Formula 1: A social media crisis

001_smallFor me Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport – a perfect blend of man and machine, pushing the limits of physics in a way that makes hearts leap into the back of mouths and grown men feel like small children again.

That said, F1 is currently the best example of a brand failing to grasp the significance of social media an its importance to its fans. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it the best example of a dying business simply for that reason, and as such it provides invaluable lessons for all PR and marketing professionals.

Killing a community

In recent weeks Formula 1 as a business has actively tried to shut down Twitter users who have the characters “F” and “1” in conjunction in their account names, citing this as an infringement of copyright. Last night this prompted the hashtag #YesToF1OnTwitter, which trended worldwide as fans called for the brand, the sport they love, to engage with them properly. This prompted over 450 direct responses worldwide in a matter of hours.

This is the most serious example I have ever seen of a business killing its following. It is extraordinarily rare for a community to call on their lead account for action – most just leave and let it die.

This follows F1 empresario Bernie Ecclestone’s statement in November 2014 that he and F1 do not see social media as providing any value to the sport, particularly as they are not interested in attracting younger fans: “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.”

Simply from a commercial perspective, can you think of any other business that has openly stated that it doesn’t care about its customers or want their money?

Lead by example

At the time of writing this blog the @F1 account has 1.12M followers. And yet, guess how many accounts it follows….13! That’s fewer than the number of drivers on the grid!

Furthermore, if social media is not a useful tool for your business and not one that you want to utilise, why have an account?

The very best accounts on social media are interactive and promote engagement with their followers. A personal favourite example of mine is Innocent drinks, who have over 200,000 followers and follow over 28,000 back. This promotes inclusivity, as does increased transparency and talking directly to the follower base – something they do brilliantly. Interaction is the opposite of alienation, and by making people feel they own a stake in the brand they will support it all the more fiercely.

By ignoring their fans; openly stating in the press that they are not a priority; and by actively pursuing those social media users that feel such affinity with the brand that they want to include “F1” in their handle, Formula 1 is doing nothing but alienating their audience.

F stands for fix

How can this be overcome?

Few platforms offer a greater opportunity for transparency than social media. An open apology to those fans who have been shut down due to this new policy would be a good start.

F1 should also follow the example of some of its teams – offering insights that fans can’t get anywhere else, offering Q&A sessions with drivers, team bosses, hell even Bernie himself! If you want people of feel included, then include them.

I love this sport and I have spent much of my life defending it to people who don’t quite get it. But lately it’s become an uphill struggle as off-track action and politics overshadow some incredible racing.

Brave new racing categories like Formula E, which are trying to promote a whole new mindset and industry alongside a racing series, have immediately realised the outreach potential of social media and have embraced it to generate an impressive and engaged following. This is how it should be done. (Watch out for a new blog on this very subject coming soon).

As viewing figures dwindle – over 50 million people switched off from F1 in 2014 compared to the previous season – I sincerely hope that this incredible sport realises the significance of its fans before it’s too late.



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