All bark and no bite: social media and IndyCar
Social media has allowed me to have a very small voice in the much bigger world of IndyCar racing. A few incredibly supportive and intrepid souls regularly read my blog posts, which are almost all opinion pieces that I just make up. I was even allowed to be a part of the inaugural Social Media Garage at the Indy 500 and the Super Weekend, for which I am forever grateful. I do minimum research. I simply watch the races and read what real reporters and insiders discover using real reporting techniques. I’m just another fan with an opinion.
Social media has allowed me this access. This blog and my Twitter account (@NewTrackRecord) allow me to pretend that my opinion matters, that what I think will somehow affect IndyCar in some vague but vital way. It’s not true. The truth is that what I write, either in the long form blog or the microblog that is Twitter, is read by very few and impacts nobody in IndyCar in any meaningful way. My opinions mean nothing. The time and effort it takes to write and comment have no discernible return on investment. Yet the immediate gratification of publishing my opinions makes me feel like what I have to say has value, even though logic says it doesn’t. That is the fact of social media. It makes people believe someone cares about their opinions.
I liken the social media noise of IndyCar to a small yapping dog that just won’t shut up. It will bark at anything that enters its line of sight. This furry package of fury is an annoyance, not a threat. That’s us. That’s all of us who think our blogs and tweets influence anyone. People hear us. They notice us. They just don’t really care. Our power, for the most part, lies in simply making noise. For all of its perceived shortcomings, Track Forum is still the most popular social media site related to IndyCar racing. Posts often get over 1,000 views, and we are talking about multiple posts daily. The site says that they have served over 3 million people. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it’s a big number. Even so, the people who post and respond are relatively small, just like that damn little barking dog.
Another set of barks and growls comes from Twitter. Every decision by IndyCar causes a blowing up of Twitter. Fire Randy Bernard? Boom! Hire Mark Miles? Boom! Mention Tony George? Boom! Boom! Boom! How much actual power does Twitter have? The few thousand IndyCar fans who are on Twitter are certainly vocal, but can a few thousand influence policy? Randy Bernard responded to social media. How did that work out for him? He made the fatal mistake of thinking he worked for the fans. I still don’t see a Twitter account for Mark Miles or Jeff Belklus.¹ I’m pretty sure we won’t see them. They are too important to mingle with the great unwashed. Our opinions have very little value to them. Need proof? Here are some IndyCar Twitter follower numbers compared to NASCAR numbers.
- Curt Cavin-(@curtcavin)-10,672-Indianapolis Star
- Marshall Pruett-(@marshallpruett)-7,946-Speed.com
- John Oreovicz-(@indyoreo)-1,420-ESPN.com
- Kevin Lee-(@KevinLee23)-5,376-NBC Sports, 1070thefan.com
- Bill Zahren-(@pressdog)-5,500-pressdog.com
- Tony Johns-(@TonyJWriter)-4,2016-RacingPress.com
- George Phillips-(@oilpressureblog)-1,084-oilpressure.com
- Zack Houghton-(@indycaradvocate)-1,871-indycaradvocate.com
- Robin Miller-Not on Twitter-NBC Sports, Speed.com
- Marty Smith-(@MartySmithESPN)-73,460-ESPN
- Jeff Gluck-(@jeff_gluck)-44,205-USA Today
- Bob Pockrass-(@bobpockrass)-42,294-Sporting News
- nascarcasm-(@nascarcasm)-32,341-SB Nation
- The Orange Come-(@TheOrangeCone)-25,8110
- Terry Blount-(@TerryBlountESPN)-8,619-ESPN
Notice a difference? The IndyCar media added together do not equal the attendance of even the most poorly attended IndyCar event. Once again, for all the effort, only the hard-core fan is listening. And IndyCar cannot build a future by listening to the hard-core fan. The future lies in grabbing the interest of fans who are not currently interested in the series. The numbers of followers for NASCAR media dwarfs IndyCar, including an inanimate object and someone with a name that people cannot pronounce.² And please explain to me how Robin Miller, a leading media voice on IndyCar, is not on Twitter. Promotion of the series and yourself is part of the currency of the media. Being a curmudgeon only goes so far. IndyCar is clearly losing the promotional war. Nobody is listening.
As far as blogs go, I don’t have access to the number of daily, weekly, or yearly hits at sites other than mine. And since I have already stated that doing deep research to illuminate my opinions does not happen, I am not planning on asking for them. Suffice it to say that the page views probably reflect a ratio similar to the numbers listed here for Twitter. Only the hard-core are seeking information on IndyCar.
These same numbers apply to driver followers on Twitter. With the exception of a certain Brazilian, NASCAR blows IndyCar away.
- Tony Kanaan – 577,197
- Helio Castroneves – 78,078
- Dario Franchitti – 85,188
- Scott Dixon – 49,613
- Simon Pagenaud – 9,420
- Marco Andretti – 52,534
- Graham Rahal – 43,941
- James Hinchcliff – 26,310
- Pippa Mann – 12, 387
- IndyCar – 79, 309
- Danica Patrick – 696,431
- Brad Keselowski – 358,456
- Jimmie Johnson – 352,061
- Jeff Gordon – 348,567
- Mark Martin – 130,407
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 67,442
- NASCAR – 882,334
The numbers speak volumes. IndyCar is not a mainstream sport in the way that NASCAR is. Nobody is listening. Nobody is watching. And other than the few hard-cores left, nobody seems to care. The followers for @IndyCar and @NASCAR tell the story. We are outnumbered by over 10-1.
IndyCar continues to make efforts through social media, though. The series has produced a series called The Offseason on YouTube, once again attempting to use social media to promote the brand. The series, a take-off of The Office, stars Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Charlie Kimball as they work in the IndyCar offices. The writing, like my blog, lacks a coherent theme and plot, but at least IndyCar is trying to generate interest. The numbers, however, are not encouraging. According to YouTube, episode one garnered 28,784 views. Not bad, but the numbers for the following episodes have decreased significantly. Episode seven has 2,126 views. Probably not quite the viral hit IndyCar had in mind. Kudos for the effort.
What’s the point of all this? Right now, IndyCar can ignore the barking dog that is social media. We affect very little and IndyCar knows it. But to ignore the future of social media is shortsighted. Simply put, IndyCar needs to put all its effort into finding new young fans to grow a base that is currently shrinking. Using social media in all of its forms, some not yet invented, to attract and engage these fans is an absolute necessity if IndyCar plans to connect to new followers who use these mediums as their primary sources of information, entertainment, and engagement. Social media cannot be ignored or marginalized. To do so is to risk the future of the series. Even though social media at this time is just a chihuahua nipping at the heels of IndyCar, it is on its way to being a pit bull in the future. IndyCar can afford to ignore the noise of the remaining hard-core fans on social media; we are small potatoes. It cannot afford to ignore the future fans who will use this media as their primary source of information about everything. IndyCar’s marketing efforts must be directed at these future fans, and social media must be a primary focus for delivering these marketing efforts.
Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory, famously said, “The medium is the message.” I hope IndyCar gets the message about social media loud and clear. It’s a brave, new world out there.
1. In fairness, Doug Boles (@jdouglas4), the new COO of IMS, is active on Twitter. As the former VP of communications at the Speedway, I think he understands the value of social media in the future.
2. Just to be clear, I know @nascarcasm, an Indy native, and he is not only a great guy but is also a smart, snarky observer of all things NASCAR and IndyCar. That doesn’t make his name any easier to pronounce, though.