There's no doubt that social media has changed the way Verizon IndyCar Series drivers interact with fans, much like it has transformed many other sectors.
Some is good and some bad, insisted Josef Newgarden (@josefnewgarden), who admits he has a love-hate relationship with it.
“On one side, I really like social media and I think it's fascinating to be able to get all this information very quickly from people. Then, on the other side, I totally despise it — it's a life-sucking device that just takes people away from reality,” said the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver.
“I think it's just so much more fun to enjoy moments in life personally rather than try to capture it the best you can on social media and present it to people as cool. It's fun to share, but you can't miss out on living life.”
While it may become intrusive at times, James Hinchcliffe (left) believes that social media can help get people more emotionally invested in drivers which, in turn, helps grow the fan base for both the driver and the series.
He insisted that a driver's social media footprint is the second biggest platform for sponsors after television because it offers an effective avenue for drivers to help partners broadcast their messages.
“Social media is massively important for us,” said No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driver. “Social media is the best way for drivers to really get their personalities out there. And, from a sponsor’s point of view, if you have an average weekend on track and the car doesn't get much air time, you always know that a few tweets from a highly followed athlete can still generate some good coverage.”
But there are downsides to more exposure, said reigning Verizon IndyCar series champion Simon Pagenaud (@simonpagenaud). For example, one small slip in today's social media era and you may be in big trouble.
“Well, the biggest thing is you can't go out and party like crazy on Saturday night — there might be a picture coming up on your social media feed,” the Team Penske driver laughed.
“You have to be careful and think about these little things you might not think of on a daily basis, but it's important because you represent something and people expect something from you.”
It's a Catch-22, insisted Pagenaud, because people get to see parts of your life that were once private. At the same time, they can connect with an athlete in ways never possible previously.
“They (fans) want to know what you're up to, what you do, what's your passion. Myself, I follow athletes sometimes and celebrities just to see what they do because we're all curious about that,” Pagenaud said.
“It is very different. It's an interactive relationship. It's quite interesting. It's a very open world, and there's no limits any more to reaching out to people. It's pretty cool to see.”
Reaching out to fans is why Hinchcliffe (shown in photo at top) goes the extra mile in his social media efforts, engaging as much as he can away from the track and stepping things up during race weekends. One popular feature of the @hinchtown Twitter feed is scavenger hunts for prizes he runs every race weekend.
“Giving fans a glimpse into your world and who you are goes a long way with making a loyal fan base,” Hinchcliffe said. “Giveaways and contests are just a great way to thank them for paying attention. I really enjoy this aspect of my job. It can be a lot of work, but it's also very rewarding.”
For his part, Newgarden tries to unplug in the offseason and step away from the demands of social media. While he keeps off the social media grid as much as he can, he does engage periodically so he does not neglect his fans.
“I definitely put more attention into it during the race season to try and give people a little more insight into my racing life, but in the offseason I back away from it a little bit and try to do my own thing and not worry about social media too much,” he said.
“You want to try and look out for the fans who are interested in not only INDYCAR and racing in general but your career specifically. You want to give them insider access because they support you and buy tickets to races. You have to give back to them.”
Pagenaud agreed that it's difficult not to get sucked into social media, but insisted that keeping it in control is all about time management and some discipline.
“As (social media's) popularity rises, you really need to be careful about your schedule,” he said.
“One thing is certain, social media is here to stay and it's going to keep everyone on their toes. I wouldn't change it. It's the way it is — it's an interesting society we're in right now.”