An open letter to Formula 1 on ignoring fans on social media

I am a fan of F1. I have been since the age of two when I rode a plastic tractor around my grandparents’ garden shouting “Nigel Mansell” at the top of my voice. I remember the glory of Damon Hill lifting the world championship as Murray Walker fell silent from a lump in his throat, I remember the confusion and pain as it dawned on TV viewers that Ayrton Senna’s spark of genius was extinguished at Imola, and I still feel the heart palpitations from the moment that Lewis Hamilton edged past Timo Glock’s tractionless Toyota at Junção to deny Felipe Massa.

The sport has taught me endless knowledge of new countries, technologies and life lessons. And yet recently all F1 has taught me is that I don’t matter. And I am not alone.

An unsocial approach

To put it bluntly, F1 is actively rejecting its fans on social media. At the very least it is proactively ignoring them!

The official account currently boasts 1.33 million followers and yet it actively follows just 25 accounts – this doesn’t include any of the drivers or team principals that represent the sport. Nor does it include any of the countless journalists that cover the show worldwide. Nor the staff that make the F1 circus possible. Nor, and I find this most inexcusable, a single fan. Not one.

The situation gets worse when you look into how the official F1 account is used. I recently wrote about F1’s lacklustre, and frankly insulting, celebration of its 65th anniversary. The official account marked this with a few tweets and a couple of photos. That’s all.

They ignore the scores of fans who came forth with personal stories from events past, their own photos and memories, tributes to the sport that they love. Not one of these received a single retweet or favourite. Not even a comment. F1 actively turned a blind eye to every last one of them.

The situation worsens when one remembers that just a few months ago users who included “F1” in their biography or username on Twitter were actively being pursued by F1 and told to shut down their accounts for copyright infringement. Could you imagine any other brand doing that? That a company like, say Coca-Cola, identified someone who loved their product so much that they wanted to share their affinity with the whole world by building an online persona around that product. That would simply never happen. And yet for F1 fans that was a very genuine reality.

F1 redoubled its efforts at the start of the season but this came in the wake of Bernie Ecclestone’s comments that social media and the sport’s younger fans held no interest for him: ““I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. So, there’s no point trying to reach these kids because they won’t buy any of the products here, and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney.”

This is a perspective that he has reiterated in this month’s edition of F1 Racing: “What I have said is that I don’t believe it (social media) will attract younger generations to watch Formula 1 – despite what people tell me. What attracted today’s 40-year-olds 30 years ago? We didn’t have social media then. And I’ve been looking at social media lately and I don’t see anything there that would attract younger people.”

I’d like to cite Innocent Drinks, a company owned by Coca-Cola, as an example of how to do social media properly. The business follows over 10% of its followers and regularly engages in active conversations with its consumers on Twitter about everything from branding to product complaints. In fact, analysis by WaveMetrix found that 43% of discussion on Twitter focused on its products, 32% about its marketing activities, and 25% about customer enquiries. And the result of this? Over 2 million smoothies sold each week and a thriving online community that is helping to improve products and sales with each conversation.

An appetite for interaction

Few things in life impassion people more than sport. The great manager Bill Shankly once said of football: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death, and I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

Sport enlivens and excites us, thrills and delights us. We crave sharing the experience with others, whether in a packed stadium, a crowded pub or from the comfort of our own sofas.

A recent survey by SportsBusiness Journal found that 80% of sports fans interact with social media during it being broadcast on TV. A further 60% do so at live events.

Fans love to share their experiences and impressions of sport. For example, over 9,000 per second tweeted their amazement when Tim Tebow threw a touchdown pass out of nowhere in an NFL Playoff match. 9,000 each second!

Even in motorsport we can see a hunger for social media interaction. Formula E owes much of its success to fan engagement on social media, with over 1 billion engagements on social platforms during the first race alone.

I spoke with a fan today who had been sent a signed event programme by a Formula E team as a ‘Get Well Soon’ gift after she mentioned on Twitter that she had had surgery. She immediately tweeted a picture of her gift and told me “It means a lot, it means that the team takes care of its fans. It makes me proud”. That’s a fan for life and all it took was a thought and an action that had very little cost.

Check Twitter over an F1 race weekend and you’ll quickly see that the race hashtag is trending on a global scale, while intense debates rage over who deserves pole, who will win, which driver was responsible for an accident… the list goes on.

But these conversations fall dead when it comes to the very body that governs and runs the sport. Every enquiry, every request and each last mention goes ignored.

What would it cost for F1 to retweet?

Well, it will cost a whole lot more if they don’t…

Black flag, race over

In PR we provide consultation to our clients on how they are viewed by their customers and the wider media. We work hard to ensure that they are seen as positively as possible, even when things go wrong.

The media landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade and many businesses have died off by not keeping up with it, with the wrong messages being shared about their brand or products.

Today over 73% of adults check some form of social media for news during an average day, according to a recent study by University College London. 50% of those people will share or repost that story and 46% are likely to comment on it.

A very high proportion of those people are currently stumbling across very negative stories about F1, the sport I love, and will likely carry those perceptions with them. By engaging with fans on social media, F1 can restore faith in its product, have an army of people ready to come to its defence and support an active community of happy and engaged supporters.

