Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Jim Utter of Motorsport.com. This interview is also available in podcast form.
What is your general philosophy when it comes to using Twitter? Are you using it as your business account, personal account, a mix of both? How do you look at it?
Well, I don’t know if you remember this, but I was actually one of the last NASCAR beat writers to go on Twitter (he joined in July 2009). I vigorously resisted doing so, more because I saw it as more of a personal thing. … At the time I just really wasn’t interested in it.
Then I started to get some blowback from the (Charlotte Observer) office about utilizing it as a work-related tool. And so I really only got on Twitter because I was kind of encouraged by work to start doing that. But I told them when I did it, I was like, “Look, this is gonna be me. I’m not gonna try and pretend to be someone else, I’m not gonna try to not say stuff.” Because I always thought and viewed it as a representation of myself: What I like, what I don’t like, how I feel.
But at the same time, I always viewed it as something — and I still don’t understand to this day why people do this — that shouldn’t be used as an escape mechanism to say nasty things to people that you wouldn’t otherwise say to their face.
So I was one of the last to get on. When I did, my theory was I was just gonna tweet about what I was doing related to work, the racing stuff.
At one time, there were so many (NASCAR media) people on Twitter that there was a running joke. Like you would say, “Caution,” and 17 people would say, “Caution,” on Twitter all at the same time because we’re all right (next to each other).
So my thing was always during races to try to listen and tweet things that other people weren’t necessarily tweeting about. I would try to — and I still do this to some extent — tweet snippets from radio conversations.
I do keep track of the race on race days, but I try not to just (tweet), you know, “Here’s the lineup,” or, “Caution.” Sometimes you still do that, but I can understand the other perspective of people looking at their timeline and watching it blow up with the same exact tweet 15 times if you’re following 15 different NASCAR media people.
And then, while I was still at The Observer, I went to a Poynter Institute seminar about tweeting — it was like a webinar, I guess, through your computer. And the people who put it together basically said that they found the best use of one’s Twitter, if you’re also using it for work, was to use the “one-third rule.
One third of the time you tweet about the work that you’re doing, the actual work that you’re doing that goes on Twitter or sending out link, stuff like that. One third (is) about the things you like/dislike, your own personal stuff — like I travel and visit lighthouses, I’m a big Civil War buff, the shows that I watch on TV, I’ve met WWE people and I’ve been to see The Voice taped in Los Angeles, so I tweet about that a lot. And one-third (is) communicating with the people that you follow.
So I’ve kind of followed that. I’ve never been one to think about having your own personal account to follow, because I kind of figure it’s probably hard enough for me to get somebody to follow me anyway, I don’t need to ask them to do it twice.
Well it’s funny, because I don’t watch The Voice and I try to keep up with your hashtags and try to mute them. So I’m like, “Gosh, Utter’s tweeting about The Voice again, how do I — ?”
One time you said something on Twitter about it, and I responded to you, “For somebody who’s so social media savvy, it’s kind of odd that you would criticize a show that is one of the best at utilizing social media.” They incorporate Twitter when they got to their live shows.
Peter King from the NFL, he’ll just start tweeting about his dog or coffee or something, and I really don’t care about it, you know? I’m like, “Dude, I’m just really following you for the NFL news. I do not need to know about your dog.” You know what I mean?
Yeah, and I understand that there’s people who follow you for a particular reason. But my response generally to people who say that is: It’s my Twitter, and work is only part of what I do; it’s only part of me.
And you would be surprised. As many people as you might get who say, “Man, I don’t want to hear about that crap, blah blah blah,” I get just as many people who go visit a lighthouse, they send a random picture and share it with me, they ask me if they know which one it is, if I’ve been there and visited it.
We’ve had a lot of people within the NASCAR community who are also big Civil War buffs, and even drivers and stuff, so I get comments when I post pictures if I’m visiting somewhere. And you’d be surprised, but there’s a few that follow The Voice too, but they don’t always tweet about it.
