FEATURE: A Social Connection

Dec. 24, 2012


By Brian Rice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee head coach Butch Jones' (@UTCoachJones) arrival generated plenty of buzz among the Vol Nation, particularly on Twitter, where the new head coach immediately went to connect with fans, alums and recruits.

Since his arrival at Tennessee, Jones' account has gained more than 55,000 followers on the social networking site. It took him a about a week to rise to fourth place among the nation's most followed football coaches on Twitter caught the attention of USA Today, who profiled Jones' account as the lead element in a story on coaches and the site. Heading into Christmas Day, Jones is about 500 followers behind Georgia coach Mark Richt, who is third on the list.

But, for Jones and his staff, the story is not about gaining numbers on their follower count, it's all about the fans and connecting them to the program they support. Tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder (@UTCoachElder) maintained an account at his previous coaching stop with Jones at Cincinnati, but the response since coming to Big orange Country has been overwhelming.

"We did it there, but it wasn't quite as followed," Elder said, referencing his time in Cincinnati. "This has been eye-opening. I wouldn't say I'm surprised, it's what I expected knowing that this fanbase is the best in the country. The fanbase is incredible and yearning for information. We've always used it, but it's jumped up since we've been here"

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian (@UTCoachJake) has found that Twitter is an effective means for he and the staff to connect with everyone in the new Tennessee family they are working tirelessly to build.

"Social media is a necessary part of communication these days, whether its recruiting or reaching out to your fanbase, whatever capacity you can use it," he said. "The foundation of our program is going to be family and one of the foundations of family is communication, so you utilize all means possible to communicate with your players, your recruits and your fans. It's one of the tools that's out there for us to use, and we want to take advantage of it."

Running backs coach Jay Graham (@UTCoachGraham), the lone returning member of the 2012 staff, rejoined Twitter on Dec. 11 and has seen his follower count grow to nearly 13,000 in just over two weeks.

"I try to remember to do it daily," Graham said, referencing the slight learning curve he's experienced in becoming active on the site. "It's been really good for the fans. "

Jones and the nine assistants combine for nearly 100,000 followers, with that number growing every day. Almost a capacity crowd of Neyland Stadium is following every tweet from the UT staff.

Jones encourages his coaches to be active on the site to continue that connection, and to bring everyone that follows their accounts closer to the Tennessee program.

"It helps in recruiting, it helps in public relations, it helps you reach out to the fanbase and the alums," Elder said. "We're trying to reach out to the Tennessee fanbase and make sure they know what's going on, and there's no better way to do that than through Twitter."





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