"Part of preparing for life after football for a student-athlete at Ohio State is building a personal brand. With #BrandU, our own @SammySilv & the Creative Media department is helping the Buckeyes start to develop that brand now." So reads the pinned tweet at the top of the Ohio State Football Twitter page.
One might expect the football program to reserve the premier spot on its Twitter account for a piece of dramatic media or a graphic highlighting the team's outstanding record. Instead, the social media team decided to emphasize off-field player development.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Urban Meyer said he now spends 80% of his time focused on real-world issues. This is represents a flip from the 70% of his focus he spent worrying about football considerations when he was at Florida.
While much of what goes on behind closed doors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is shrouded in secrecy, Ohio State Football's social media presence sends a clear message about the changing focus of the program — and the team's recruiting pitch.
The most intense area of non-football social media focus is professional development and life after football.
The most desirable career track for Buckeyes is, without question, a long career in the NFL that begins with a first round selection. It is thus unsurprising that the team's social media heavily emphasizes Ohio State's elite NFL pipeline with the #DevelopedHere hashtag.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 7, 2018
On the other hand, even though virtually every starter from Meyer's tenure has gone on to the the NFL, the program goes to greater lengths with each passing year to prepare players for life after football.
The chance to learn from top coaches, win a national championship and go the the NFL still rank as the top factors to attract recruits, but life after football has become a central part of Meyer's pitch. The Real Life Wednesday program (#RLW), which gives players the chance to learn from industry leaders, is now a key differentiating factor for incoming players.
With Corporate America down the road & a deep network of professional contacts, Ohio State's Real Life Wednesdays program not only provides valuable information through speakers & workshops, but offers a tangible opportunity to earn a career after football concludes.#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/eS2W8Ai6ix
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) March 29, 2018.
In a sense, the program is counter-intuitive because top recruits expect to have lucrative careers in football. It has become common, however, to hear even the highest level high schoolers, like incoming five-star tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, talk about how Ohio State pulls away from the pack with career support.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 17, 2018
Football development posts, like workout and practice videos, still appear on Instagram and Twitter. Images of players in suits at major companies, however, are increasingly seen beside sweat-soaked T-shirts and bench presses. Elite performance — on and off the field — has become the core of Ohio State Football's marketing strategy.
Family and Connection
Much is made of the brotherhood that is Ohio State football. The team's social media sometimes goes even farther to emphasize the way the program values family.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 13, 2018
Focus on family ties into the program's growing awareness of the importance of mental health. While Ohio State is far from warm and fuzzy, family is a key source of strength outside of the pressure-cooker locker room.
While posts like the video below makes for good human interest stories, they also play into Ohio State's brand as a place that cares about people. This may seem like an obvious strategy — and a basically good thing to do — but it is a departure from a laser-like focus on winning.
Meyer had strong relationships with players, most notably with Tim Tebow, at Florida. Ohio State's nurturing self-image, however, has a perceptively different feel for both fans and prospects.
In addition to presenting a holistic vision of the program, Ohio State's social media has demonstrated a willingness to engage with frivolous bits of pop culture.
The team also published impressively rendered graphics of Ohio Stadium in the style of the popular game Fortnite. One commentator said the video game is so popular with teens it "has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and the ingestion of Tide Pods."
Such posts may simply serve to populate accounts during the long offseason months, but they also send a message to aspiring Buckeyes. Ohio State is known as one of the most demanding football programs in the country. Lighthearted media demonstrates Ohio State has fun too.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) March 29, 2018
While some mock these posts for pandering, they are clearly part of an intentional effort to brand Ohio State Football as not just the best football team, but the best place to play football in the country.