By Emmanuel Martinez
With the everyday advances of technology, the Internet has become a necessity, offering breaking news and valuable information at the blink of an eye. Aside from the mountains of knowledge that are easily accessible, the Internet has also become synonymous with social media.
And as more racing business owners are discovering, the Internet is proving to be a valuable, yet sometimes, daunting place to conduct business. However, social media is one area of the Internet that allows racing businesses and race teams to quickly, and cost effectively, pass along a message.
This article will explore the various social media outlets, how some racing businesses are using these methods successfully, and how you can incorporate social media into your own company’s marketing program.
Social Media Basics
Facebook, one of the more popular social media sites, allows its users to create a profile, add other users as friends, comment on other profiles, send messages to other users and add interest groups created by the workplace, schools and the like.
Twitter, a micro blogging site where users can send and read messages called “tweets,” has gained its own popularity among users. Messages must be succinct as the tweets are limited to a maximum of 140 characters.
YouTube offers a different dynamic to the social media world, allowing users to upload, share and view videos. On YouTube, videos can range from TV clips to music videos and video blogs.
Although Facebook, Twitter and YouTube may be the most popular social media sites, others include LinkedIn, a site that focuses on forming business relationships instead of personal ones; Plaxo is an online address book that provides automatic updating of contact information; Four Square, a social media site that allows its users with smart phones to make their current location known to other Four Square users. MySpace, an early pioneer in the social media realm, offers similar features to that of Facebook such as adding friends, sending messages and posting comments. However, MySpace has seen a decline in its popularity over the last couple of years and is now geared toward a younger, non-professional crowd, whereas Facebook is open to businesses.
Many motorsports companies also turn to blogs, which combine text, images, videos and links to other blogs. One major difference between a blog and other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, is that blog users can post lengthy and elaborated content, whereas content on Facebook and Twitter is more concise. But just like Facebook, blogs also offer an interactive feature, allowing visitors to post comments on blog entries.
Another useful tool in the Internet world are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) Feeds, which are used to deliver content that is constantly changing. An RSS document brings blog entries, news headlines and audio or video clips all into one site, which in turn save Internet users time because they don’t have to visit multiple websites to get a variety of information.
Whether it is LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, many generations—old, young and those in between—have gravitated toward these social media sites as it opens another line of communication.
Due to this immense popularity, motorsports businesses like ASA Racing, COMP Performance Group, Edelbrock and many others have incorporated or are beginning to use social media in their marketing programs.
“Fifty-one percent of Americans have a Facebook account, which leads to a wide audience,” said Kevin Ramsell of ASA (American Speed Association) Racing, Daytona Beach, Florida. “A lot of people think Facebook is for the younger generations but one of the biggest increases was with the over-45 generation. What Facebook does is that it hits all the platforms.”
“Everyone is all over Facebook,” added Tommy Mason of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Irwindale, California. “It is the first thing people check when they get free time and when they get home from work. A lot of people are on Facebook as well as Twitter. It usually goes directly to their phone or computer. That’s key to us because that’s when we drive to try and get our customers interested in reading what we’ve got going on.”
Aside from its broad reach, another aspect that makes social media so attractive is its instantaneous nature. Through websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, companies can inform their customers and followers of new products, race results and any other news much faster than traditional news outlets, explained Kenna Primm of Roush and Yates Racing Engines, Mooresville, North Carolina.
Most companies agree that social media is an appealing marketing tool because of its popularity among the masses, but the thing that varies is how it’s used and the content that is posted.
“We use YouTube to post anything from quick tech videos to where we break down a subject like how to install Quarter Master starters down to behind-the-scenes tours of the COMP R&D center—stuff the customer would never have the opportunity to see,” noted Chris Douglas of COMP Performance Group, Memphis, Tennessee.
“On Facebook, we usually do promotions, contests, comment on our schedule and give people updates—if it’s going to rain or if we are cancelling,” said Anthony Xavier of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. “We get a lot of traffic through Facebook, so it’s one way to communicate what is going on with the track. Our main focus is doing contest and customer service. When customers have questions we try to respond right away. It’s easier for them instead of having to call or look up a phone number.”
“One unique thing we do would be if we are at the race track we will actually make an update on our Facebook page right after we make a pass,” Matt Petka of Pro Line Racing in Woodstock, Georgia said. “We will record the pass itself on a video camera, upload it on YouTube and link that to our site and our Facebook page. Our customers can see it within 30 minutes of it happening.”
The type of content that can be posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is endless, but restrictions like character limitations do arise. And when problems come up, companies like Edelbrock use social media as a way to funnel customers into their blogs and websites.
“The blog is nice because you are limited with Facebook—you can only type so many characters,” explained Eric Blakely of Edelbrock in Torrance, California. “With a blog we have absolute control of it. We can post as much content as we want. We also mention our blog on Twitter and Facebook and say, ‘Hey, you want to learn more or read more on the article, then go here.’”
Social media is not only used to inform, but it is also a great tool to listen to customers and fans.
“We use social media to listen and that cannot be underestimated,” said Rick Loughery of GoPro, Half Moon Bay, California. “It is important to listen to what the customers are saying or asking. A lot of the times people ask questions about how to use the product and oftentimes they get suggestions directly from other Facebook users.”
“We get a lot of suggestions like, ‘Hey guys, why don’t you put this in’ and all the way down to some of the minutia like, ‘there is a print ad that’s running that has a misspelled word that got missed by the copywriters,’” Douglas added. “You get everything. If you will just listen objectively, your customers will tell you how to run your business and the areas that need to be addressed. We try to do that on Facebook, Twitter and all the other different channels.”
