“People blame Bernie for not moving into social media. I don’t blame him at all because he can’t monetise it. You have TV stations and media partners who pay you for exclusive content so why do you want anything to do with social media making it for free.”
Those are the words of Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff.
It is the clearest indication yet that while businesses around the world have grasped the benefits of social media for building brand reputation, increasing sales and dealing with customer complaints, F1 – the self-proclaimed cutting-edge of motorsport – is sadly archaic in its views.
Today I feel it necessary to dispel some of the myths about social media perpetuated by Bernie Ecclestone and senior figures in the F1 paddock, as frankly the fans deserve so much better that the cold indifference shown to them at present.
Media making money
Let’s start at the very beginning. Social media is simply another communications tool. It presents another opportunity to share news with interested people –whether that’s the general public, customers or media.
However the key is that social media does not exist in isolation. It is not detached from the rest of the world and can, in fact, play an important role in channelling the right people to the right places – much as the traditional media has done in the past.
Yet while traditional media is edited to avoid blatant promotion of goods or services, social media itself can act as a platform for sales. Companies like Amazon have quickly jumped on this concept, allowing customers to add products to their basked without even leaving Twitter, through the use of hashtags.
It is an age-old concept that a happy customer will buy more. By engaging with fans and rewarding them for their loyalty and interest, F1 could utilise social media to increase sales of merchandise, Pay-TV packages and, importantly, race tickets.
To make it that so bluntly obvious makes me feel two emotions.
Firstly, that while one can make money from social media it doesn’t necessarily mean that one should. Especially an organisation that made $488.9 million from TV audiences over the past nine years, despite losing a total of 75 million viewers over the last six years. Corporate greed is a turn-off for any consumer and ultimately causes issues for business – look at Tesco’s latest results to name but one.
Secondly, I feel flabbergasted. How can a global organisation with 455 million TV viewers – the most watched sport in the world – not understand this simple truth?! Either F1 employs a greatly under-qualified social media team or it has taken a deliberate stance to shun fans. I fear it is the latter.
On this point I would like to cite several stats from a recent marketing surveys:
- 46% of consumers use social media to support a purchasing decision (YouGov)
- 83% of marketers have reported an increase in brand exposure due to their use of social media (YouGov)
- 67% of Twitter users are more likely to buy form the brands they follow (Quick Sprout)
- 83.8% of luxury brands have a presence on Pinterest (L2)
That last one interests me most in the context of F1.
Exclusive not exclusionary
The reason that so many luxury brands take to Pinterest over any other form of social media comes down to the matter of selling a lifestyle, not just a product.
This is an approach that I believe F1 wishes to replicate, but it is not one that it is achieving.
Instead of perpetuating an edifice of glamour, beauty, danger and fashion, F1 is instead creating a pompous air where fans are simply not welcome. It is nothing more than exclusionary, and that is far more damaging to the brand than being tarnished by a lack of exclusivity.
I fully understand the need to control the brand’s reputation, and by carefully vetting the traditional media that they allow into the paddock the sport is able to somewhat control the quality of output.
However that once again brings an air of exclusion to the sport. Social media is in the midst of Generation C – the third iteration of users that are known for content creation, curation, and community. They want to develop their own angle and share it with their followers – they are the new editors and often provide unique insights that F1 fans are crying out for.
Selling the dream
Bernie Ecclestone has often said that he is not interested in social media because it is populated by young people who cannot buy the luxury products that are associated with the sport –watches the price of mortgages being just one such example.
However, taking a view across the teams we instantly see a range of products that are readily within the price range of most consumers. Red Bull energy drink, Airbnb travel and accommodation, Martini and Pirelli tyres to name but a few.
F1 has always been cool because you can stick a poster of a car on your bedroom wall and its looks unfathomably fast even when completely stationary. To the young boy or girl that stares nightly at that poster and watches every race, once that affinity for the sport is fixed it will stay for life. They will find the money to pay for race tickets, team merchandise and will defend the sport even when it is rightly criticised for being dull or overly political. In PR and marketing we call them brand advocates, and they are perhaps the most powerful asset imaginable to any business.
Those kids, and the adults they become, live and breathe the sport in a way that the mostly disinterested members of the Paddock Club (average price for the upcoming British GP of £3,360) don’t. While these people may not be the moneyed elite that Mr Ecclestone wishes to attract, they are perhaps the most precious commodity of the sport.
A final thought. At a time when Britain has 20 million people living in abject poverty and more people visiting food banks than ever before, would it hurt for a multinational corporation that has recorded record profits to give just a little back to its fans for free?
I’ll let you be the judge.