Nascar’s Brad Keselowski Proves Twitter’s Real-Time Power

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A picture is worth a thousand re-tweets - and 100,000+ new followers - for NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski.

Sometimes, it takes an almost unbelievable event to prove who really understands the power of social media and sports.

Enter the 54th Daytona 500, which introduced hundreds of thousands of new fans to Nascar, rain delays, track maintenance, jet-powered driers, new uses for Tide laundry detergent, and a social media-savvy driver named Brad Keselowski.

In arguably the strangest running of the Great American Race, Nascar fans – and many others – tuned into a Monday night version of the Daytona 500 for a wild finish, complete with a fiery crash between Juan Pablo Montoya’s car and a safety vehicle loaded with some 200 gallons of jet fuel.

The collision produced a huge fireball, a scorched track and a new social media darling in the sports world. Stopped a safe distance from the crash, Keselowski did what any other person stuck in traffic would do – he pulled out his phone and started tweeting about it.

As the Associated Press described it: “The two-plus hour stoppage turned into a tweet-up of sorts, as the drivers climbed from their cars and crowded around Keselowski, who had pulled out his phone to provide real-time updates to his fans by posting photos and answering questions.”

In less time than it took crews to clean up Daytona’s track, Keselowski’s 38-character post with accompanying photo became perhaps the most famous live sports tweet ever.

Short and sweet: Keselowski's famous Daytona 500 tweet.

It was simple and effective, and spread as fast as leaking jet fuel down a sloped race track. In minutes, Keselowski’s Twitter account ballooned from a pedestrian 75,000 followers to more than 200,000. And nearly all of Twitter’s U.S. trending topics were related to Daytona, including such fan favorites as “crazy” (0.55 percent of all tweets), “Nascar” (0.51 percent) and “Daytona500” (0.63 percent), according to Trendistic.

Powered by an unlikely crash and a compelling iPhone photo, Americans put Keselowski’s name (the correct spelling) in 0.55 percent of all tweets and helped Daytona’s TV ratings peak at 8.8.

The fact AP even included the words “tweet-up” in a sports story makes what happened at Daytona a milestone for the ever-evolving intersection of sports and social media. Keselowski’s actions should be a wake-up call for Major League Baseball, the NHL and NFL, all authors of strict no-tweet policies during games. The NFL even fines players for doing this.

In less time than it took crews to clean up Daytona’s track, Keselowski’s 38-character post with accompanying photo became perhaps the most famous live sports tweet ever.

While Keselowski wasn’t technically tweeting during a live event (his car was not moving), his Twitter-first thinking is something fans crave. It also fits well with Nascar’s new marketing strategy, which emphasizes social media. That’s not something you hear from other major U.S. sports leagues, which concentrate on more traditional channels to engage fans. But Nascar did their homework, and found social media is important to fans – and sponsors.

“[Keselowski] distinguished himself in being the poster child for an engaging athlete — the type of athlete that the fans really connect to in a multitude of ways,” Nascar spokesman David Higdon told the New York Times. “He’s a digital native. This is an extension of his personality.”

There’s tremendous value in empowering athletes to connect with fans before, during and after sporting events, as long as it fits their personalities and doesn’t detract from individual performances. Just ask the 100,00+ new people who followed Brad Keselowski last night (including yours truly).

“We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others,” the official Nascar account Tweeted less than a day after the Daytona 500 activities.

Why not embrace this kind of engagement? It’s hard to argue with the results.

Thanks for being a fan.

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