Through the information that companies send out and the replies or suggestions that customers give, an interaction is created, which is something that should not be undervalued.
“I will put something like ‘comment to win’ or ‘Toyota Speedway is...’ It’s like fill in the blank through a comment and that creates interaction on Facebook,” Xavier explained. “We will take a picture of the Speedway and post, ‘you can enter to win this contest.’ Usually it is through pictures, comments, likes, stuff like that. We really try to generate engagement.”
“Facebook gives an easier form of interaction,” said Petka. “We get a lot of people that contact us or make comments on Facebook. Whereas on our website, that same form of communication is not available.”
Nothing beats the face-to-face interaction with the fans, but this is the perfect way to do it during the week when we don’t have any fan functions,” Mason explained. “During the week people are at home and through social media you keep that seed planted in their brain. You tell them this is what’s going on and this is what’s happening.”
“There are a lot of NASCAR drivers who do their own tweeting, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and a bunch of others, and what that does is it creates a fan interaction with those drivers,” ASA’s Ramsell said. “I have gotten to the point to where I have suggested to our members to start looking and utilizing Twitter at their local tracks. Find out which drivers are using Twitter and encourage fans to follow their favorite driver on Twitter and tell the drivers to tweet little updates from the pits that night of the race. This way fans can stay involved with what is happening in the pits while they are sitting down watching the race.”
Social media creates a unique interaction between a company and its customers and it is through this interaction where companies can learn about their products and what their customers or fans are looking for.
“We’ve learned what people like about the product and what they don’t like,” GoPro’s Loughery noted. “Something that we learned is understanding how our product is perceived by our fans and customers.”
“We have learned a lot as far as what the fans like to see and what they like to interact with. Overall, you learn things like what fans would like to participate in as well as watch out here in the Speedway,” explained Mason, of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.
Most will agree that any business, whether small or large, should incorporate social media into its marketing program.
“Times are changing and social media is the way people are getting their information,” said Primm, of Roush and Yates Racing Engines.
“It is a great tool to have. Every business needs to have some type of social media plan,” said Xavier, of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. “I have learned a lot by the different methods you can go about it, whether it is posting a contest on Facebook or tweeting out, ‘Hey, the race is starting at this time or that time.’ You can use it for so many different avenues and they are still coming out with more ways. It has definitely given me more tools to provide that relationship or provide the building blocks to better customer service.”
“There is a relatively low cost, other than your time and from a small business standpoint that would be a major benefit,” explained Douglas, of COMP Performance Group. “It is a way to get your message out there. If you go into it thinking it’s a one-way communication that’s never going to work, you have to be willing to converse back and forth. Sometimes you are going to hear things that you don’t really want to hear, but it is good stuff to know. And customers are already there. There are thousands of racers on Facebook. We have a saying, ‘Go where your customers are,’ and if they are already there and that’s a normal part of their day-to-day routine, then why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”
“It is another channel of communication, another way to communicate with your customers and another way to take tech calls,” Edelbrock’s Blakely added. “For small businesses, it is another channel to engage users and announce new products. If you are doing something exciting and if you have the content then it is a nice way to share that with users. The great thing about social media forms like a blog, Facebook and Twitter is that anyone can do it. You don’t need a graphic designer or a web developer. It is a nice way to share information that you have and anyone can do it. Anyone can work behind the scenes of Facebook—from the company president to the secretary—you don’t need to have resources on hand like web developers. At the same time, too, the challenge is resources because these social media sites definitely consume a lot of time. That is the challenge for companies, finding that happy medium of talking to people but not spending all day doing it.”
Although having a great social media presence does not require an expert knowledge of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or a savvy web developer, it does, however, require planning.
“Do some planning on the front end,” advised Douglas. “Because it is so easy to get started a lot of people rush into it before they really sit down and think about what their goals are. I would also say that on the front end you should build a system to sustain a consistent presence. It does no good if you post a lot of stuff one week and you are not on it again for three weeks. You’ve got to have a good, consistent presence.”
Constant updates are key when it comes to social media, because if not updated, customers and fans will start ignoring a company’s social media site explained Primm.
For those who are just starting up with social media the best advice ranges from using it as a promotional tool, keeping it simple and maintaining a constant presence.
“Use social media as a promotional tool,” advised Ramsell, of ASA. “Don’t use it use to bring up conversation, don’t go into the message board type of phase. Use it for positive promotion. Let everyone know if you have a race on Saturday night. Let everyone know if your race has been rained out, when the next event is going to be and where.”
“Keep it simple,” Blakely said. “You pick the low hanging fruit first. You go for a Facebook account first then you work your way up to a blog. I think you have to do some research and find out what is best for you. For some companies a blog may be the way to go because they may just want one-way communication. Other companies may want to talk to their customers. If you want to hear what customers have to say maybe you should go with a Facebook account because you will get the interaction. You have to start with knowing your customer, knowing the medium that is best going to work and then building off that.”
“Keep it constant. Keep it coming,” Mason added. “Throw out something once a day not once a week and not once a month. Always think of something new to say. Think of your customers. Go on to other Facebook pages and look at a particular company that involves you. If you are Lucas Oil, go to the drag racing community, the stock car community, the big rig community, and start linking those types of companies and people.”
Technology—the Internet and social media included—is a process that is always changing and never stagnant. For those companies that are incorporating social media into their marketing programs or are just beginning to do so, the best approach is to embrace the ever-changing dynamic of the technological world. Go ahead, jump in, and see what social media can do for your business.
The answer to these questions will surely give direction to smart innovations in the future.