The month of May is a wild time in the city of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) opens its gates to thousands of spectators for a pair of IndyCar races and the 500 Festival puts on a couple of events that have become an integral part of the Circle City.
The month opens with the One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon and is followed by the IndyCar Grand Prix before cars start rolling in preparation for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. After the dust settles from a week of practice and two days of qualifying setting the 33-car field, race weekend arrives with the One America 500 Festival Parade and the running of the Indianapolis 500-mile race.
So, with all of these events, stretched resources, and the 24/7 news cycle we live in, how do these organizations deal with the countless questions, concerns, complaints, and just general comments being posted on social media in real-time?
The answer: full-time staff for each organization and a contingent of IUPUI Department of Tourism, Event, and Sport Management (TESM) students managed by TESM lecturer Erica Shonkwiler.
For the past five years, Shonkwiler has led a group of students who live monitor and respond to social media posts from high above the 500 Festival Parade and in the IMS Media Center on big days at the legendary track, giving students the experience of a lifetime.
“These projects, along with many other ones in our department, speak to our commitment to hands-on, real-life experiential learning,” said Shonkwiler. “In our program, you’ve got textbooks, exams, and papers, but we recognize that this industry cannot just be taught from a book or in a classroom, but we have to get out and show you allowing you to experience things.”
Shonkwiler leads a group of students on multiple days leading up to the One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon before spending time with the 500 Festival Kid’s Day and Breakfast at the Brickyard. The culmination of the students’ work came on May 25 with the One America 500 Festival Parade followed by the Off the Grid party the night preceding race day.
Over the course of seven days this year, 18 different students committed 197 total hours collecting 100-plus pieces of media for the organization and interacting with followers on more than 3,700 occasions to answer questions and have fun publicizing the events.
IMS SOCIAL MEDIA COMMAND CENTER
Shonkwiler’s month of May concludes with the Greatest Spectacle in Racing at the most legendary racetrack in America. She led students in the IMS Media Center for six days which included IndyCar Grand Prix qualifying and race day, Indianapolis 500 qualifying and race day, and Carb Day. The students worked with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the 500 Festival with nearly 2,000 interactions on the day of the Mini Marathon.
Over the six competitive days this year, 11 different students logged more than 330 total hours collecting nearly 100 pieces of media and interacting with followers on 10,500-plus occasions to answer questions and publicize the events through social channel engagement. The students worked with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for IMS and IndyCar and had more than 5,000 interactions on Race Day alone.