Boston College’s football recruiting efforts were turned around with a social media campaign led by the coach and staff.

At the end of the 2012 season, things did not look good for the Boston College Eagles football program. In addition to finishing the season 2-10, the Eagles’ recruiting class was ranked 87th in the country and last in its conference.

To reverse this trend, new head coach Steve Addazio launched a social media campaign to meet recruits on their turf. And it all started with a hashtag.

The new coaching staff brainstormed a phrase that captured what they felt accurately depicted the new attitude of the team: “#BeADude.” From there, Addazio and his staff turned to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine to represent the program. Addazio posted locker room pep talks to YouTube.

Within one year, the program’s recruiting class jumped to 17th nationally and 4th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Many new recruits attributed their decisions directly to the #BeADude campaign. What’s more, a campaign that started to attract recruits also began to attract fans and alumni.

Although company managers are not coaches, there are many lessons that can be extracted from the success of the #BeADude campaign. Here are seven of them:

Know your business objectives.

Addazio adopted social media for the right reasons. He knew it was where his “customers,” high school football players, already were. He also knew what he wanted to accomplish: providing transparent insight into the values and culture of the program that recruits were reviewing.

Pick the right platforms.

BC football’s audience and the business objective also informed which social media platforms it chose to adopt — in its case, Instagram, Vine, Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, the Pinterest platform, which is all images, would have absolutely been the wrong choice for meeting the team’s goals, since that platform is adopted predominantly by women.

Know the rules.

In many ways, NCAA football is similar to other regulated industries, such as health care and finance: there are clear guidelines for how programs can communicate with recruits and strong penalties for violating those rules. By knowing these rules, Addazio was able to comply with relevant regulations and at the same time use social channels to maximize the team’s impact.

Do it yourself.

Addazio did not delegate involvement in the #BeADude campaign to interns or subordinates. Instead, he became personally engaged himself. Addazio personally used social media to communicate the goals and aims of his program, and in doing so reached key stakeholders in ways that he could not have otherwise. In the words of former Coca-Cola chairman Roberto Goizueta, “Communication is the only job a leader cannot delegate.”

Make social part of the job.

Addazio expected his coaching staff to be involved in the #BeADude campaign. These coaches were not social media experts; Addazio said, “We’ve got guys who wouldn’t have known Instagram from I don’t know what, but now we’re getting it going.” The coaching staff routinely discussed their social media efforts at meetings. By explicitly making social media part of his employees’ jobs and by regularly monitoring and reviewing social media efforts, Addazio effectively integrated social media into his business operations and communicated its importance to his employees.

Make social fun.

Addazio also tried to make the campaign fun, by cultivating good-natured competitions between coaches. The most effective coaches on social media developed bragging rights. Although managers may be wary of overdoing the “fun” side of social business, the recent MIT Sloan Management Review article “The Key to Social Media Success Within Organizations” noted the importance of fun being at least part of the social media equation. A fun atmosphere provides intrinsic incentives for employees to participate and communicates to outsiders that the company or team may be a one worth joining or doing business with.

Respond constructively to criticism.

The transparency enabled by social media also opens a participant up to criticism, and the worst thing a company can do is either overreact to or ignore that criticism. As the popularity of the #BeADude campaign grew, some began to criticize the campaign as sexist — women can’t be “dudes.” Rather than getting overly defensive, Addazio interpreted a dude as someone who is great at what they do and not content with being average. Since fans recognized that the #BeADude campaign was targeted to male recruits, most accepted this response.

 

While it may be too early to determine when or whether the recruiting edge enabled by the #BeADude campaign will translate into success on the gridiron, it’s not too early to examine what Addazio and his staff did right with his social media campaign and extract lessons for managers. Recruiting is, after all, a critical task all managers must do well to ensure the future success of their organizations.