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Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. Up next: Tiff Daniels, media relations representative for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 team.
You run an account that is giving updates on a driver both before and during the race, and a lot of fans are depending on this account. They’re eager for information. How do you decide what updates to send out and what to leave off?
So with Dale obviously, almost any content, people wanna see, right? The more Dale, the better for our fanbase. However, there are those moments that I certainly wouldn’t want to intrude on with him on the track. So I’m mainly giving them a little bit of an insider perspective, but still (sticking to) things that would be fairly obvious to anyone walking by. It just happens to be that I’m with him at all of these appearances and meet-and-greets that he does.
And then during practice session or the race specifically, I can listen to what he says on the public radio the same way anyone else can and kind of try and give an overview of what may be going on without getting into specific things he says about what the car may be doing.
So if he gives some kind of very specific feedback on, “Feels like we’re loose in, tight in the middle, loose off,” but then goes into more detail specifically about what they might be doing with springs or shocks, I’m not gonna put that out there. But I’ll put the general concept of what he may be dealing with in the car and same goes during the race, just so people following along kind of have an idea of what issues the team might be trying to overcome during practice or the race. And then just general updates on where he’s running and what’s going on — and obviously throw in some pictures into that, too, so they can feel like they’re there.
So essentially it’s stuff that’s publicly available. It sounds like you’re saying if you’re behind the scenes somewhere, it can be construed as a private moment, that’s not something you’re going to throw up on the feed.
Right. So if it’s something that happens inside the hauler and he’s joking around with Greg (Ives) and the team guys, that’s not a picture I’m gonna take and put out there, because they don’t want to have to filter themselves when they’re in a situation that should be considered private. And so you start affecting their communication if you get too involved in showing things behind the scenes that maybe should be kept private, because it’s an interaction between him and someone he’s close to or talking to that he doesn’t want to necessarily push out there.
And with Dale, he pushes out so much himself that if there’s something that he wants to tell you about that he did that’s cool, he’s gonna put it out there anyway. I don’t need to be the one to do that.
If fans of a sports team are tweeting during the game, they’re tagging the team and saying, “This is awesome,” or “This is terrible.” In NASCAR, every car is sort of a sports team and you have a whole nation of fans to answer to. So are you scrolling through the replies during a race and seeing what people are saying, or do you have to shut that off for yourself?
A little bit of both. Sometimes it’s just fun to read the replies, so I’ll scroll through and look. Other times, if there’s a lot going on, I may not have time to look through all the replies anyway. Sometimes I’ll look through them and see if anybody has a question that I can help answer. I don’t usually get involved when somebody says, “Oh, you guys are doing terrible right now,” or, “This is great, we’re so happy.” Those are great; we love to see all the fan reactions, but that wouldn’t necessarily be something that needs a response from me.
But if someone asked during a practice session, “Have you guys switched over to qualifying trim yet?” that would be maybe something I can answer. So every now and then I’ll interact. But for the most part, I kind of feel like now that Dale’s so active, that’s something that he enjoys doing and he’ll pick the questions that he wants to answer and those fans he wants to interact with. And they’d rather that interaction come from him anyway than from me, so I just kind of watch to see what people are saying more for my personal entertainment.
What happens when people get out of hand? Do you just have to ignore it and filter it out and say, “Oh, they’re just venting?” Do you ever use the block button, or is that a big no-no because it might be a fan?
I inherited this Twitter account from the girl who did PR before me, and I know that she had used the block button for a couple people, and it was mainly when people started personally attacking her about something that would have to do with updates — which is kind of crazy anyway, like we’re just the PR reps. What do I have to do with anything?
So I’ve never blocked anyone since I’ve been running it. I will mute people every now and then, especially if I see the same person who’s just using a bunch of cuss words and every post is so ugly that I don’t even want to read it. But I don’t usually block people because I figure my job is to provide the updates — so if people want to see them, they can follow us. If not, they can unfollow.
I often ask people working in the sport how they got to this point in order to give advice to people. I don’t feel like I can do this for you, because you took such an unconventional route. (Daniels is a former Late Model driver who was also an engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing.) It’s not something where you can just be like, “I recommend you start out driving a car, and becoming an engineer, and then going into media relations.” So you’ve touched so many different aspects of the sport.
I will tell you a quick story. So when I first started doing social media in the sport and I’d just switched over to the marketing side, I was working for (marketing agency) GMR on the Lowe’s Racing accounts and I was running the @lowesracing Twitter handle at the track. It was the first time they had sent somebody to the track every week to cover social, so I was around the team a lot more and we were just sending out a lot more updates than what they were used to seeing.
Well, during a race, I sent out some kind of update that was a little too specific, I guess, for Chad (Knaus’s) liking. I think Keith Rodden saw it somehow, and so I got called into Chad’s office the next week — and keep in mind I had not been there in very long. But actually, I get along great with Chad (Tiff’s brother Cliff Daniels is an engineer on the 48 team) and did even then. He was like, “So listen, you maybe understand too much and we’re gonna need you to kind of dilute what you put out there a little bit. These are the kinds of things that we want and we’re OK with, and these are the kinds of things we don’t.” Well, OK, good to know. (Laughs)
That’s pretty funny, because I’m sure there’s a lot of people who come from outside the sport and they have a lot of catching up to do. But here they are telling you, “Hey, dumb it down a little bit. Pretend you don’t know as much as you know.”
