Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Extending NASCAR with Social Media

Key Takeaways from this Post
  • How do you create a social network while protecting your brand?
  • How do you translate a real world experience into an online one?
  • How do you spread your brand’s reach

In highlighting companies leveraging social media I turn to Turner Sports. Now Charlotte, North Carolina may have outbid Atlanta to house the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but Atlanta-based Turner Sports manages NASCAR.com.

I don’t follow NASCAR, but 75 million Americans do. While it’s one thing to attract legions of fans to the racetrack, it’s quite another to create a compelling online experience.

Apparently, NASCAR teams still draw relatively little traffic online. Many will admit that their official Web sites have been treated as “a necessary evil.” Teams generally don’t have the staff or know-how to keep the content relevant and it brings little to no return.

Turner Sports is hoping to change that and create a huge online following by managing NASCAR’s online presence. They are combining traditional website features with social media to foster loyalty, sustain interest and drive traffic.

To see how Turner is succeeding, I did some digging on the Internet and found an excellent customer case study published by Cisco who partnered with Turner Sports to create NASCAR.com. I also spoke with Scott Doyne, business manager, NASCAR.com at Turner Sports New Media.

The challenge was how to attract fans to the site and create features that extend the NASCAR experience. Turner sees social networking as a way to help fans connect with each other and share their interest in and passion for the sport.

The first step in the process was gaining upper management’s support. Establishing a community was at the time a new concept and there were “few precedents on which to build a business case.” But with management’s approval, Turner and Cisco spent about 8 months creating an architecture that gives fans and teams the ability to:

  • Create their own NASCAR.com presence using highly personalized profiles
  • Share photos, blogs, podcasts, other media files
  • Customize their pages with graphics and content
  • Join affinity groups, known as “Crews,” around particular races, drivers and sponsors

The result: Nascar.com’s community website.

Building a community without brand protection safeguards is relatively easy. The challenge was “balancing the desires of fans to express themselves with NASCAR’s need to administer content quickly” without sacrificing the immediacy of a successful online community.

According to Cisco, much of the development time was spent on creating procedures to moderate conversations and monitor uploaded content. Special software screens out prohibited words. Moderators contracted by NASCAR also work to block inappropriate content.

Not surprising to me, the fans have for the most part followed the rules of engagement and less than .3 percent of all comments have been rejected for using inappropriate content.

Is it working? According to Turner, through the end of November, the site is averaging over 6.5 million unique visitors per month. In February 2008, they had 8.9 million unique visitors, which was their highest month ever. And November saw a 19 percent increase in page views year over year. Nascar.com site has 60,000 Registered Members and 4,200 crews and has generated 260,000 pieces of content (blogs, photos and videos) from its users.

Beyond forums, Nascar engages fans through fantasy games like Fantasy Cap Challenge and 3 Wide in the Chase that allow fans to compete with others for prizes.

They also have had a lot of success with widgets extending the NASCAR.com site. The widgets allow users to view, read, and interact with their favorite NASCAR content on their social network, blog, personalized page or Web site.

As Scott Doyne said, widgets extend the ecosystem and give users more flexibility to combine content in new and creative ways.

When a community site is successful, you tend to minimize the concerns you may initially have had.   As Michael Adamson, vice president of sports new products at Turner Sports New Media said: “When we started, the idea of an online community was hardly on the radar for most companies. Now for them, and for us, it has quickly become the cornerstone of an online strategy.”

It appears the lesson in all this is that the chances of success are greatly increased by soliciting management buy in, anticipating pitfalls, and most importantly respecting the fan experience. 

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 17:26:42 | Permalink | Comments (3)