In addition to your lighthouse pics and your Civil War stuff, you’re also known for rarely backing down from your opinions on Twitter. If you have an opinion, you’re going to state it and then if other people disagree, you’re going to take them on. You’re not going to say, “OK, yeah, that’s fine.” You’re going to say, “No!” And then you’re go back and forth with them.
The arguments, do you enjoy going back and forth with people or are you frustrated they’re not seeing your point of view?
I have absolutely no problem with going back and forth with people. In fact, I enjoy it. Where I draw the line is if you can’t have a civil conversation without turning to profanity and calling people names and stuff, or just people saying, “Well that’s just stupid, you’re a dumbass,” and all that stuff.
Look, opinions are opinions; that’s what they are. They’re supposed to be what you think. If your opinion can be swayed every time by someone disagreeing with you, then you really don’t have an opinion; you’re just going with the flow. So when people say, “You never back down from your opinion,” that’s probably (why).
There’s a difference to me between things that are factual and can be looked up and decided whether you’re right or wrong, and things that are true opinions, where it’s just me and you or whoever just stating what they think the situation is or is not. And it’s alright to disagree with people.
— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) May 4, 2017
And I know you hear a lot of people complaining about me blocking them, but I can promise you that every person who complains about that said something really nasty in their tweet. Usually I send them a reminder of what they said; I usually send the reminder before I block them. So like, “If you’re wondering why, this is why.” And people complain all the time.
The kind of funny thing is, when I was at the Observer, there were people that I blocked who said really nasty things — and they would complain to my editor. And it would be like, “Well, you said this.” (They would respond by saying) “Well, you didn’t have to take it so seriously.”
Look, you choose your life; we’re all responsible for what we say.
But there were people who wound up saying something to me, who I blocked, who went to the Observer website. When you write bylines at the Observer in the paper and online, it had your e-mail address underneath — (so they would) would email me and apologize and ask me if I would unblock them.
Did you do it?
Honestly, I have relented a couple of times. And I don’t make a big deal about it. You know, look, if somebody’s willing to realize that they made a mistake and can carry out a conversation without being a jerk about it, that’s OK.
Some people say some things that are really nasty, and I’m just like, “Ugh, no, sorry. You had your chance.” One and done.
Do you ever worry you’ve blocked too many people? If you have a story that you need to get out there, it could impact the overall scheme of page views?
No, because in general — and this wouldn’t necessarily be true for you because you’ve kind of branched out on your own now — but for me, far more people see what I write by going to Motorsport.com and looking it up in various ways or having it shared on Facebook and their Twitter account than ever see it just from mine, even if I do have a lot of followers.
And that’s the other thing: Twitter is a tool, but it’s not the only tool, and it frustrates me sometimes. I had this conversation with you, about trying to make generalizations about the fanbase or the world in general based on who shows up on Twitter, because everybody is not on it and everybody who uses it is not on it at the same time.
It’s (one) method of gauging response — but it’s not necessarily an accurate method for gauging response. The funny thing to me is how many people, and you’ve probably run onto it, who actually believe that most people are on Twitter.
It’s really, honestly, less than 20% (actually 21% of all U.S. adults, according to Pew Research).
Yeah, it’s very small. And then you take that number and then divide it down to a NASCAR fan, right? Twenty percent of the general population — what level of that is the general NASCAR fan who’s on Twitter? The number keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller. So the world that you’re talking to is really not that big in the general sense.
But before Twitter existed, we never had a method to communicate with people, fans, other drivers, people in the sport, other sports…
You had to wait for a letter to the editor.
Exactly, a letter to the editor or they emailed you, when email came around. That’s the part I think that has changed the dynamic and it has made it where people — even if it’s an unrepresentative sample, and even if it’s not the majority — they still have a method to communicate with you that they’ve never had before.
So I try to appreciate that, but at the same time I also try to keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a representative example of all that’s going on. One thing I saw that’s very interesting was, you know, NASCAR has the fan survey that’s entirely not anything to do with Twitter or social media.
The fan council thing.
