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Clemson football is No. 1 again.
No, not in any of the preseason polls, but certainly in the vast realm of the "Twitterverse."
Early this past Thursday, the Clemson football Twitter account - @ClemsonFB - notched its 709,725th follower, surpassing the University of Michigan and making the account the most followed in college football.
"For this to happen is pretty cool, but it was not the goal going in, especially with the size of enrollment (at Clemson) and the number of living alumni," said Joe Galbraith, Clemson's associate athletic director of communications. "When you look at it comparatively, it really speaks to the reach of the Clemson brand.
"It's the result of a perfect storm of amazing content and creative individuals - staff and students alike - and coupling that with on-field success."
Galbraith points to a several key players who have had a hand in the recent achievement, most notably Jonathan Gantt, who is about to begin his fourth year as Clemson's director of new & creative media.
Gantt, in turn, says it certainly has helped to have a football team that is enjoying a run of success unprecedented in school history.
"It's pretty surreal - little old Clemson with 20,000 undergrads and 120,000 living alumni somehow has a bigger Twitter audience than huge state schools with huge alumni bases," Gantt said. "It's a testament to the success of the team on the field, with back-to-back National Championship Game appearances. But I'm also proud of the staff and students who do the content work. They were really maximizing the moment to help grow that audience."
Gantt refers to Brian Hennessy, who primarily handles sports information for Clemson baseball, as the staff's "resident numbers expert" on social media.
"I wouldn't say that I hadn't been keeping track of it - I check where we are every so often - but Brian sent me an email a few weeks ago and told me that at the rate we were going, we'd pass them on this date," Gantt said. "I'm sure he was the first one to Tweet it out, probably at the exact moment that it happened."
Gantt credits others in the athletic department for their vision in the social media regard, pointing out athletic director Dan Radakovich, Tim Match, associate athletic director for external affairs, and Galbraith as key supporters in the effort.
"To create a new standard was a risky thing at the time," Gantt said. "There were still people in 2013 who were thinking that social media was a fad, that it was going to go away."
It has only gained steam, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Gantt's team not only includes design expert Jeff Kallin, video wizard Nik Conklin, and D.J. Gordon, but also plenty of students with an affinity for social media, and particularly those students in the school's graphic communications department.
"It's a real point of pride for all of us, because we're not doing this with a huge full-time staff," Gantt said. "We've done a good job in teaching and mentoring students, and they have created a lot of content and played a massive role in the growth of our accounts. They're getting real-world experience and are able to put together portfolios that have landed many of them a first-time job right out of college."
Followers on Clemson football accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook total 1.5 million, but each of Clemson's 19 varsity teams has a social media account as well, totaling 2.5 million followers, Gantt said.
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