The INDYCAR community was one of the first groups in sports to pick up on the enormous potential that social media holds. Now, nearly every driver, team, media outlet, blogger, and fan has a Twitter account. Tweeps (Twitter jargon for its users) of all ages from around the world and from all walks of life come together to contribute to this dynamic online environment, each in his or her own unique way. But the prospect of wading into this venue can be intimidating for those on the outside looking in. Below are some tips for getting started and having the best possible experience as part of Twitter's vibrant INDYCAR network.
What Twitter is about. At its core, Twitter is a perpetual rapid-fire conversation. Using tweets (statements built using 140 characters or less), tweeps (Twitter jargon for its users) offer topics for discussion and respond to those presented by others in a constant ebb and flow. Every tweep has a username that starts with an @ symbol (for example, mine is @99forever), and tweeps can refer to one another by username in tweets to engage each other in conversation.
Who to follow. For starters, anyone joining the INDYCAR Twittersphere for the first time needs to know that there might be no INDYCAR Twittersphere without Pat Caporali (@PCaporali). Back in 2009, when Pat was the full-time PR Representative for Vision Racing, she saw the many ways in which Twitter could be used to promote the team and INDYCAR while getting fans involved and invested more directly in the sport. Pat started organizing tweetups (organized gatherings of Twitter users) at racetracks early that year; by later in the season, some tweetups were pulling in several hundred fans at a time. No one before Pat envisioned the potential that Twitter could hold, and no one has fully duplicated her success with it since.
Unfortunately, Pat is not employed by an INDYCAR team for the time being. But she continues to contribute to the community in many ways, including by maintaining lists of Twitter accounts organized by drivers/teams, media, bloggers, racetracks, and fans. If you're opening a Twitter account for the first time and feel a little overwhelmed by deciding who to follow, Pat's lists are a great place to start. From there, just keep an eye on which users are interacting with the people you're following. You'll have a very active tweet stream in no time.
Retweets. When a tweep wants to pass something on that's been tweeted by another user, a retweet is the proper protocol (typically abbreviated to RT to save characters). For example, say that @MoreFrontWing was to tweet:
The first five tweeps to tweet this and mention INDYCAR Nation will get a prize!
Another user would retweet that by entering this as a tweet of his or her own:
RT @MoreFrontWing The first five tweeps to tweet this and mention INDYCAR Nation will get a prize!
That message will then appear on the user's timeline for all of his or her followers to see, and others may choose to retweet it as well. Some may even opt to add a message of their own. There are several ways to do this, but the most common method is to insert a personalized comment before the RT:
I want to win! RT @MoreFrontWing The first five tweeps to tweet this and mention INDYCAR Nation will get a prize!
The RT in the middle defines where the user's own comments end and the quote begins, thus easing the flow of conversation.
(By the way, we really are giving away prizes. Go ahead and pop the text above into Twitter right now. If you're one of the first five tweeps to do it, we have a very nice IMS poster to send your way.)
Effective @ use. The primary mistake that Twitter users make when discussing others is to put a username at the start of a tweet, like so:
@Fieldof33 is really grinding my gears today! ;)
Were I to type that as a tweet and send it, Twitter would treat it as though I was replying directly to @Fieldof33 because his username is the very first thing in the tweet. Therefore, only my followers who are also following @Fieldof33 would see that tweet. If I wanted all of my followers to see it, I could get around that by putting something before the username:
.@Fieldof33 is really grinding my gears today! ;)
Or, even better, I could restructure my tweet so that the username isn't at the beginning at all:
I'm amazed at how much @Fieldof33 is grinding my gears today! ;)
On the flip side of that, I'll sometimes only want a tweet to be seen by @Fieldof33 and our mutual followers, in which case the first structure I presented above would be useful. This feature allows greater control over the flow of conversation.
How to help the INDYCAR cause. Twitter has a feature called Trending Topics that tracks what people are tweeting about and lists the most popular subjects on the sidebar for the world to see. This is a great way to draw attention to INDYCAR and potentially bring in new fans. Some of the INDYCAR-related topics that have trended so far this season include Marco Andretti (after he ended up on his lid at St. Pete), Simona (after her spectacular drive at St. Pete), and Mike Conway (after his win at Long Beach).
Hashtags are another important element of trending topics. Hashtags are created by putting a # symbol before a word or phrase such as #indycar or #SimonadeSilvestro (note that spaces or symbols will break up a hashtag). Text doesn't have to be a hashtag to become a trending topic, but it sometimes helps. Many tweeps therefore insert an #indycar hashtag into their tweets to attempt to cause the topic to trend and draw attention to INDYCAR. (Very helpfully, hashtags can also be used as search terms to find other tweeps discussing the same topics.)
What is not helpful, though, is a tweet that looks like this:
#indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar #indycar
This is called hashtag spam, and it annoys your followers and gets you ignored. Twitter etiquette strongly suggests limiting hashtags to three per tweet at most. After all, if a tweet doesn't contribute to the perpetual conversation in some way, the point of participating on Twitter is lost.
Get involved. Twitter is meant to engage people, and INDYCAR fans can choose a variety of ways to be engaged. Most active drivers (and a few inactive ones) now have Twitter accounts that they update themselves. They use Twitter not only to make announcements relating to their rides and sponsors but also to reveal aspects of their personalities and interact with others in ways that fans don't usually get to see. Teams and racetracks frequently hold contests for free swag. Journalists and bloggers let users know about new content and initiate (sometimes very animated) discussion. By selecting accounts to follow that give you what you're looking for, there's a great deal of flexibility available to tailor your Twitter experience.
One of the best ways to interact with the community is to attend tweetups on race weekends. These days, most events see at least one tweetup organized by a race team or a group of bloggers. It gives tweeps a chance to meet face to face and gives the entire Twitter experience a much more personal feel.
Many fans who started out by demonstrating a passion for INDYCAR on Twitter have gone on to become deeply involved members of the community. For example, @the_race_gIRL dreamed big and moved from Wisconsin to Indiana where she landed a job as the PR Representative for @HVMRacing. @happyfish103 and @jwertz77 met at the inaugural Winter Indy Tweetup and are getting married later this year. After being one of @paultracy3's biggest fans for most of Paul's career, @TeamCanada1 now helps him with sponsorship procurement. And after meeting at the tweetup at Homestead in 2009, @Fieldof33 and I began working together at Planet-IRL.com and have since gone on to launch @MoreFrontWing. These are just some of the many great stories that can be found in the INDYCAR Twitterverse, and new ones develop every day.
Ultimately, anyone not already part of the fun on Twitter is simply not getting the best possible INDYCAR fan experience. If you haven't already, get yourself an account today and jump into the fray. You'll be glad you did.
Steph Wallcraft (@99forever) is co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Steph can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.