They were renovating over the summer, giving the boys in the Husker digital-media department some new office digs. Kelly Mosier, a 32-year-old who you’re probably more connected to than you know, had just one big request: glass walls.
“So people could see what we’re doing inside,” he said. “Because what we do is so insanely public.”
You’ve already likely been peering through the glass without even realizing it.
One new Husker staffer good-naturedly described the office as looking like the “launch control for NASA.” Maybe you can’t launch space shuttles out of there, but you can launch tweets seen by 186,000 people or more, you can craft the message on the state’s most popular Facebook page, you can create a recruiting map for Mike Riley that is being talked about on ESPN and copied by other football programs.
In college athletics today, you better have a long reach in the social-media game. People often talk about the facilities arms race, the coaching salaries arms race. Add another to the list: the social-media sprint that never stops.
“They always talk about the website is your doorstep to your business,” said Mosier, Nebraska’s director of digital communications. “Well, anymore, social media is the sidewalk that leads up to your door. So that’s really how you get people into your brand.”
Consider that the @Huskers Twitter account has more than 186,000 followers. That’s the second-largest athletic department Twitter account following behind only Georgia. And if you classify @Huskers as the university’s main football account, it ranks fourth among college football accounts behind just Michigan, Alabama and LSU.
According to Mosier, the Husker athletic department's Facebook account also ranks about 13th against its peers nationally.
“I like to say we over-perform for what I would consider is our direct population base,” he said. “Now, Nebraska is a national brand. So we have a lot of followers that are not in the state. But at some point, you do kind of run up into that population barrier.”
Even so, Riley’s first four tweets after becoming Nebraska football coach garnered more than 1 million impressions in a weekend’s time span. If that reads as techie jargon to you, trust Mosier when he says that “is astronomical for three days.”
Mosier gets a kick out of watching the social-media numbers bounce around. Like Riley’s Twitter followers: On Nov. 30, the coach had 25,405. Then he was hired by Nebraska. Two weeks later, he had 75,000. Now he has 89.3K, the 11th-most among FBS coaches.
And when Riley tweeted a map with arrows showing where each assistant coach was recruiting that day? "I can tell you just by my gut that would have been one of the most visible tweets that we would have had in our institutional history on Twitter," Mosier said.
That doesn’t even count all the media members — both locally and nationally — who praised the tweet in print, or the added attention when one of ESPN’s college football panels decided to make the Husker recruiting map one of its topics for that day's show.
"We want to share what we're doing and I think you're seeing that on social media a little bit,” said Ryan Gunderson, Nebraska football’s director of player personnel. “We're not trying to just lock the doors and close the blinds."
That’s symphony music to the ears of Mosier, who quickly found a connection with Riley. It didn’t hurt they both like biking. They talked about the trails in town. They also talked about ways to connect via social media to fans and recruits.
“He definitely gets it, and buys into the need for it and why the younger kids and recruits are on it,” Mosier said. “It’s not that he cares about retweets or followers or any of that stuff. That’s not why he’s on it. He’s on it to spread the message, and how people understand what it is they’re doing there. And those are the right reasons, to be honest.”
Some may roll their eyes at the mention of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, but coaches know recruits live there.
There’s very good reason for Riley’s Twitter account to include a tweet such as: “First in home visit tonight in Denver, this is a big one for #Husker Football!” That’s what the Husker coach tweeted last month on the night he went to visit four-star defensive back Eric Lee, who is now enrolled at Nebraska.
The tweet was favorited more than 2,300 times, sure. But more importantly, Lee knew a football coach was tweeting about him to more than 80,000 people. How could a kid, how could anyone, not like that?
“You know how these 15- to 18-year-olds communicate,” said Andy Vaughn, Nebraska’s director of football and recruiting operations. “The phone is always in their hand. That’s how they operate now. That’s how they interact with the world, each other, and with us.
"If you’re not into that … if you’re not two or three steps ahead trying to figure out what’s coming down the pike and what they’re going to be into, then you’re going to be really behind. You’ve always got to be a couple steps ahead.”
Husker athletic director Shawn Eichorst has been bulking up the digital-media staff to help in that pursuit.
“A lot of this is on Shawn,” Mosier said. “Shawn definitely recognizes the value of social media. He’s been very supportive of what we do in here.”
Four years ago, Mosier took over a role that was completely new to the Husker athletic department. Within the past two years, Nebraska has added three others to the room — Andy Wenstrand, Ridge Barber and Kyle Benzion. Everyone is between the ages of 23 and 32. Between their talents, they produce web and graphic designs, as well as the video content, needed to succeed on social-media platforms.
And Mosier, who reports directly to David Witty, Nebraska’s new senior associate athletic director for marketing and communications, stresses that the NU athletic department’s social-media presence goes deeper than just those four, too. “It’s really a team effort.”
“This is really the big growth area in college athletics,” Mosier said. “We were one of the first schools to kind of have a dedicated person to it. And I would say we’re definitely one of the first schools to have a department dedicated to it.”
While Mosier is the point man for the @Huskers Twitter account at least six days a week, he says many of the tweets that appear on the account are talked about and looked at by multiple people in his department, or by marketing or media-relations staff, before they appear.
Yet for all the eyeballs the account has on it, Mosier knows nothing beats a message that comes directly from the Twitter accounts of coaches, especially the head football coach. It was something Bo Pelini and his staff started to get some mileage out of in 2014 — with cat humor, the back-and-forth with @FauxPelini, and the “booms” when recruits committed.
But Riley has clearly had a more-active presence on social media, sharing everything from recruiting travel plans, to pictures of him alongside Tom Osborne and Eric Crouch, to breaking news that the #HuskersJustGotBetter after receiving a commitment.
“One thing we never did under the previous staff was really utilize Bo’s first-person presence on social media,” Mosier said. “That’s different with this staff. Coach Riley himself is so much more invested and involved and bought into it. That just kind of changes the equation quite a bit.
"The thing about Twitter, it’s all about authenticity. Coach Riley can tweet something out and @Huskers could tweet out the exact same thing, and I can guarantee you that Coach Riley’s tweet will reach far more people than @Huskers — just because it’s a person instead of a building or an organization tweeting it out.”
Mostly, Mosier wants the social-media experience to be fun. There needs to be an entertainment value to it, even on those nights when things don’t go your team’s way.
Take last week. During the Nebraska-Wisconsin men’s basketball game, the ESPN cameras cut to a shot of some Badger students wearing shirts that had a picture of an ear of corn with the words “Worst Vegetable EVER.”
A tweet soon appeared from the @Huskers account: “Psssst… Corn is a grain.”
The tweet was retweeted more than 2,400 times and favorited almost 3,000 times. It owns a place on Mosier's "Tweet of Fame" list — the most-popular tweets attached to Husker athletics.
That was fun.
Mosier has heard a lot of positive feedback about Nebraska's strong social-media presence of late. That doesn't mean there aren't critics. It's going to be that way when everybody can see through the glass.
“We get a little bit of the other side of it too sometimes, that we’re just a bunch of kids up here — but that’s fine, we are,” Mosier said. “It’s good to be kids in the candy store a little bit when you’re working in college athletics.”