Winning Social Media Tips for Drivers and Teams
by Mike Kitchel
For a professional racecar driver or race team being active on social media is no longer optional – it’s an absolute necessity. Your sponsors expect it. Your fans expect it. All of your competitors are doing it. And, for you, it’s unquestionably the easiest and most effective way to engage and grow your fan base.
But simply having social accounts and posting isn’t enough. How do you set yourself apart from the crowd? How do you ensure that your social media activity is different, engaging and – ultimately – a valuable pillar of your brand?
To start, you need to build a social media strategy and commit yourself to the time it’s going to take to build your following. Make no mistake – this is a full-time effort that requires dedicated resources. Social media never stops and being good at it is a 24/7 proposition.
You need to build in time to ensure that you’re keeping yourself up on speed on the social conversation. A big part of being successful is staying on top of what is going on, understanding current trends, staying nimble and being able to react when opportunities arise to insert yourself into the conversation.
Yes, this is a big commitment, but utilizing your social media accounts effectively can have a profound impact on your brand. You will create new fans. Your sponsors will take notice. And your social accounts will grow. It’s worth it.
For a more specific guide for how to execute your social media strategy well, please read our list of Top 10 Keys for Your Social Media Playbook:
Lift the Veil
Fans want access. You have all of it. Share. Your social media channels are the vehicle that will allow you to provide your fans with the behind-the-scenes access they crave. There are opportunities everywhere: At your race shop. Inside the transporter during race weekends. Team meetings. Sponsor appearances. Car rides between events. Radio traffic while on the track. Private moments with drivers.
Open up as much as you feel comfortable (or are allowed) and your followers will love the inside access and that you’ve taken them along for the ride.
Balance & Diversify Your Content
The balance of your content is a huge factor in the overall entertainment value of your social channels. Diversifying your content is key, and the audience will appreciate your commentary on a wide range of topics.
This can include life outside the track – family, food, travel, pop culture, politics, world events, etc. – and your involvement in these topics is an opportunity to show your personality and expose your brand to a broader (bigger) audience.
But there is a point of diminishing returns – which brings us back to the importance of the balance. Ensure that the focus (more than 60% of your content) stays centered on racing. That’s ultimately why people were initially interested in following you, and if you lose sight of that, you will lose the attention of your loyal base.
There are tools to help you create this balance: Track your results. Understand what your audience is and isn’t responding to and evolve your strategy and content plan accordingly to maximize the opportunities you have to increase your engagement and overall growth.
Always keep it real. You’ll lose followers quick if you allow your social voice to become corporate marketing-speak jargon. Stay professional, but be original and relatable to your audience. For drivers – manage your social accounts personally.
We know, you have a lot on your plate. It seems easy to just have the team PR rep, your spouse, or even an agency manage your social accounts. But you lose authenticity. Your fans know when it isn’t you and ultimately that will turn many of them away.
Respond & Engage
Fan engagement is the core of social media and your willingness to be responsive will be instrumental in your success. Your social activity conversational – a two-way street between you and your fans.
Be proactive about responding when they reach out to you directly. Ask for their feedback and opinion. Respond to questions. Make your fans feel like a part of what you’re doing and make sure they know you’re listening.
Don’t Respond & Engage
Beware: Your mentions are a dangerous place. Look through them with caution. Or, better yet, don’t look through them. Trolls are everywhere. And they will be personal and hurtful. No matter how thick your skin, the temptation to respond will be profound. When you’re angry – don’t do it. It’s what they want. And, more likely than not, you’ll regret what you say or otherwise embarrass yourself.
Caveat: There are exceptions to this rule. The occasional witty response or burn of a troll can be a goldmine – and absolute hilarity to your followers. But you have to be selective and pick your battles. Leave your emotion out of it. It’s about quick wit and not being mean. Sometimes a funny GIF response, with no text, is all it takes to turn the tables on a troll.
Sharpen Photo / Video Skills
Photo and video are integral to nearly every social platform – so take the time required to learn how to do both really well. It’s too easy. There is absolutely no excuse to post low quality photos or video – they make your brand look bad, and they make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Research apps that work well on your device and find a solution that you are comfortable using. Then use them. You’ll get better with time, and the quality of what you’re posting will increase proportionally. The options are endless – and so are the instructional videos showing you how to use handy photo and video apps on your phone. It’s worth your time.
Examples include: Snapseed, iMovie, Adobe Photoshop Express, Sound Cloud, Spin Cam & more. Explore what works best for you and your device of choice.
