Tuesday, February 28, 2012
NASCAR Leading Social Media Revolution
Repost of 2-21-12 column on social media by request.
When we started this NASCAR TV and media blog in 2007 the preferred way for fans to contact NASCAR was by mail. In order to offer some feedback, fans had to locate the PO Box address in Daytona Beach that was hidden deep inside the NASCAR.com website.
Just five years ago NASCAR had no public email address, no Internet access and the only listed phone number was for tickets to International Speedway Corporation events. The NASCAR.com website was operated by Turner Sports and customer service was limited to online pay services.
While NASCAR has fine-tuned the COT, rolled out fuel injection and limited drivers to one series championship, the real revolution has been in opening a direct line of communication with the fan base. The sport is a true leader in the social media revolution now underway.
At the core of the current shift in providing content directly to fans is the social media service called Twitter. Its beauty is in its limitations. 140 characters of content have become the language of NASCAR. Instant links to pictures, online locations and topics within the sport flow from morning to night.
Through Twitter, the top drivers in NASCAR communicate directly with the fans. The TV personalities, reporters and media members offer instant information and answer questions. The teams, sponsors and tracks update content daily that is directly related to happenings within the sport.
The real beauty of NASCAR's relationship with social media is that no money changes hands. NASCAR carved a wide path by demanding payment for anything and everything associated with the sport for decades. Now, a little texting service originally designed for cell phones sends information about the sport worldwide for free.
It's not just the drivers and teams that use Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch with fans. NASCAR's TV partners came along grudgingly, but have now embraced social media as a way to accomplish a level of viewer interaction never before imagined.
The light went on for me several years ago during a Sprint Cup Series race on TNT. I complained on Twitter that the network telecast had not updated a driver formerly in contention who had pulled into the pits. Seconds later, Kyle Petty responded to my tweet over the air. In the next commercial break, he tweeted to ask me if that was the information I was looking for. I was sold.
65 year-old Darrell Waltrip now carries an iPad into the TV booth for his NASCAR on FOX races. Waltrip came to Twitter two seasons ago and got the hang of interacting with fans directly in a flash. That might run in the family, as brother Michael was one of the first NASCAR personalities on Twitter and paved the way for other drivers and owners to follow.
Save the talk about useless information, just a passing fad and not worth the time. The current impact of Twitter on NASCAR is bigger than anything the sport has ever experienced. As a totally portable communication platform, many drivers practicing at Daytona actually took their phones and Twitter along with them in the cars.
Last week, fans from home or work were chatting with Sprint Cup Series drivers sitting in line at the Daytona International Speedway waiting to go on the track. It was a fascinating exercise in the fundamental power of social media.
While posts on Facebook give fans an opportunity to browse for content, Twitter allows every single user to customize a list of who they would like to follow. Users do not have to tweet and can simply follow along and watch the information flow. There are various applications on the market that can put Twitter into whatever form is easiest for the specific user.
As NASCAR heads for Daytona, SPEED has already made a total commitment to integrating the fans, through social media, into that network's telecasts. FOX has followed along and expects to continue to develop a synergy with SPEED where interactive technology is concerned.
Our friends at ESPN operate under a corporate set of social media guidelines. This is simply due to the fact that the company puts out so much content of all types on a daily basis. Luckily, that does not interfere with the reporters and analysts talking about the happenings in NASCAR.
This year the door is open for fans to interact with even more NASCAR executives. Twitter also allows users to get official race information from the sanctioning body as it happens. Last year, after a pit road speed issue, NASCAR VP Steve O'Donnell tweeted a pic of the actual speeds as posted on the NASCAR computer. Case closed.
If some fans would rather just watch the races in peace without online interaction, that still works just fine. My only tip is that new TV's on the market are already coming with Twitter built into the screen. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and NASCAR's decision to embrace it is about to pay off in a very big way.
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