The Importance of Social Media

First an apology: This is about Twitter. I know the world is going crazy for it and I know some people are sick of hearing about it, so to you I’m sorry. I hope you read on anyway because a revolution in reportage is occurring, and even if you don’t want to join in, you need to know what is going on.

The Importance of Social Media to the Racing Fan

This post can be summed up in one sentence:  Teams, drivers and racing series as a whole are more open than ever before, if you’re not on Twitter you’re missing out. Like all things though, there’s more to it than a simple sentence.

For me it all started about a year ago following in the footsteps of various IndyCar bloggers who’d announced they’d joined. I’d heard about it before, and their posts made me curious. At first my Twitter world was just myself and some acquaintances I’d met at different blogs and forums. That was pretty good because it meant we could talk without being in a chatroom feeling the need to fill dead air, without being stuck in a dying forum, and without having to check each other’s blog comments for updates. All good and as other people started following me and vice versa, so it started as a good way to connect with fellow fans.

Then the team accounts appeared, or rather I discovered them. Back then a lot of them were just link feeds, an alternative RSS reader purely feeding out links to website articles or Facebook fan page – unfortunately some still cling to this broadcast-only model. No interaction, no replies, apparently no reading of replies to them or of other people’s feeds. It smacks of making a Twitter account purely to tick off the list the entry marked, “Create Twitter Account”. Thankfully some had the vision to look further and a year later, all sorts of teams, drivers, series and a variety of writers, journalists, reporters and broadcasters are all on Twitter giving us an inside-view of their world, a world previously cut off from the public.

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Pictured: Ed Carpenter (Vision Racing) and Mike Conway (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) at Iowa Speedway last year. Ed and the two teams are frequent tweeters, Mike signed up a couple of months ago but his account seems to have disappeared.

Two-Way Communications

A variety of teams in various series started to tweet more than just their latest article link or one-line announcement. For me this began at Sebring with Patron Highcroft Racing providing tweets from the track in the lead up to the event, and included several photos posted to TwitPic and copious tweets though the 12 hour race.

Vision Racing took this to a new level during the 2009 IndyCar season with updates and photos every few laps and even some pointers to their strategy! Others included Conquest Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, HVM Racing, Drayson Racing and LolaRacer who all did a good job, but in my eyes it was the combo of Vision and Highcroft that led the early running last season. Both not just live-tweeted the races but also provided a huge number of TwitPics from the paddock and pitwall and these photos really made you feel a part of the event, even when you were sat thousands of miles away. Even the supposedly distant and aloof Formula 1 teams got in on the act, with McLaren’s Fifth Driver and Force India’s Clubforce being the prominent F1 tweeters of 2009, hosting ‘guess the photo’ competitions and hosting live Q&As with the drivers.

Despite my opinion of Tony George and the apparent hypocrisy of running a team in his own series (as was) after what was said about CART teams back in the day, it is a real shame that Vision is being closed or at least stood down. Pat Caporali’s tweets from the pitwall showed how hard working and close-knit that team is and they should be in the field. Without those tweets I wouldn’t have known that, and they really opened my eyes. I still don’t like the George family, but I respect Vision for what they have acheived on a limited budget. Should Vision not return, the other teams – or the series itself – should hire Pat to carry out similar operations in 2010. As far as I’m concerned she led the way in showing how a team should use Twitter, and I’ve only seen one team PR come close to the same style and frequency of updates.

Step forward Claire Williams of WilliamsF1. A relative recent addition to the Twitter ranks, Claire has already opened a window into the team with TwitPics of Sir Frank rolling his way around the factory floor and so many updates (photos and otherwise) from the Valencia test sessions, not just about Williams cars and personnel but of others present too. I think the one thing Pat and Claire have in common is something Dan at Racing Eagles pointed out yesterday – they come across as fans who work for a racing team, rather than PRs promoting their team as their job. That is a crucial difference and it shows. The best tweeters read and respond to their followers, and both do this.

‘Names’

Lots of drivers also tweet, though be wary of the accounts operated on their behalf by their PR reps, accounts I’m convinced the driver never actually sees (hi Scott Dixon!). This is different to the account being updated while a driver is racing – that is actually a great way to bring across what the driver is feeling in the car. Perhaps the best exponent of this was Sarah Fisher’s account which Sarah used day to day and through which the ever-present Klint kept us informed of what she reported over the radio during the race. During the Bud Shootout on Sunday Connie Montoya was tweeting through husband Juan’s account.

