“I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is” were words uttered by Bernie Ecclestone just over a year ago now. From that, it seemed as if F1 was well and truly stuck in the dark ages: no presence on massive social media platforms which simply gets people talking. F1 seemed more worried about quashing all F1 social media presence as opposed to embracing a potentially wonderful and potentially useful tool for F1.
But then something dramatic happened. F1’s official YouTube account, lying dormant for years, began to upload a few videos, and the official Twitter account started to engage with fans. An Instragram account even popped up. Whatever changed Ecclestone’s mind seemed to surprise just about everybody (myself included) and to this day we have what is a much more social Formula 1, and that is certainly a good thing at a time of hardship for the sport.
I find it hard to find words that emphasise how important social media is in today’s world. In fact, social media may have brought you here, where with this discussion about Formula 1 is taking place. This is the sort of thing F1 needs to embrace more and more, because if people get talking about something and especially if it becomes viral, the viewership will rise dramatically, and with that does come opportunities to get an agenda across.
F1 has done a substantially better job regarding social media over the last year or so compared to the years previous – online polls to choose classic race highlights, onboard laps (Juan Pablo Montoya at Monza is a personal favourite), track guides, technical insight, statistics, as well as promoting the (much improved) articles on the official website is just the start. However how other series operates their social media platforms and the following they have as a result is certainly worth looking at.
Above: number of likes/followers/subscribers (in thousands) on four social media platforms for ten different series. (Correct as of 06/01/2016)
The first thing that immediately is clear is that F1 is missing some monumentally large potential viewership with absolutely zero official Facebook presence, yet every series which has an official Facebook has considerably more ‘likes’ on there than they do ‘followers’ or ‘subscribers’ on any other platform, and by a massive margin in the case of MotoGP, with no less than ten million likers over there. Whilst Facebook’s algorithms do not necessarily post every post by every page onto a user’s newsfeed to avoid cluttering (unlike Twitter and Instagram, YouTube is a bit more complicated), it is easy enough to share on there, and it is very easy for something to become viral through it. Anyhow, regardless of anything, over 1.5 billion active users does not lie, and what a huge shame it is that F1 has no official presence on there to promote the sport. That is compared to one billion on YouTube, just 307 million on Twitter, and just 300 million on Instagram (statistics via statista.com).
Twitter appears to be something which F1 has got on top of very swiftly. In fact, it is the most followed motorsport around on the site except for NASCAR, which is impressive considering how long it has been active. The account is active, and posts a nice variety of relevant tweets and retweets the best from the teams and drivers. Whilst I would perhaps like to see a bit more direct interaction with fans, understandably with well over one and a half million followers, it would be impossible to keep up with everybody.
Image-sharing platform Instagram, which operates primarily as an app-only thing, is a great place to share some fantastic shots, which can be obtained in any motor racing series. F1 does struggle here compared to MotoGP, but getting word out on that platform can be somewhat tricky. The images posted on there seem to unfortunately be nothing more than a filtered version of what we see on Twitter. There are some absolutely cracking shots of F1 cars blasting around various tracks around the world, so I would like to see much more of that.
It cannot be emphasised how great YouTube is, especially during the off-season. For people such as myself who seem lost over these long winter months with pretty much no racing on, these months are rather dull. So when I realised that seasons of some series are on YouTube in their entirety, I breathed a sigh of relief. F1 unsurprisingly is far from doing that, but if there was a subscription service to watch classic races in their entirety in as high quality as possible, I know I would consider breaking the bank. What F1 does provide on YouTube however is highlights of fans’ favourite races (via poll), interviews, features, onboards and even the odd game-changing radio message. MotoGP has the most subscribers of all the series featured here however in reality the content is no different to what F1 posts, just a lot more of it throughout a race weekend and more highlights. The World Endurance Championship is similar as you would expect for a series with such long races.
IndyCar has a substantially better presence on the platform, posting, in addition to what is mentioned above by the likes of F1, recent races in full and even classic races in full as well as the odd driver eye-level onboard. It has also toyed with showing practice and qualifying live via the platform – excellent for those with zero TV coverage of these sessions. The fan-friendly Formula E series takes it a step even further, with some brilliant compilations, short and long race highlights (long race highlights are great for not sitting through safety car periods) and even some brilliant 360-degree onboard clips. Sessions are also streamed (where available) live, which is excellent. At the previous race at Punta Del Este, my day was pretty much solely Formula E, and that was no problem for me one bit! It’s also worth noting that the FIA Formula 3 series posts every race in full (which is streamed on their official website) too. So it is clear that F1 can learn from these series here.
F1 finally embracing social media was one positive to come from a rather dull year in 2015. However it still has a long way to go if it is to maximise the potential of such an important tool in the everyday life of so many people around the world. I’m not calling for FanBoost-style interaction which can wrongly determine the outcome of a race, but F1 can reach out to new people if it embraces social media more and potentially end this consistent worldwide decline in viewership. It can get people talking about exciting moments such as Max Verstappen’s brilliant overtakes or the euphoria of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari proving their respective doubters wrong. It can get people attending races at venues where the grandstands are completely bare, and it can attract sponsorship to teams in an era where even the top teams have just a handful of sponsors.