Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday June 12, 2012
Ever since the social media service first began gaining momentum over three years ago, Twitter has become a growing presence within NASCAR, culminating with a partnership announced last month between the two organizations that saw its first real test run at Sunday’s (Jun. 10) Sprint Cup Series event at Pocono. The race? Why, the aptly-named Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR, of course.
Not only were fans directed to the #NASCAR page on Twitter, which gives visitors the chance to see a vetted conglomerate of tweets from the sport’s personalities, the seasons first TNT race broadcast also gave a glimpse into the world of tweeting for those not using the service, providing the occasional tweet from team PR people, journalists and fans alike onscreen. Twitter has even started running its first commercials, all of which currently revolve around the NASCAR partnership.
All in all, it was a fairly substantial coming-out party. One might have expected such a thing from a race basically sponsored by the NASCAR hashtag, but for those who had been able to remain blissfully unaware or ignorant of what Twitter’s all about, well, looks like that time is up.
Many had been skeptical and even critical of the partnership even before Sunday’s race began, especially considering that Twitter’s #NASCAR page had been live since the pairing was announced. Now that we’ve seen both the Twitter page and the tweet-laden TV broadcast in action, let’s cut to the chase — is this affiliation going well, and what needs to be altered, added or dropped entirely if the NASCAR community is going to continue to be atwitter on race day?
1. Moderate these tweets when a race is in progress, if not all the time.
I doubt this will be a popular statement, but hear me out.
As I write this column, I currently have the #NASCAR page pulled up in another tab. When I first loaded it, I was greeted with a tweet from Pocono race winner Joey Logano. Below it, I see a random smattering of posts from Toyota Racing, SB Nation’s Jeff Gluck, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards’ PR account and more. Not a bad group. But within moments, I’m prompted to load more tweets. I do. What I now see is a different variety of tweets, oftentimes from less reputable sources. Not a problem, per se, but there’s also the occasional tweet or two (or more) that isn’t really even about NASCAR altogether.
NASCAR maintains that there is an algorithm selecting the tweets that appear on the page. This makes sense in theory, as it gives more than just your usual driver, PR and journalist accounts a chance to be featured. But what happens when the page becomes inundated with posts that arguably matter very little? It takes a bit of scrolling before one finds a newsworthy tweet. This didn’t seem to be as much of an issue during the Pocono race itself, but I think that in order for this feature to really succeed, there needs to be some sort of moderation.
An algorithm that selects tweets might still make sense, but if the tweets on the page on race day are becoming less and less informative and feature more random thoughts, there’s really no reason to follow the hashtag. By then, it’s easier to follow your favorite Twitter personalities and follow the race from there. Let’s make sure the tweets are actually integral to one’s understanding of the race (if they happen to be following it exclusively through Twitter), through whatever means.
2. Keep showing tweets during cautions.
I quite enjoyed when various tweets were shown on the broadcast while the race was under caution. This worked especially well at a place like Pocono, where the caution laps are longer due to a larger track. There is such a thing as information overload, and if too many tweets are shown during the actual racing action, the dissonance can take away from the impact of either.
I’m not necessarily saying that during each caution period, broadcasters should automatically think, “Hey, let’s see what Twitter’s up to” — because certain caution periods will obviously possess developing stories, pit stops and televised interviews that should take precedence. But if there’s little to talk about, I think this is where broadcasting tweets can really shine.
3. Make sure tweets shown during the broadcast actually SAY something.
Goes without saying, right? Wrong, apparently. Among the initial posts shown on the broadcast came from Jeff Gordon’s account, by then run by a PR person. The tweet basically reported that there had been a crash, and that Gordon had not been involved in said crash. OK, cool? If one was following the race via Twitter, this would be helpful. If we’re watching the broadcast, that tells us exactly what we already saw. So why show it?
A later tweet by Samantha Busch read, “Add us to the list of pit road speeding penalties along w 24,48 n bout 7 others this race….” This is relevant information to those not watching the broadcast for sure, but TNT’s announcers had just mentioned that Busch was among the drivers caught speeding just minutes before. So, again — why show it? Had Mrs. Busch perhaps tweeted a few lines of dialogue from her husband’s frustration at the call, you have a story. But if the tweets line up exactly with what’s already been said or shown, there’s no reason to post them.
Want an example of a broadcasted tweet that TNT was right in showing? NASCAR.com senior writer David Caraviello provided some words from A.J. Allmendinger following the Penske driver’s hard lick with the wall. “Allmendinger: “That was pretty hard. That might have been one of hardest hits I’ve had … I’ll be a little sore tomorrow, but I’ll be OK,”“ the tweet read. This helped piece together the image TNT showed onscreen of Allmendinger appearing to have had the wind knocked out of him after he climbed from his car. More information given. Bravo.
The point is: make sure we need to see the tweets that are broadcasted. Choose those that are actually saying something interesting. If instead fans are treated to PR accounts backing up the visual shown onscreen with no new information to add, those who aren’t already turned off by the Twitter partnership may grow weary of it as well.
4. Don’t go overboard, man.
This is something I thought the broadcast did well. Let’s keep it that way.
When news first broke of the NASCAR-Twitter relationship, I worried that race broadcasts would become something akin to “Pop Up Video” — you know, as in little tweet bubbles appear onscreen at an alarming rate, maybe hovering above the cars they reference or something of the sort.
Our culture is already A.D.D. enough as it is, and many have argued that the Twitter integration only furthers it for NASCAR fans. Whether that’s the case or not, it could be much, much worse. Keeping these tweets to a minimum during the racing action especially (which goes back to point No. 2 — keep showing tweets during cautions) will keep the feature from becoming too intrusive and, therefore, will cause less of a ruckus from naysayers.
I’m cautiously optimistic about what could be with NASCAR and Twitter linking up. It could provide fans a real reason to sign up for the service AND to use it heavily — a winning situations for both companies. It has already produced some cool features in the way of tweet-ups and the ability to have conversations with the sport’s personalities. But these are all things that can be done simply by following the accounts one wants to follow, thereby eliminating the real need to search the NASCAR hashtag.
Thus is both NASCAR and Twitter’s biggest obstacle — make the hashtag page worth checking out. Give Twitter users a reason to go there rather than to merely follow certain accounts, be it through exclusive promotions or otherwise. Make sure the broadcasts are using the service to its fullest, too. Eliminate the triviality and really say something with this partnership.
Do those things, and folks may just start to sing the praises of the two giants — in 140 characters or less.
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