Plenty of drivers keep us updated on their own activities. Tony Kanaan is such a frequent tweeter I had to stop following him because he was flooding my feed! Rubens Barrichello sent us pictures of his visits to Williams as he got acquainted with the team. Jenson Button seems only to tell us about his training. James Hinchliffe, JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann are highly entertaining, especially when they tweet among themselves.

Then there is the media. Curt Cavin’s updates from IndyCar races have been very revealing and it seems Jonathan Noble, Edd Straw, Adam Cooper and many more will be doing this at F1 tests and races now. Noble wrote a great short piece as part of a wider update from Valencia, it is subscription-only but he makes the point that reporting has changed forever – waiting 30-60 minutes for an article to appear on the web is no longer enough and people now expect live reports from the ground. BBC F1 host Jake Humphrey’s photos from in front of the camera have brought a unique dimension to fore, showing how hard it is to make live television in a busy paddock on race day. Even F1 photographers such as @F1Photos are getting in on the act, offering a perspective brand new to me and I’m sure others. There are so many more examples and I wish I could highlight them all.

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Pictured: BBC Sport’s Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan

Downsides?

For one thing there’s Twitter’s notorious flakiness in uptime. This has improved massively during the last few months but is still prone to falling over during a large event. If it does so during a race, we’re back to how we were without it and being disconnected during an event feels like losing one of your senses! The extra layer of information can provide such a good mental picture of what is going on that you can feel blind without it.

Secondly, there’s so much information now flying around in almost real time it is almost impossible to make sense of my main feed during a race – and often even during breaking news stories. It is hard to follow it all.

Lists

To solve the latter point Twitter came up with the idea of lists. I have created a series of Twitter lists which I then imported into Tweetdeck (my choice of client – others can do this too). This creates a new column alongside your main feed showing only those items from people in the list, so you don’t miss that all-important bit of info from the journalist on the ground. It’s fair to say the number of columns is growing and itself could be unmanageable soon, so we’ll see if it turns out to be the elegant solution is currently appears to be.

My Twitter Lists (and others I follow) are publically available here and some are also linked on the sidebar of the blog. Feel free to follow them, or you could just scroll through and cherry-pick the tweeters you’d like to follow. Even better, you make your own list up of your own preferences. The point here isn’t to promote my lists, it is to let you know how useful the system is. Play around with it, do what works for you.

TMR Account

It is worth a quick mention of my account:  @TooMuchRacing
I’m planning to change the way I tweet during races. Last year I live-tweeted all of the F1 races and most of the qualifying sessions as well as some races in other series. That will change this year. I will still be using Twitter during events, though I now think one or two tweets per lap is excessive both for me as well as you. I found I was actually missing the race while I was on Twitter, in SPC’s comments or checking live timing,  so this year I intend to sit back and enjoy the races a bit more and tweet conversationally. Connected to this, I am also likely to cut back on the Race Review/Notes posts because the note-taking was also quite distracting. 2010 for me is all about enjoying the racing and not taking it so seriously.

Conclusion

I’m aware that many teams and drivers are opening up Facebook fan pages. This is great too, but doesn’t float my particular boat as I just don’t get on with Facebook’s news feeds and I’m not going to visit each fan page every day, that defeats the object. Twitter is different, you can easily add or remove accounts. It doesn’t take much for someone to update Twitter – just post and go. People can easily respond and reply to each other and have conversations. The level of information and knowledge coming out of pre-season tests this month is incredible and this will only increase as the racing season gets under way.

As far as I’m concerned you can no longer go through a race weekend without Twitter, you can’t even go through pre-season testing without it. You just have to follow the right people.

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8 thoughts on “The Importance of Social Media”

  1. it’s rubens isn’t it?

    the whole claire williams thing, was kicked off by rubens’ arrival at the team. how did i not connect that before? cheers sir.

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  2. Must admit I don’t really do much chatting on my twitter account as I think a day in the life of salti might bore the socks off people, but as a resource, to find out what’s happening even before its published in Autosport it’s invaluable.

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  3. Possibly, yeah. For me Rubens has been the more ‘human’ of the F1 tweeters and that’s the same route Claire has taken, that’s probably not a coincidence.

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  4. As a resource it is brilliant. I tend not to use it for ‘day in the life’ things as much as I did, rather I go for the latest talking points and my take on them.

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  5. Social Media in the racing space inspired me to start my own blog as well as gave me an outlet of racing geeks I can talk to with my interests (like you!). Social media is the most powerful communication tool since the dawn of the Internet…
    Cheers.

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