Now is the time to go where the kids are. Athletic director and coach James Coffey explains how social media can benefit high school athletic departments.

I don’t mean to brag, but I think I invented tweeting for athletic directors. I started tweeting in 2008, and it took me less than a year to realize how useful it could be for my role. In 2009, I started fresh with a new Twitter account geared toward our athletic department specifically. I’ve used it ever since.

In the early days, Twitter was popular with a lot of sportswriters but very few ADs. Back in 2008–2010, the talk around social media for high school athletics was all bad. Many conferences had forums on the dangers of social media. Nobody really discussed the pros. 

Ten years later and nearly every high school athletic department has a Twitter or Facebook account. Now it’s commonplace. Athletic directors and coaches need to evolve with the times. If you’re not on board yet, here’s why you should be.

You need to be where the kids are. (And that changes.)

We moved from primarily using Facebook and Twitter to adding Instagram and Snapchat into the mix. Eight years ago, most high school kids used Twitter regularly. Now they rarely do. In fact, a lot of the kids in my school just have an account to get notifications for my tweets, they don’t actually tweet themselves. 

So where are they now? On Snapchat. It’s a social media app for sharing pictures, videos and messages—and it’s king in the world of high school students. So why wouldn’t you want to use it too? 

If you’re not familiar with how it works, in addition to sharing content with specific people, each account can also post to their personal “story”. After 24 hours the pictures or videos you’ve added disappear from your story. It has filters you can add to the pictures as well, with interesting lenses, captions, and location-based tags. Most high schools already have a Snapchat filter with the school’s name and logo.

Celebrate with your teams through social media apps like Snapchat.

Snapchat is probably the easiest way to reach your student-athlete audience. Each snap of mine usually gets around 200 views. Replies are common too—I’ll receive snaps from students with follow-up questions or just general excitement about what I posted. Sometimes a student will respond and ask what time I’ll be in the office so they could stop by. It really opens the door to communication.

As time has gone by, I’ve changed what social media sites I use based on what content I’m sharing for my school. I still use Facebook and Twitter to share information and updates from games, but Snapchat allows me to post pictures and short video clips from games and events.

And that brings me to my next point.

There are a lot of ways to use it.

Use social media however it will work best for your program. There are no rules (except the ones you make). For me, Facebook and Twitter are more information-based, and Instagram and Snapchat are where I have a little more fun. Basically, I gear my Instagram and Snapchat content to kids and my Facebook and Twitter to adults. 

I might post goofy videos of my kids on Snapchat in the morning, then that night add videos from a big basketball game at our school. I’m even starting to gain following from parents and guardians on Snapchat now, so it’s becoming win-win.

Keep everyone in the know about your school's big games.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to manage it.

If you’re worried about the amount of time you’ll have to spend on social media, don’t. There are programs out there to help.

Like I’ve mentioned, in our department we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. It might seem like a lot to do all together, but I use an application called Hootsuite to help me manage it. It actually allows me to post to every account but Snapchat all at once. That’s a huge time-saver.

Check out Hootsuite, or do a little research to see what other programs are out there to help.

If you want to reach and engage your student-athletes better, I’d highly recommend diving into the social media world. I found it’s a good thing to let people (especially student-athletes) know you’re human. 

James Cof­fey attend­ed Endi­cott Col­lege in Bev­er­ly, MA where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sport Man­age­ment. He has spend the last four­teen years as an ath­let­ic direc­tor at three dif­fer­ent high schools. Cof­fey was named the Mass­a­chu­setts Sec­ondary School Dis­trict A Ath­let­ic Direc­tor of the Year in 2012. He has also spoke about the pos­i­tive effects of social media on ath­let­ics at sev­er­al New Eng­land conferences.