INDYCAR responds to social media criticism

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on March 5, 2012 8:32 am
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To listen to this interview in its entirety, use the player below or search for More Front Wing on iTunes.

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In response to More Front Wing’s commentary on INDYCAR’s involvement in social media, INDYCAR invited us to spend some time with Kate Guerra, the sanctioning body’s new Manager of Social Media. Kate assumed the role just before the Kentucky race last season and has been working since then to develop strategies for growing INDYCAR’s social media presence.

During our discussion, Kate reveals that prior to her hiring the responsibility for social media within INDYCAR was rather transitory. “It’s kind of landed with me,” she says, “and I’m hoping to stick with it for quite a while. I feel like it’s nice and it’s actually very vital and significant to have a full-time person focusing on it that’s not going to be around for a couple of months or a couple of weeks. I’m very happy and very excited to be in that position with INDYCAR.”

Since taking on INDYCAR’s social media full-time, Kate has found it’s something on which the organization places a high emphasis. “Randy [Bernard] and Mark Koretsky, our new COO, came to me and said, look, this is a main area of concern for us — we very much want to grow our social media for 2012. Please do with it what you can, start generating some ideas — talking to our teams, our drivers, and our sponsors — and see what you can do. So, really, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.”

Kate’s been approaching the task from a few different angles and is looking at how to activate on several different platforms. “With the Daytona 500, there’s been a lot of focus on Twitter specifically,” Kate says. “But at the same time, we’re also looking at our Facebook pages, we’re also trying to get better at utilizing Flickr, and though YouTube is kind of a mainstream name now, people sometimes forget that that’s also a social media platform.”

As far as Twitter is concerned, one of Kate’s top priorities is to better integrate Twitter into INDYCAR’s TV broadcasts. “Something that really struck me,” Kate shares, “was a few weeks ago during the Rolex 24 coverage on SPEED — that, to me, was the ideal Twitter integration into a race broadcast that I’ve ever seen. There are so many things that we could be doing with our TV broadcasts with INDYCAR that I feel we haven’t quite utilized yet.”

Kate has been in contact with both ABC and the NBC Sports Network to generate ideas and plan their implementation. “They also had noticed the Rolex coverage,” Kate says, “and said that they were quite impressed with it as well and asked if I could set up some meetings to start talking about it. Those meetings have already started, so that’s great news. And I can say that both NBC Sports and ABC are so eager and so excited to start making some of those things happen. They realize that social media is kind of an untapped market right now in terms of TV broadcasts and that people are delving into it as we saw with the Rolex, as we saw at Daytona. Nobody’s really figured it out yet, and while people are doing great jobs with it, there are so many more ideas as it is a developing medium through TV broadcasts.”

INDYCAR has also been working with Twitter directly to gather that organization’s thoughts on how INDYCAR could make better use of the platform. Omid Ashtari (@omid), Twitter’s sports and entertainment representative, attended the State of INDYCAR meeting to talk to drivers and teams about how to unlock some of the potential that Twitter holds.

Another underused strength of Twitter that Kate feels is important is hashtags. When multiple users include the same hashtag in their tweets, those tweets all become searchable by the same term, which makes it easier to find other users discussing the same topics. “What they do is they create communities,” Kate says. “People can use them and look at them and see what everyone else is saying. It connects people together. It creates a community — it creates a family.”

To develop some consistency, Kate worked with the event promoters to develop a full slate of hashtags for drivers, teams, and fans to use throughout the season to help people stay connected as they chat about the happenings at each event:

Event Event Twitter Account Hashtag
Spring Training at Sebring Raceway N/A #springtraining
Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg @GPSTPETE #gpstpete
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama @BarberMotorPark #HIGPA
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach @ToyotaGPLB #TGPLB
Sao Paulo Indy 300 @IndyemSaoPaulo #saopauloindy
Indianapolis 500 @IMS #Indy500
Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix @DetroitGP #detroitgp
Firestone 550K @TXMotorSpeedway #Texas550
Milwaukee Indy Fest @MKE_IndyFest #indyfest
Iowa Corn Indy 250 @IowaSpeedway #Iowa250
Honda Indy Toronto @HondaIndy #hondaindy
Edmonton Indy @edmontonindy #Edmontonindy
Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio @followmidohio #midohio
Streets of Qingdao N/A #Indychina
Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma @InfineonRaceway #IGPS
Baltimore Grand Prix @BaltimoreGP #BGP2012
Auto Club Speedway @ACSupdates TBD

The hashtag for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway is being held in reserve until it’s determined whether a promotion will be run in conjunction with it that should be incorporated.

