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Volume 26 No. 60
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Young Drivers Kyle Larson, Sage Karam Using Social Media To Grow Their Brands

In an age when social media-obsessed Millennials have become the holy grail for marketers, up-and-coming drivers Kyle Larson and Sage Karam yesterday at the '14 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum shared how they are using Twitter, Instagram and the like to grow their brands. Karam, who is currently competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said, "I found in my experiences that fans and people that don't know you, they want to see behind the scenes stuff and they love visual stuff. If you just put a tweet out saying, 'At the track,' you might get a few favorites or retweets. But then if you show them a photo at the track in your garage with your engineers, it gets so much more interest than just writing something, so they like to see what's behind the scenes. That's our job -- to show them who we really are. And it's building our brand: showing them what you do on and off the track." For his part, Larson, who is currently racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Target Chip Ganassi, added, "Drivers interact with other drivers (on social media) a lot in a good way and they'll get into each other on the racetrack. ... That gets fans really involved in what's going on because they get to see behind the scenes of drivers still fired up during the week, so those type of tweets are the fun ones."

AN AUDITION FOR SPONSORS: It is not just fans that athletes need to be thinking about before they tweet or post, as Karam claimed that social media has essentially turned into a de facto first audition session for drivers who are courting sponsors. He said, "Nowadays, it's almost getting so hard to break into the top of your sport. A lot of sponsors are looking for someone who's different and will grow themselves and their product and take them to the next level, so I think trying to be different but appropriate and making sure you don't do anything stupid on social media (is key). ... When companies look at you, the first thing they look at is your numbers on social media, because they want to see the number of other people that they can be exposed to." Larson added, "Showing your personality a lot is a good thing to do. It's gotten really corporate over the last couple years but I feel like it's going in the other direction with sponsors are liking drivers interacting with fans and showing their personalities."

REACHING OUT TO NEW FANS: One particularly notable way both Larson and Karam utilized social media this past season in order to grow their brands was by taking part in an event put on by their race team entitled, "Ganassi Sound Garage." The team invited singer Cassadee Pope and 300 young, social media-savvy fans to its North Carolina HQ in order to, first, entertain them and then, second, try to convert them into racing fans. "I thought it turned out great. ... It blew my expectations out of the water. I had a blast; it was really well run. ... Cassadee, she has a ton of fans who were able to come -- fans who probably don't follow racing that much but if the Daytona 500 is on TV or Indy 500, you know you probably have those fans rooting for you because they got to meet you, take a picture and hang out with you." Target CGR reports that the event garnered 41 million Twitter impressions.

* Karam, on what he would do to grow IndyCar with younger generations: "I'm calling up Taylor Swift to perform at the race beforehand. I'm going to target the most successful people in my generation right now to attract my generation (to racing). So I'm going to get Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande to perform at my races. Even if these people come just to see Taylor Swift, all of a sudden, they hear the cars, smell the gas and see the speed of the cars and make a connection and ... then become a lifelong fan. I know Formula 1 is doing a lot of that -- they had Justin Bieber perform at Singapore -- that's huge."

* Larson, on whether he has been trained on how to use social media: "Your team will train you. I did some social-media training at Target headquarters last year. That was more because I as taking the seat for Juan Pablo Montoya, so they were kind of just preparing me for questions I might get and that way you have the right answer to give the media. The way your parents raise you is probably the biggest help to what you tweet or don't respond. There's lots of times you'll make an announcement and come to the shop and they'll kind of prep you on what they're going to announce and how you should give that message to the media."