The Cut (a behind-the-scenes look at the team), a Day in the Life video, a Mic’d Up series, and dozens of graphics and trends.

“We’re trying to attract as many people to our school as possible,” Sitake said. “And this just gives them another way to explore what we’re all about. We’re still kind of new to some people... That’s what recruiting is, is just letting people know more about us as we broaden our recruiting [area].”

Ultimately it is difficult to know which recruits commit because of the social staff. Players don’t come for just one reason. But recruiting is a sales pitch, and the two things people want are exposure and knowledge about a product. This does both.

On several occasions, recruits have told coaches they know about the football team because they saw it on social media.

Recently, BYU was recruiting Marcus Adams Jr., a basketball transfer from Kansas and Gonzaga. Head coach Mark Pope’s wife, Lee Anne, texted the social staff about a recent international trip.

“Hey, I just wanted to let you know one of the comments from this big-time recruit was all of the content that they saw from Europe, and how, how great it looked “ Hutchins remembered her saying. “What the team camaraderie felt like, they were able to garner that from the content that you captured.”

Adams would commit days later. And that was exactly what Hutchins aimed for.

“That’s the type of stuff,” Hutchins said. “We can keep track of the total number of assets we sent to recruits and things like that. And we send a lot of them. But those comments in those moments, that’s how we translate. That’s value that it brings here.”