With less than two weeks left before the 43rd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, racing fans will see an influx of social media posts from every angle about the upcoming race weekend. The city’s largest event has seen a complete social media makeover in the short timespan of a little over one month.
Eight to 10 weeks before the race is the “most intense time period,” Grand Prix Director of Communications Chris Esslinger said. “That’s when you’re seeing the most selling, more stories out in the media. The promotion gets ramped up.” It is during these crucial weeks that Esslinger has brought in a total of three social media teams within the last few years. For the 2017 race, Esslinger and other members of the Grand Prix team wanted to see more engagement with their fan base, so they retained the media relations duo of Sadina Zaccari and Kelsey Duckett of Seventy Seven Enterprises.
Zaccari and Duckett had previously worked with the Grand Prix in the media relations department for the now defunct Pro/Celebrity Race and were chomping at the bit to give the overall race a social media upgrade. “Kelsey and I grew up in racing families, so this was a passion for us,” Zaccari said. “This is something that we absolutely enjoy and something that we wanted to be a part of and work for.”
On February 8, the two women began using their passion and knowledge of racing to promote the race weekend and engage with fans, with an understanding that social media is constant and by utilizing the different platforms as more than just advertising tools.
Doubling as the Grand Prix’s social media and media relations team, Zaccari and Duckett use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to reach out not just to fans but to other media outlets as well. “I handle the majority of [social media],” Zaccari said. “[Kelsey] likes to go on [Twitter] because she handles the media relations for the Grand Prix. So she’s on there engaging with journalists. She uses it more as a business tool than anything.”
It is this understanding of how social media ebbs and flows that allows Zaccari and Duckett to showcase all angles of the Grand Prix. Since Twitter is constantly changing its feed, posts can be made minutes after one another without really clogging up a viewer’s homepage. Facebook and Instagram feeds, on the other hand, can be “over-infiltrated” by posts, which can cause a decrease in followers.
“You know our IndyCar race is our biggest thing,” Zaccari said. “But if we’re just posting about IndyCar, people would get bored. There are just so many other wonderful things about the race, and we want to make sure that we cover all of them.”
Followers have seen an uptick in industry-relevant information, something that Esslinger was hoping to see with this new team. “Superfans” want more information on racing as a whole. For example, fans want to know that the World Challenge car that finished first in St. Petersburg, Florida, is now on its way to Long Beach. Live-tweeting that race gave fans an easy way to find out that information and get pumped up. “There’s just so much info out there that is relevant to what we’re doing, and how they keep track of it is amazing to me,” Esslinger said.
It is this passion for racing and social media that allows the Grand Prix’s social media accounts to grow on their own. While paying to boost followers on social media sites is a common practice among other social media campaigns, very little money has been thrown into boosting the campaign itself.
Engaging with the fans and getting their feedback has allowed the Grand Prix to gain about 300 followers on Instagram, 800 likes and 850 follows on Facebook and about 350 followers on Twitter. The organization even experienced a major Facebook milestone when a live chat video with driver Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske reached 13,000 views, 46 shares and 250 likes – the most popular Grand Prix Facebook post to date.
However, like any social media campaign, this organically grown approach is not without its pitfalls. One of their most popular contests, a mini-IndyCar scavenger hunt, fell apart on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. “We’ve had a couple of things that have kind of tanked,” Zaccari said. “We make sure to get feedback from people as to why it’s tanked and then kind of try to apply that moving forward. And say, ‘Hey okay, doing a scavenger hunt at 10 a.m. the day after St. Patrick’s Day – not a great idea.’” Fortunately for the fans, the contest was pushed back to Sunday to allow for a winner.
In spite of this one hitch, their contests seem to be flourishing among fans. In the upcoming weeks, they can participate to win an IndyCar ride, among other experiential prizes. “We’ve only given away a fraction of what we have,” Zaccari said.
Esslinger believes that “taking advantage of all the opportunities that are there and the fact that they help us on the media side also helps the social media side as well.”
For Zaccari and Duckett, those opportunities are not just limited to six different races on Grand Prix weekend. Food trucks, beer vendors, the Lifestyle Expo and stars like Billy Idol in concert are all race weekend events that the duo will be covering on social media platforms.
“And honestly there’s nothing like this done throughout the U.S.,” Zaccari said. “We’re a street race that has a whole weekend that capitalizes on the all these really great genres and events, and there’s really nothing like that out there. Indy is kind of like that. Daytona is kind of like that. But not like this.”
The 43rd Toyota Grand Prix opens its gates at 7 a.m. on April 7. Three-day general admission tickets can be purchased online at gplb.com/ticket-prices.