The Indianapolis 500 gets Social

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Published May 28, 2013 by Brad Knutson
#Indy500 Gets Social

In recent years, the Indianapolis 500 (and entire IndyCar series for that matter) has experienced a drop in attendance. IndyCar racing used to be more popular than NASCAR, but that hasn’t been true for many years now. IndyCar has recently made a big push to grow its following, increase its attendance, and return its popularity to it’s former glory.

What better stage to turn to than Social Media?

In the past few years, IndyCar has made a big push on Social Media to attract a new generation of fans. Word-of-mouth and generations of fans aren’t cutting it anymore. IndyCar needed a new approach, and an angle that appealed to a new demographic that was previously untapped.

I attended my first Indianapolis 500 this past weekend, and I can tell you first hand that it really is the greatest spectacle in racing. I’ve watched previous IndyCar races on TV, as well as my fair share of NASCAR races – but there really is nothing that compares to the start of the race when all the cars roar across the starting line. The roar of the fans is drowned out by the roars of the 33 cars as they fly by in a blur of colors.

So the event is all it’s cracked up to be. Yet still, the number of fans has been falling for years.

The IndyCar ownership group made a smart move by looking to social media for an answer. In 2012, ExactTarget put out an infographic on how the Indy 500 played out on social media (published by Mashable). It’s really interesting to see the spread of the event (and events within the event) on Twitter.

Indianapolis 500 Social Media Infographic

So this past weekend, I set out to find out how IndyCar tackled Social Media this year.

Social Media Garage

Before and during the race, the folks at Indy set up a garage dedicated to Social Media.

Indy 500 Social Media Garage

  • Interactive Facebook & Twitter Contests
  • Exclusive Interviews witht the biggest drivers
  • Test your knowledge with Trivia to win prizes
  • Take laps at IMS on our Racing Simulators
  • Bloggers and VIP’s on location
  • Tweet us and watch your feeds live and more!

Small footnote here – I didn’t make the typo above. Extra points if you can find it.

What I thought was really cool was the live Twitter feed playing on the big screen TVs in the garage. If you tweeted with the specified hashtag, you’re tweet had a chance of showing up on the big screen for all to see. Every few seconds, the tweet would update, and the tweet was always tweeted “just now” so they were getting a lot of interaction.

The garage also had IndyCar simulator driving games set up, photo opportunities, contests and more. Perhaps the coolest idea was that all you needed to do to gain entrance to the garage was “check in” on a social platform.


In the days leading up to the race, I noticed that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was pretty popular on FourSquare.

Indianapolis 500 FourSquare

That’s over 1,000 images posted, over 20,000 total check-ins, and nearly 10,000 unique visitors. Keep in mind that a large portion of IndyCar’s fan base are middle-aged men or older, and aren’t necessarily social media fiends.

Another good choice by IndyCar was to make several different check in locations at the race track. The IMS Pagoda, Gasoline Alley, Pit Lane, the Hall of Fame Museum, and more – all had their own entries on FourSquare.

Indianapolis 500 FourSquare

I was sure to check in to every place I stopped during Fan Fest and the race.

The icing on the FourSquare cake was the massive FourSquare response. Those who checked in at the track were treated to a “Super Duper Swarm” badge (500+ simultaneous check-ins). This is for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway location, and doesn’t factor in the check-ins at other locations inside the track.

Indianapolis 500 FourSquare Swarm

Twitter and Instagram

IndyCar decided to try their hand at a hashtag. They chose #Indy500orBust. For a short while, the hashtag was trending on Twitter, and it got a lot of usage all over the world.

The #Indy500orBust hashtag came along with it’s own marketing materials (cardboard signs handed out at the track), and it’s own website. You were encouraged to post Instagram photos with the hashtag, and they might show up in the Social Media Garage or on the website.

The hashtag #Indy500 might have gotten more usage, probably because it’s shorter and easier to type on a mobile device.

At Fan Fest, the driver Charlie Kimball had a booth set up for his “Race with Insulin.” It was a fun and engaging booth, with a great cause. Everyone that stopped by the booth was invited to sign an IndyCar that Charlie will use in practice, and get your picture taken. I, of course, signed my Twitter handle.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that IndyCar has adopted social media as a means to reach out to a new demographic of fans. I think it’s a very smart move. If anything, I think they could ramp up their campaign even more.

I didn’t see the use of Facebook very much, which I find interesting. It’s the most popular social media platform, and gets the most use.

Another social media platform that was underutilized that could get a great response is Vine. Vine was built for things like the Indianapolis 500. I posted tons of Vines before and during the race, personally taking up the Vine campaign for Indy.

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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