Saturday, June 9, 2012

Everything I know about Social Media I learned from NASCAR

Everything I know about Social Media I learned from NASCAR

This weekend, NASCAR and Twitter kick off a formal partnership that you can read about at the Google News Round-up.  Having been a NASCAR fan since 1991 when I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina and was exposed to the sport, I have been watching how the NASCAR community has adopted social media, and Twitter especially, organically over the past year or two.  NASCAR fans have migrated to new technology at a faster rate than the American population at large, according to NASCAR consumer research (as published in Fast Company).

As a matter of fact, my wife, also a NASCAR fan, hasn't watched a race in nearly a year without being accompanied by her Twitter account streaming on her iPad.  Her use, some of my own and observation,  has helped me understand some Best Practices that can be transferred to any one or any brand.

While drivers don't tweet from their cars while they are racing at around 200 MPH, their spouses, non-racing staff and others within their team will provide either inside information from the pits, transcripts of their driver radio communication, or simple comments that add context to what's happening on the track.

NASCAR has always been more transparent than any other sport:

  1. Fan access to the Garage and Pit Road on race days (for select fans) which is essentially like being in  on the sidelines during a pro football game.
  2. Two-way radio communications between the Driver and crew is open for anyone at the race with a radio scanner or at home on the web, to hear inside conversation and strategy within the drivers' teams.  You can eavesdrop in between the driver (athlete) and their Crew Chief (head coach) and their "Spotters" (offensive/defensive coordinators up in the booth)  
  3. Even the NASCAR officials make their two-way communication available to the fans in the same manner as the teams.  You can hear "race control" (the referees),  track personnel (the ground crew) and even security/safety personnel.
So it's a natural for the NASCAR professional community (team owners, drivers, crew members, NASCAR executives and officials, and even the NASCAR news media) to use social media, and especially Twitter.  It's simply an extension of their transparency that has been part of the sport for it's 60+ year history.

 Here's a great example I shared at FranCamp.  Brad Keselowski, driver of the Miller Lite Dodge, tweeted a photo from inside his car while in a "red-flag" stop (cars stopped on the track) during the Daytona 500 on February 28, 2012.   He started the day with 65,000 followers.  A simple behind-the-scenes photo tweeted, picked up by others in the NASCAR community (including national television reporters/announcers)

By and by the end of the night Brad had over 200,000 followers.

And here's another key component.  It's the two-way communication that social media is all about.  In the past, the NASCAR communication channel within this transparency has been one way.  Great for the fans to passively see and hear what's happening, but now, the fans get to speak to the professional community...... and they respond!  Think of a radio call-in show where a few lucky listeners get to get through on air and ask a question of the guest.   Twitter provides an open channel 24/7 to the EVERYONE within the NASCAR professional community that has a Twitter account.  It's amazing to see the amount of response they provide to fans.

Major League Baseball, noticing what NASCAR has been doing in social media, is now encouraging their players to tweet during the All-Star Game next month.

Besides the personalities of the real people within NASCAR, as with any community, there needs to be spice.  In ancient times it was the court jester.  In today's NASCAR community there are a number of inanimate objects that tweet.  Typically their tweets are humorous and sometimes down right mean, but it adds yet another ingredient to the mix.

@theorangecone - The traffic cone that sits at the entrance to pit road
@jacquesdebris - Usually appears when the caution flag flies ("for debris on the track')
@nascarcasm - The sarcastic NASCAR tweep
@Sir_NASCARNAGE - Self-proclaimed master of mayhem and menace to NASCAR

Of course these are real people anonymously tweeting.  Think @FakeSteveJobs

Now, how can we all learn from this:

  1. Inside information and behind-the-scenes transparency.  It's human nature to want to see what's not apparent to the public at large.  I made a point of this at FranCamp as a key component to delight (and gain) followers.   Just look at how celebrities are followed by fans to get a glimpse of what they might be thinking or doing that the cameras and press don't capture.
  2. Show personality.  Part of the intense interest in NASCAR among fans is what many call the "soap opera" of the sport.  There are so many personalities, some of which get painted with white hats and black hats, that there's another natural human emotion of wanting to root for or against and follow along.   Add in the personality behind the personality and you really have a "one plus one equals three" scenario for engagement and traction.
  3. Be timely.   Be in the moment.  While a lot is said of the generic inside information that comes from the NASCAR community, there is nothing like getting that inside information as it occurs during the race or practice session or press conference.  Surely you can find something with your brand that is timely.  The formula is:  Inside Information+Timeliness+Personality = Engagement
NASCAR may have been the entity that first really captured the essence of "community".  Twitter (and social media) is just the enabling technology that takes it to a whole new level, which starting this weekend, will become more visible and the entire community will profit from it.
  1. Fans will get more insight and transparency
  2. NASCAR will get more exposure to new markets they are actively trying to expand into
  3. Twitter will get more traffic from an audience that many wouldn't think would be big adopters, but have been on the forefront more than most realize.
With this, everyone is enriched.  Some via information.  Others via $$.

What are you doing to really enrich your followers?  Watch the NASCAR race this Sunday at 1pm:  "The Pocono 400 sponsored by Hashtag NASCAR" on TNT.  Watch it on TV and simultaneously on Twitter and see what how NASCAR is innovating and what you can learn!

Here's a link to my NASCAR Pinterest Board

Update:  Here's one of the several 15 second TV commercials created and aired during the race on Sunday, featuring  @Keselowski:


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