And the responses the fan council gets are, in many times — and I’ve seen some of the stuff — dramatically different than from, say, a random Twitter poll. So that’s why I say you’re talking to a group of people who happen to be on Twitter at that moment. They may all agree at that moment that it’s a bad thing.
But you have to remember why you follow people, too. Do you necessarily follow people that you don’t like what they say? Generally not, right? On your personal side, you’re generally following people that you’re interested in, you like what they say, you share their opinion, maybe share their politics.
So you’re not, in general, going to expose yourself to people who have contrary views, which is why many times on social media, everybody always seems like they’re complaining about something — because they’re hearing something that they don’t like to hear in general.
What’s interesting when I think about this sort of echo-chamber concept for Twitter is even though the data might be different from what NASCAR sees on the fan council, doesn’t it feel sometimes that NASCAR makes decisions or reactions on stuff based on what they’re seeing on Twitter?
So it’s sort of this very powerful thing, and you’re right: It may not be representative of what’s going on, then NASCAR makes a decision, then all of a sudden people are mad. And they’re like, “What happened? Everybody on Twitter felt this way.”
And the reason is because all the people who are fine and dandy with it didn’t say anything: “I have no reason to complain. I’m happy with what they did.”
Then they make the decision, and then the other side is what you hear from because they’re the ones that are upset now because they changed it: “I didn’t want it to change.”
But it’s the truth if you look back at the letters to the editor in the newspaper. Most people don’t write in to say that something is wonderful — they write in because they don’t agree with something. There are exceptions, of course, but let’s face it: Even responses to stories online, most people are saying something contrary to the premise of the article — they don’t agree with it, they think it should be more this way, less that way.
Most of them don’t sign on to say, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read.” I mean, sometimes they do. You’ll write a great story and you’ll get people who will call you out on Twitter and say, “You should really check out this story that Jeff wrote. It’s really good.” But by and large, that’s not what you see.
Do you view your real life persona and your Twitter persona as the same thing? Do you play it up as sort of a character at all?
I don’t try to change. If your only interaction with me is on Twitter, like if you never hear me speak or you’ve never met me in person… (and) the only time you come across what I do is on Twitter, (then) maybe most of the time it appears I’m in an argument with somebody, right? So you probably think, “Wow, that guy’s a jerk. Every time I turn on Twitter he’s arguing with somebody.”
But that’s what we do. Do you know what I mean? That’s part of our jobs: we all have opinions and we share (with) each other. I’ve actually joked about this with NASCAR people who say, “I hate that tweet. I really hated that tweet.” I say, “You know what? Next time that happens, wait five minutes, and I promise you I’ll have moved on to something else.” You get too wrapped up in things.
The other thing I can’t stand is being corrected about spelling. First of all, I don’t get graded on spelling on Twitter. I don’t get any prize if I spell correctly. I don’t get paid more — I don’t get paid a dime to tweet, by the way, it’s just part of what I do. So I don’t care about spelling on Twitter. I don’t care if I used the wrong verb tense or anything.
The things that irk people sometimes are just really strange to me. Why would you even care? It’s like writing on Facebook — do you check your grammar before you do a post? I use Facebook generally more for family and stuff, I don’t really do too much with work. Sometimes I’ll share articles.
But you’ll get people who are like, “Well that was a crappy picture. You should have used a better camera.” Well I’m like, “I don’t have a better camera! I used the camera I have! Thanks, though.”
Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and I think if we just accept that not everything is and everybody has faults, you just have to get past them.
One last thing. If some people read this and are like, “Man, Jim, can you unblock me?” How can they get through to you? Do you want people to email you, or what can they do?
(Laughs) If you’ve been blocked and you really have a good reason why you shouldn’t be, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But to be honest with you, I have this little comeback when people say, “Jim Utter blocks everybody on Twitter!” And I’ll be like, “I have almost 60,000 followers. So you’re saying that I would have 125,000 or 300,000 followers if I unblocked everybody?” I can promise you that’s not the case.
This interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!