Sitting across from the head of the Volunteer football program — Butch Jones — my phone lightly vibrates in my pocket. Minutes after the interview is complete, I look at my phone and see that I had gained a new Twitter follower.
It was only fitting that it was a notification from the Twitter world due to the social media-heavy nature of the conversation with Jones.
Followers, mentions, hashtags and retweets have embedded themselves into the makeup of today's society. A new world of social media has blossomed in the last decade and is continuously evolving. Jones might be 45 years old but he understands this fact. He also knows he has a program to sell and sees the potential this new form of personal branding provides.
"I believe it's been a great avenue to be able to reach out to, what you had talked about, our passionate fan base, our student body, but also to our recruits as well," Jones stated. "I think that anytime you have an opportunity to sell Tennessee football I'm excited to do it."
And Jones feels he has a lot to offer those willing to buy in.
"When you look at the passion and tradition that surrounds our program, since 1927 we're the all-time winningest football program in the country," he noted. "You look at the traditions that are only unique to us, those are messages we have to continue to get out there and get across."
Jones, who has just under 68,000 followers on Twitter, has seen first-hand the magnitude of social media and the impact it has today.
When the former Cincinnati coach took the vacancy at Tennessee, Jones saw his follower count boom with legions of Tennessee faithful who wanted to connect with their new ball coach. It was due to such a spike that Jones' account was suspended for a time, attracting suspicion that his was a fake account.
"It was crazy, but it defines who we are," he said with a smile. "The passion, the excitement, the want to be involved in what is going on inside our football program; it's great and makes it exciting."
And Jones has already begun using social media to tap into the fervent Tennessee fan base. The head coach frequently retweets fans, former UT players, and local businesses and restaurants.
"They're what make this place special," Jones said. "They're a part of what I call the football family."
The other members of that family are the recruits, and using social media to build relationships with recruits is a big part of what Jones does.
"Part of recruiting and everything is staying up with the times and it's here to stay," he said. "It's part of our fabric now in society ... If you are not up on it, you're going to get passed by."
As much as using social media as a tool to go on the offensive and pitch Tennessee to prospective athletes, it's also a way for the coaching staff to evaluate recruits.
"Absolutely, that (a recruit's Twitter account) is one of the things we look at," he said. "To me, that shows a lot about their character."
He hopes to continue to build the relationships — with fans, lettermen and prospective student athletes alike — via social media.
"You are developing trust over time so Twitter is great, Facebook and all of those are great resources to have," he said.
— Austin Bornheim is a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ABornheim.