If it’s true that social media in careless hands is a ticking time bomb, Twitter is a loaded weapon just waiting to take down some poor sap who uses it carelessly.
It happens all the time, from Hollywood A-listers to the guy down the street, from politicians to school kids. Just when it feels like no one’s paying attention, the seemingly random act of punching in a few characters can turn into a retweeted, shared, forwarded and hyper-analyzed form of communication that is at the center of the way millennials get there news and gets the word out.
When used correctly, it’s a form of free advertising that can launch a cause into orbit with a social media tidal wave.
Take the University of New Mexico’s athletic department, for instance. It was long the policy of some coaches not let players go public with their Twitter or social media posts. Former Lobos head coach Steve Alford was against it and wouldn’t allow his players to have accounts, but in the years since his tenure at UNM ended, other coaches have come around to the new era of communication.
“I think it’s a powerful tool, but it’s the world that they live in so we’re going embrace it,” said Lobos football coach Danny Gonzales, a self-described burgeoning Twitter star who handles all of his correspondence himself.
“It’s me,” he said. “It’s constantly going. We’re constantly tweeting, retweeting. It’s me, I don’t have somebody to run it so it’s legit.”
Part of the process is keeping the athletes responsible about what they share. The department has a student-athlete handbook that cautions users about social media use but otherwise does not prohibit athletes from having accounts.
In short, don’t be stupid, and post wisely.
“We’re going to continue to teach [our players] about it, the responsibility of both positives and the negatives that it has,” Gonzales said. “But if you do it right, and I learned this from my previous stop, it’s a huge advantage and it can be a very big positive for your program.”
The coach’s Twitter account has climbed above 8,300 followers, a respectable figure but barely half that of UNM offensive coordinator Derek Warehime’s 16,000. Nearly every coach on the football staff leaned heavily on Twitter to promote the program during the recent recruiting period that ended with 23 new players getting signed Feb. 5. Everyone except Rocky Long, that is.
Hired as UNM’s defensive coordinator after nine years as the head coach at San Diego State, the 70-year-old hasn’t touched his verified Twitter account since November 2015. His profile still identifies him as the Aztecs’ front man.
“I do have a phone, that much is true,” Long said. “All that other stuff I’m still learning. Nowadays, it’s the way a lot of college kids network, so I see how important it is.”
Gonzales said the football coaches are slowly indoctrinating Long into the process with a text thread that updates everyone on the staff about player movements and recruiting. For now, that’s enough — but more is definitely on the way because Gonzales views it as his team’s window to the world.
Twitter doesn’t cost anything, nor do Facebook or Instagram. The more activity the team has, the better, he said.
“You’re going to see our social media game just explode,” Gonzales said. “It’s all resource-based. We’ve got guys in the background that are able to put those graphics together. As we get through the spring, you’ll see that stuff get bigger and bigger.”
For the basketball team, there is the opposite picture as UNM men’s coach Paul Weir has deleted his Twitter account and players like JaQuan Lyle and ex-Lobo Carlton Bragg have gone silent in what has been a tumultuous 2019-20 season. Lyle swore off his account Jan. 2, saying he was done for the rest of the season on the day Caldwell filed a lawsuit against UNM trying to get his suspension overturned.
Lyle jumped back onto his account Jan. 29, issuing a letter of apology to Lobo fans for his involvement in an off-campus party that ended in gunfire. He hasn’t done anything on social media since, silencing an account that has nearly 12,000 followers — second only to Bragg, who was kicked off the team Jan. 12.
Asked during a recent practice about social media accounts, Weir admitted that he sees the value in the positive effects they create but said it can sometimes be a distraction. He said he never really had a policy with his players other than the obvious: Don’t post anything you’ll regret.
The men’s basketball Twitter account is the most popular with about 200 more followers than football. Both hover just above 19,000 followers. The UNM Athletic Department’s master account that has 92,000 Twitter followers and each team is a regular poster on Instagram.
A number of players, like basketball’s Vance Jackson, posts more to his Instagram account than to Twitter largely because it’s a more visual representation of the user since photos or videos are required of every post.
Gonzales is realistic about the entire thing, saying it’s all a necessary evil in today’s day and age of smart phones and lack of interpersonal communication. News literally travels at light speed on social media, and there are those at UNM who are riding the wave with him.
“I gotta give [athletic director] Eddie Nuñez and [associate athletic director] David Williams and President [Garnett] Stokes a lot of credit because they’ve come through with resources we’ve talked about,” Gonzales said. “You saw the recruiting push that we put together, our social media game — the resources to have the people behind the scenes to do that, the graphics have been unbelievable. It shows what we’re able to do with the signing. They’ve come through with what they said and I think that’s what it’s going to take to build this up.”