How Clemson’s social media crew is winning the Internet

Members of Clemson's New and Creative Media team pose for a picture during the football season. They are: (From left) Jonathan Gantt, Alexa Rickard, Max Huggins, Austin Koon, Nik Conklin, Pieper Meredith and Jeff Kallin.

Courtesy of Clemson's New and Cr

The call came shortly after Clemson topped Florida State to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division championship in November. Jonathan Gantt, the school’s director of new and creative media, was walking out of Memorial Stadium toward his car.

“It was one of our recruits who is now signed and is an early enrollee here, Rahshaun Smith. He’s a linebacker who was highly recruited by a lot of different programs across the country,” Gantt said. “He calls me and he says, ‘Hey, is this Jonathan?’ He had got my number from one of the other members of the football sports’ staff and he said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to tell you you’re doing a great job with all the graphics and videos on social media.’”

Smith, a four-star linebacker from IMG Academy in Florida, wasn’t the only one to notice Gantt’s work.

In 2015 Clemson’s popularity skyrocketed as the Tigers went 14-1 and reached the national title game for the second time in school history and the first time since 1981. Helping fuel the Tigers’ rapidly rising profile was Gantt and his army of 25-plus social media warriors whose innovative work helped win over Smith and enabled Clemson to be named the No. 1 Twitter handle to follow in college football by Sports Illustrated.

“We really pride ourselves on utilizing our digital channels to bring recruits and fans places where they wouldn’t normally get to go. This pregame video was one of our best examples of that, giving our followers the chance to see a player’s perspective of entering the field for the national championship game. It was filmed and shared before the game even started.” — Jonathan Gantt

From Vines of Tigers’ head coach Dabo Swinney dancing to tweets of short fictional films to a Match.com profile inviting College GameDay to the Clemson campus, Gantt and Co. have mastered the art of social media.

According to Gantt, his team produced and shared more than 250 videos and 500 graphics during football season, which has helped lure 521,197 new Clemson fans/followers. Clemson’s football-related videos alone have been watched a combined 23 million times across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and have notched 108 million loops on Vine.

“‘The Dream’ is our biggest production to date. ‘The Dream’ tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a Clemson Football player and running down the Hill for the ‘most exciting 25 seconds in college football’ and chronicles his journey to the moments before his dream becomes a reality. It’s not common for athletic departments to produce fictional short films in house, so we’re very proud of this one.” — Jonathan Gantt

“The whole goal is to tell our story,” said Gantt, a 30-year-old former PR man who has been with Clemson for nearly three years. “… Every single day the task of our social media accounts is to help tell the story of what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger. So every post on social media – whether it’s a photo, a video, an article or a graphic – its goal is to help answer the question of what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.

“… Coach Swinney has such a clear vision of what he wants his program to stand for. It’s very clearly laid out. … It’s our job to package it in a way that will resonate with recruits and our fans. We have to make sure we are capturing what’s going on, then find unique ways to share all the special things that are happening with our football program.”

With Swinney, Clemson’s Nae-Nae-doing, sleigh-riding, pizza partying coach, finding marketable material is never an issue.

“The tipping point for our social media efforts — this Vine was an enormous hit after an incredible win over Notre Dame and it exposed our account to an international audience after it was shared by several major media outlets.” — Jonathan Gantt

“The element of fun is one of the biggest things that we want to share with recruits and fans,” Gantt said. “And we’re not having to manufacture anything here. What you see with Coach Swinney dancing and the players having a great time laughing and joking is actually happening. We don’t manufacture that. It’s our job to capture it and share it. Our jobs are really easy when it comes to that.”

Though it’s hard to put a metric on it, the creative work done by Gantt’s team has had a positive effect on recruiting, as evident by Smith’s phone call.

“It’s a good illustration of the fact that he’s being recruited by the top schools in the country and he noticed a difference in what we were doing on social media. It sparked his interest. It clearly played some role – how big or small is up for debate – but it played some role in his recruiting process.

“And that’s our job, to try and bring the campus to them and it’s having an effect. I think it’s helped. Our coaches are the best in the business and I think it’s provided kind of an extra tool in the tool belt and some extra ammunition to show why Clemson is the best school and why this place is unique.”