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.