For INDYCAR tweets not specifically related to an event, Kate plans to use the hashtag #indycar2012.

On Facebook, Kate plans a somewhat different approach. “People have this driving need for photos and for videos,” she says, “and they love talking about things that they see. It’s turning into a very visual medium of social media.”

INDYCAR is also finding that Facebook is where they see the most fan discussion happening. “That’s where people really like to interact with each other about those news stories,” Kate shares. “It’s very easy to see because it’s all in one place, as opposed to Twitter where you have to search through the INDYCAR mentions and hashtags. Interaction there is very good, so we definitely want to keep driving that interaction by using our news stories and sharing those photos and videos.”

There’s another aspect to Facebook that Kate feels INDYCAR can tap into. “I feel like Facebook is a little bit more personal,” she says. “It’s about getting that out there to fans as well and making sure that they know what INDYCAR is about and have a sense of what we feel towards our fans, which is really a family feeling.”

Kate has been working with Barber Motorsports Park on a promotion model that she thinks will be valuable for INDYCAR all season long. “Our show car is at the Birmingham Airport right now, and the contest is if you go to the airport and take your picture with the car and then tag [Barber Motorsports Park] in it on Facebook then [fans] can enter to win this grand prize, which includes all of these great INDYCAR benefits that most people don’t get to have when they go to a race. They really came up with the concept, and I helped put the pieces together that they were missing.” Kate feels this sort of promotion can benefit not only INDYCAR’s sponsors and tracks but the sport as a whole. “I said, ‘I hope you don’t mind if I’m stealing that throughout the season,’” she admits, “because it’s a great idea and I think we should be using it.”

The question of whether drivers are instructed on how to conduct themselves on social media is one that’s often asked. Kate feels that one of INDYCAR’s greatest strengths is its openness to fans and that restricting drivers on social media would take away from that. “We talked to our teams and our drivers about the common sense thing,” she says, “keeping an appropriate tone and making sure you’re not sharing personal information that could danger the safety of the drivers and teams, which we feel is very important. But at the same time, we tell them, ‘we want you to have the freedom to say what you want to say on Twitter and share your ideas and share your opinions and not be hindered by that.’ It’s not something that we’d like to restrict. It’s more something we’d like to offer some guidelines and some advice on.”

On the subject of communicating Race Control decisions through social media in race time, the plan for 2012 isn’t as defined. “Usually, that information isn’t communicated to me,” Kate says. “I imagine that somebody in Race Control would email Amy Konrath, the head of our Public Relations department, or maybe even Arni [Sribhen, Media Relations Coordinator] since he’s a great contact between us and Race Control. I’ll look at Amy and I’ll say, is this public — any penalty is public; there are hardly any penalties that are confidential — and put it out and let the audience know that this is what’s happening, this is the reason why, and this is who it’s affecting.”

Now that Kate is the full-time Manager of Social Media for INDYCAR, she is solely responsible for the @INDYCAR account on Twitter and for the INDYCAR Facebook pages. She invites all fans to contact her through those platforms with any thoughts or ideas they might like to share. “I can guarantee you that I literally see every mention that @INDYCAR gets because I’m checking it every three or four seconds. Anything that [fans] send there I promise you I’m seeing. If we mutually follow each other, they can direct message me – I read all of those. But to get a hold of me directly, my personal one [@kateguerra4] or even @INDYCAR is really the place to go.”

It will take several months to see whether the plans being enacted today begin to generate growth for the sport’s fan base over the long-term. Regardless, Kate’s passion and drive are evident, and fans can unquestionably expect to see greater activity and engagement from INDYCAR’s social media channels throughout the coming season.

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