People are always saying that Formula 1 does not address social media very well and as a result does not have as many younger fans as perhaps it should have. One has to wonder, however, whether the problem is really one of ignoring the messengers, or whether the younger generations are simply not interested in the message.
The youngsters of today are connected, but they are not necessarily very mobile. They can do things without needing to go places: ordering online, visiting places in the virtual world of Google Earth, texting and tweeting backwards and forwards with their friends, but perhaps not hanging out with them as much as previous generations used to do. They have other things to do. When the older generations were younger we rushed around and played cowboys and indians, nowadays the young fight virtual wars in outer space, build virtual cities, and machine-gun endless virtual bad guys. Fantastic software allows them to do things that earlier generations never dreamed of doing, but heroes are still heroes: Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Beau Geste, Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay have been replaced by Link, Mario and Lara Croft.
The fact remains that the only way to really answer the question about F1 is to connect to the youngsters and ask them. And the best way to do that is to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook and so on… as these are the systems that fit in with the web-based environments in which youngsters live.
There is no question that in recent years, the so-called social media has become one of the most powerful forms of news delivery. One does not need newspapers, news magazines or even the Nine O’Clock News to keep up with what is happening. The Web, blogs, Twitter and Facebook have taken over. But gains in the reach, frequency and immediacy of news have been counterbalanced by losses in quality, expertise and credibility. Media brands become ever more important, because people know that you can trust them – amid all the “clutter” that exists.
The bigger the name, the more followers there will be. When it comes to news, it is only logical that TV commentators will have more followers than traditional print journalists, and in turn they will have more followers than F1 amateur reporters/well-informed fans. However, the difference is that the biggest media Twitter followings belong to those who work for others, not to those with independent voices. They tweet because that is what they are told to do and it is the organisation that gets the benefit, except perhaps when a Twitterer moves to a new job, and can take their audience with them. There have been a couple of times during my career when I moved on and left readers behind, with no means of telling them where I had gone. That will not happen again. Twitter means that one “owns” one’s audience – so long as you continue to give them what they want.
Formula 1 teams use social media because they believe that it makes their fans feel closer to the sport and the argument is that the best way to do this is to personalise things as much as possible. Marketing people say that the younger generations find it easier to relate to people rather than organizations and social media can soften attitudes and lead to better engagement and more loyal fans. Perhaps, but when I read around the Twittersphere in F1 I don’t see a whole lot of real engagement going on, I see intermittent tweets that give little away. The whole thing looks pretty half-hearted, largely because F1 people do not see the up-side of engaging with the fans – unless they have nothing else to do. Some use Twitter as a vehicle for their own egos and tell people what they had for breakfast. There is an over-developed cult of celebrity these days in which some are famous only for being famous, but do people really want to know this stuff and will these stars last longer than Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame?
For the most part, the real value of Twitter seems to be as a way for companies to increase the reach of their promotions, product launches and events, and by doing so generate more income, while at the same time creating more engagement and loyalty. Twitter numbers can also be used as a tool to show the marketing power of an organisation when it is selling itself to sponsors, which will – in theory – result in more lucrative deals. There is an argument too that Twitter helps position companies and individuals as leaders in their particular fields, but they still need to back up the twittering with credible reasons why people should believe this to be the case.
It seems to me that F1 is yet to be convinced of the real value of social media. There may be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but F1 is not really sure where the rainbow ends – and sees little point in trying to find out.