At a time when TV figures are falling and race attendances are going the same way, while costs for fans continue to increase (the UK Sky F1 TV package has risen by 55% over the past three years), if F1 doesn’t turn the tide soon there will be no one left to watch.

A sport without fans is nothing. It is time that F1 saw its supporters as the valuable commodity that they are.

The fix is simple, it’s what I do for clients every day, but I fear that for F1 fans are not a priority and therefore they will not fix the situation until it’s too late. I have reached out to F1 to allow them to explain their approach but they have thus far ignored me – aside from looking at my profile on LinkedIn.

F1, please stop ignoring us. I want you to explain your actions.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Trevor Simpson says:

    Very well put.

    FOM is treating its clientèle (its worldwide following) with absolute arrogance, assuming it has an unassailable monopoly. In doing so, all the common sense activities of marketing, PR and basic sales account management are being ignored. Look after your clients and they will remain faithful.

    I too fear that peak of the lifecycle model has now passed.

    Like

  2. Johnathan_P1 says:

    FOM were also targeting our Instagram accounts. Threatening us with suspension if we didn’t remove F1 from our account names and profiles. Several of us private individuals have over 14,000 followers – including some F1 drivers, their family members and teams.

    I don’t understand how Bernie can ignore any social media.

    The OFFICIAL F1 Account has now launched and had some of the worst quality pictures and hardly interacts with other Instagram users.

    @jonathan_p1 on Instagram.

    Like

    1. ThisIsPRable says:

      So sorry to hear that Johnathan! I’ve heard from a few people who have had to put up with this and it is an inexcusable way for a sport to behave towards its fans.

      People like you that have such a strong following are an asset for the sport and something to be nurtured, not something that should be hounded out of existence.

      F1 needs to address its social media approach before it is too late. I will again ask to meet with someone responsible for their strategy, and if they respond I will be sure to share it with everyone.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  3. Mark Rainsford says:

    Contrast this approach with that taken by (especially) Mercedes and Lotus: great commentary on Twitter, fan interaction and inter-team banter. How social media should be done.

    Like

  4. bueuf1 says:

    Reblogged this on El Abuelo F1 and commented:
    Poco puedo añadir a un artículo que quiero compartir con vosotros:
    “Para la F1, los fans no somos la prioridad”

    Es lo que se empieza a sentir.
    Es lo que se empieza a notar.
    Es lo que deben cambiar, o desaparecerán.

    Like

  5. Jordan says:

    The root of the issue is clear. Bernie Ecclestone. He runs a company that is completely out of touch with the public, and still wants to be seen as a dictator within the sport. He’s far too stubborn to listen to what others think.

    Just look at what other series offer now, WEC for example. They have live timing with streams that you can access for reasonable sums of money. FOM needs new leadership to push these kind of changes. The way people watch content is changing, but FOM isn’t.

    Like

  6. Jon Wilde says:

    Interesting piece.

    Perhaps if we the fans can explain what FOM stand to gain from social media they would be more likely to interact. I know it can hurt to admit it but companies, teams, drivers, aren’t using social media out of the goodness of their heart. They’re trying to sell us something.

    To me the fundamental question anyone offering words of wisdom to FOM should be; do we accept that they should be / have a right to make money? From my perspective they do. In accepting this principle I accept that the underlying principle of all activities from FOM will at some point or in some way need to be monetised.

    So how do FOM monetise social media? They already do. At this moment in time they take a draconian approach to use of their trademarks. ANYONE can use F1 branding, they just have to pay for the privilege. Which, I guess is fine, why should Bernie / FOM give away something they’ve spend decades building? It might appear unfair , but the risk of devaluing a brand by relinquishing control of it’s use to the owner of the brand will be significant. This is no different to the aggressive way in which Olympics / World Cup branding is managed

    It should be up to those wanting to use the branding to demonstrate to the brand owners that there is another way. Rather than us wasting our time telling FOM and anyone that will listen that F1 should do something different because we say so, lets present them with logical solution based projects to move the business forward.

    A very simple example.

    FOM / F1 teams collect a vast amount forecast / predictive data during every race. This information could be used to facilitate in race betting (similar to in match football bets) F1 Social Media tools could be used to present live odds through a race. Following a proven pilot using the F1 social media presence in play gambling licenses could be sold in all markets.

    Lets stop focusing on ‘The problems in Formula One’ and start talking about solutions to improve Formula One

    Like

    1. ThisIsPRable says:

      I completely agree with your comments on moving away from F1’s problems and towards solutions. I am aware that, sadly, I have also been responsible for flagging the sport’s flaws, when really I want to promote how to improve it.

      Your points about the International Olympic Committee and FIFA are very valid, and it is important that F1 retains its brand integrity. However I would argue that social media should not be monetised wherever possible. The pay-off for FOM would come from increased fan interaction driving greater product purchases and increased grand prix attendance. A happy audience is one more likely to spend money.

      In my personal opinion, however, I believe that Formula 1 – like FIFA – should be a non-profit organisation. Of course recent allegations and investigations have demonstrated that this can (potentially) be a flawed system, but reinvesting funds into the show can surely only improve it and strengthen what F1 already has.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

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