Right. And then you get the fans that actually really follow it closely and they want that specific information or they’ll be listening on the radio, because you can tune in from home or anywhere to the radio communications and pick Dale’s channel. They’ll be like, “That’s not exactly what he said — he said this.” I know. I know what he said, that’s just not what I’m allowed to post.
Let’s get into your background a little bit. You obviously started as a driver and you ran some K&N East races. I was looking at some of the tracks you ran, and you even ran Dover, which must be so weird. Everybody else in the media and PR room have only worked in the sport in those roles. But you’re like, “I drove here.” That has to be kind of strange in some ways.
It is a little bit different. I think the only four tracks on the (Cup) circuit I’ve raced are Loudon, Dover, Bristol and Watkins Glen — which that was crazy.
The first time I came back to those tracks, it was different. Now I would probably have more of the some attitude as any other PR rep, you know: “We’re just here to do our jobs,” and I’m not even thinking about what’s going on out on the track because I’m not plugged into that part of it anymore.
But yeah, it was different at first and then certainly interesting to see after the drivers made a run what comments they would have to say about somewhere. It’s like, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about with that line.”
That’s so funny to me. And it makes me wonder: Do you ever look at the young drivers in the sport (who she raced with) and your competitive juices get flowing? Like do you think, “Maybe I could have beaten you at some point?”
There are definitely times when that can cross your mind. I would say that happens a lot less now than when I first stopped driving and was still coming to the track just working.
But we still like to go out to a go-kart track like GoPro Motorplex and just mix it up. A lot of current drivers will come out there, especially the younger guys. And it would be guys we grew up racing against anyway, and we’ll all have fun and beat and bang with each other. So that’s how I get (the competition urge) out now, and then staying competitive in other ways like triathlon or running. It keeps you kind of from going crazy thinking like, “If this person made it, maybe I could have.”
But I’m so happy where I am now and I feel like this is the right place. So when I look at some of the pressure Dale has on him, for example, when he’s doing stuff, that’s a tough job and not everybody realizes it. So I can certainly appreciate the job those guys do and the work everybody has to put in to get to where they are. Even if people’s parents have money, they still didn’t just end up here without putting in any work. So you’ve gotta kind of appreciate that everybody’s put some effort into it to get here in the first place.
So why was marketing and PR and social media a better fit for you than some of the engineering stuff that you first did when you left driving?
I was actually still driving while I was engineering (at Ganassi) and so maybe that was part of it. I had always been hands-on with my own race cars, and so I felt like from the school part of it, engineering was as close as I could get to that hands-on part and still get an education, and then it would help me with my driving. And it certainly did all those things.
But I was a shop engineer, and when I first started at Ganassi, it was still when NASCAR allowed open testing. So you were gone all the time at the racetrack so it still felt a little more hands-on. And once that went away, it was a big transition to CAD modeling and stimulator work and much more computer-intense, and that really wasn’t the part of it that I enjoyed.
I missed the people, getting out and talking to everybody, and the business side of the sport had always interested me. So just through some of the connections I had met from being in the sport and working in it, it was actually a pretty easy transition over (to marketing and PR), believe it or not.
What’s something that people might not realize when they’re seeing your tweets? What’s something they don’t realize about what goes into your job from afar that you have discovered since you got it?
If it takes us awhile to tweet after something happens (on the track), we have to make sure that what we’re putting out there is exactly right — because I know that’s gonna get picked up by people. So if we think something happened to the car and that’s why we’re coming to pit road, well I need to make 100% sure that after they’ve looked at it, that’s what the answer is before I send something out.
So if it seems like it’s a delay, it’s not because we hate it or we’re distracted and just didn’t feel like giving out updates — we were just making sure what happened.
And if you’re making a trip to the care center, you’re not worried about Twitter. Your primary job is to get to the car and get to the driver, get over to the care center and make sure everything’s good from that standpoint before you even switch back over to Twitter.
I would say I mainly tweet during the weekends, so I think people forget maybe how much work mainly goes into the weekend before we ever get here. Really, once we get to the weekend, that’s the easier part of our job. All of the intense planning happens back at the shop before we ever get here.
That’s so interesting, because there’s an entire job where someone could be a social media manager, but that’s just one element of your job. You’re with Dale everywhere he’s going, and you have to get him from place to place to place for all of these appearances. What percent of your job would you say is social media compared to the whole picture?
I’d say for my job, it’s maybe five percent. It’s not something that I spend any time thinking about. When we’re here on the race weekend, I’ll update, but it’s more of a service that we try to provide to the fans than being important to the actual media relations part of our role, I guess.
And so really, if you think about it, the time that I’ve spent tweeting is so small compared to everything else, and especially the way our accounts are structured, anything that I would really want to push out from a PR standpoint is already being pushed out either by the Team Hendrick account in general or Dale himself or our sponsors. So it’s not like I have to have that platform to be able to get out what we’re doing from a PR sense.
So it really is kind of more of a, “Here’s what’s going on if you’re not here, and here’s an easy way to find what Dale’s doing.” But it’s not so much like the crux of what my job entails.