Maximize Down Time
You work in racing. Think about the amount of time you spend on planes. In the back of rental cars. Delayed at the airport. Waiting through rain delays at the track. It’s a ton of time, right? Instead of wasting this time, devote it to your social channels. Engage your fans. Respond to fan posts you haven’t had time to address. Do a live Q&A. Make short videos recapping or previewing a race. Share random thoughts. Lift the veil and show followers what you do to kill time during these situations.
Examples: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti in-flight Twitter Q&A sessions. They’re hilarious. Random. And word spreads quick when these Q&As are taking place, generating a lot of attention in the moment and will ultimately increase your audience.
Plug Your Sponsors (Casually!)
I’m stating the obvious, right? But this is important. It takes skill to include your sponsors in the social conversation without being artificial or annoying. Share your personal experiences (lift the veil!!) during a sponsor appearance. Tag their accounts in the posts you know will get a lot of fan engagement.
Have a content strategy for how frequently you share and like their posts so it balances well with your own original content. Partnerships that provide fans with unique social media content can be an easy way to keep your sponsors relevant in the social conversation, without forcing you to be a constant pitchman. This can be executed through a sponsored video series. A weekly driver/team Q&A session that is “brought to you by” one of your partners.
Like anything in motorsports, you need to find ways to creatively keep your partners involved in the conversation. Even if it’s subliminal. Teams and drivers who execute an effective social media strategy will pique the interest of sponsors. Teams and drivers who successfully grow and enhance their sponsors social media channels will secure, retain and expand their sponsorship base in a hurry.
Camaraderie is Key
Every one of your colleagues and competitors has the same goal: Grow their social media following. So why not be deliberate about collaborating? Every follower base is nuanced – so be proactive and strategic about creating social interactions and a dialogue. Social media is a conversation.
Engage fellow teams, drivers and media members on relevant topics that will interest your fans. When you’re at an appearance, seek out social media managers to strategize a plan. Make sure they’re sharing the content you produce from an event and make clear that you will reciprocate.
Examples: NFL teams do this best with playful interactions between teams. Boosting rivalries. Joking pre- and post-game. INDYCAR drivers often banter back-and-forth as a group about random off-track topics.
Convert Social to Traditional Media
The balance of power between traditional media (PR) and social media has shifted. But the two mediums are not mutually exclusive. Your social activity and engagement can play a direct role in generating media coverage for your brand. A compelling thought, statement or response can quickly find its way into traditional media coverage.
Engage journalists and media outlets. Tag them. Comment on their articles. Play on their ego and desire to not just do their jobs, but to grow their own following. This type of interaction will be mutually beneficial for both yourself and the media members involved.
Don’t Be a Tool
“Don’t be Dumb” is a topic in our post on keys to creating a social media strategy that covers avoiding the accidental slip ups that could be embarrassing. But what that doesn’t address is the importance of not allowing your occasional attitude, displeasure or annoyance to come through your social channels.
This is easier than you think, and you must stay mindful of what you’re projecting – especially when it’s negative. We’ve all followed somebody that uses social media voice all their displeasure with the world. And we’ve all subsequently unfollowed them. Don’t complain. Nobody cares if your flight is delayed. Or if a race gets cancelled. You need to understand that a majority of your social audience envies your position. They would love to have an opportunity to fly to – or from – the event that you’re getting paid to attend.
Hopefully the tips and tricks listed above are helpful as you continue to work towards building a social strategy and expanding your following. But there is another key point to keep in mind as time passes – social media changes quickly and you have to keep up. It’s a medium that is always evolving and you have to be aggressive about keeping your skills sharp and staying on top of current trends.
Never hesitate to take a step back and analyze what your competitors are doing – or to research articles and blogs about new developments or platforms where you can continue to grow your brand. The information you need to help you along is out there, you just have to be proactive about taking the time to continue to do homework even after you feel like an expert on social media. You can get passed by quickly if you’re not careful.
The overall point is simple: Don’t allow yourself to become stale. While social media is certainly nothing new, it changes every day. The professionals who stay on top of social trends will be able to capitalize on the opportunities created by these changes. Those who rest on the knowledge they have today will be the first to fall behind. Your competitors will know when you’re ahead of the curve and it won’t take long before they’ll be following in your footsteps.
It takes work – to learn the skills necessary, to develop an effective strategy and to execute consistently and effectively. But in racing, on the commercial side of this business, few initiatives are more important that your social media activation. Time to get to work.