January 16th, 2013 (F1plus/ Jack Leslie).- Formula 1 and Social Media have not always had the best relationship and it has taken time to develop, but over the years the bond between them has not only grown but also strengthened as the world gets more reliant on technology.
It is something that has become the norm in everyday life, they get informed by it, they meet new people on it, and they learn new things. That is why Formula 1 has embraced it so well, or not in some cases.
Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube... the list goes on as new Social Networking sites join the fray. They all help to bring people together, connect people and share similar interests or life stories. That is why it is so prominent in Formula 1 in the sports current state; it gives fans access that they would never normally get.
This insight is important to get people interested in the sport and give back to the F1 fanatics who support the drivers, teams and sport as a whole. It is also a helpful tool during the races for people like me who write reports or those who do Twitter and Facebook commentary as it gives us added information to what’s going on, like how many laps are left on that stint or when the drivers are going to pit.
Some teams have embraced the social networking sites, contacting fans and giving them more insight into the sport. However some are yet to really find that sweet spot that others do, meaning fans are kind of left unnoticed. Thankfully the majority of the teams and drivers actually, are successful with social networking. So shall we look at the teams who have got it right, and those who have got it wrong? Yep? Okay let’s have a look at Social Media in F1.
I think one team that has really embraced social media is Lotus. They use it to its fullest, contacting fans and sharing information from the garage and track. Their fan interaction is second to none and they always want to give back to their supporters, the team behind the twitter account are both humorous but friendly, always happy to reply to those asking questions. I often communicate with F1 teams on Twitter and they have by far the best at fan interaction.
Not only do they rule the roost on Twitter, they also post regularly on Google Plus, which is rare, Facebook and YouTube , where they manage to have a mix of both funny and informative video's. The latter is important because one of F1's best personalities, and a Lotus Driver, Kimi Raikkonen is not on many social networking sites, so the YouTube videos really do bring out the best in Kimi's personality. They take advantage of Kimi's unique and interesting personality without making fun of it; they have really embraced him being part of the team. For example check out one of their most recent video's, a Christmas video from Kimi to the Enstone squad.
So we have established the Lotus F1 Team's dominance in the Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus catagories but they are also avid Facebook users. They predominantly post links to their website and other projects on this Social Media stream but they also let fans get involved with question posts and polls. They also love to give back to the fans, something that some teams fail to do. Lotus always run competitions, particularly during the build up to Christmas they had numerous competitions to give away unique prizes to lucky fans. I have also felt this kindness too, for participating in a project of theirs and giving my support they sent me a load of free Lotus F1 stuff! Very appreciative of their kindness!
Whilst Lotus top the table for Social Network usage, other teams also succeed with the technology. McLaren are great with the fans, with lots of competitions and benefits, particularly for "members" of their website and store. The McLaren Store also has social media accounts and is very good at interacting and giving back to their dedicated fans.
Something that a lot of teams do is keep fans interacting with hashtags on Twitter like Lotus, who had one every race weekend, and McLaren who do their #socialfriday. They are great ways for fans to get their questions answered and find out more about the team. Along with Lotus, McLaren also use other networks like Facebook and YouTube successfully. With the old team of Lewis and Jenson, they could really lean on their outgoing personalities to make some funny and informative posts and videos. Now they have Sergio it will be interesting to see how the implement him and his personality.
McLaren also pushed the boat out with their new series called "Tooned", a cartoon animation series by Framestore. It proved to be a huge success and brought a different look to F1, with humour and a attracting a younger audience. However I still enjoyed it and I'm 18, so it really was loved by everyone. It also gave them a great new spin on Merchandise too, perfect for the pre and post-Christmas rush.
I think those two teams are the best at using social networking. Marussia are also popular on the social networks, particularly their "Social Media Driver" competition where fans got the chance to shadow the people behind the phones on a race weekend. Caterham and Sauber are also good at fan interaction, as well as Force India, but in my view Lotus did the best job overall and are the most creative with how they use Social Media.
It is important that the person behind the teams account is both witty and creative, as well as being serious too. Formula 1 is a very serious sport so at times they have to be straightforward and matter of fact, but being creative using the tools they have is also important to get people involved and intrigued. It makes people check back, wondering if they have said something or missed something. For example, the Lotus team ran a "Mini Kimi" series where they posted images of a miniature Kimi Raikkonen figurine in the pit garages during the race weekends. It was a great way to create debate and get people smiling.
I remember doing a big poll in early 2012, asking the fans to vote for the team that they think used Social Media the best. The fans spoke and Lotus emerged as the clear winner, evidence that when you use it right it can be hugely rewarding and appreciated by the fans.
In contrast, some teams fail to bring that fan interaction that is so important. One such team is Toro Rosso, who is pretty much the worst F1 team on Twitter. They do not even have an official team account, only a "Spy" account like Red Bull. Whilst they do reach out to fans on the odd occasion, their tweeting is very team based and revolves heavily around Red Bull. Buck up Toro Rosso, give back to the fans! This is similar with HRT, who will not compete in F1 next season, and Mercedes who rarely communicated with the fans early on but got better as the 2012 season progressed.
Another team who fail to reach out to their fans are Ferrari. The person behind the phone fails to even tweet fans who have questions or show their support, which is ironic seeing as they have pretty much the largest fan base of all the F1 teams. However in compensation for the lack of fan interaction on the teams official account, their drivers are keen to use Twitter in the correct way. Alonso and Massa often tweet or contact the fans directly and have embraced the network, despite them both being relatively new to the game.
That creates a nice transition to the next topic when discussing Social Media in Formula 1, the drivers. I understand and respect how busy they are and that using social networking can be difficult sometimes, but they really do help bring fans closer to their lives and careers. This is shown by the popularity of some drivers too, three current racers have over 1 million followers on Twitter. It is a great and easy way for them to contact the fans, keep them up to date and thank them when they have the time.
I have been fortunate enough to have drivers respond to my tweets and I can say it really does brighten up your day. They are role models for lots of people and I think some drivers are very good at setting a good example on Social Media too, not swearing and being positive. I think that is important because there are plenty of younger F1 fans on Twitter and there are also those who need some etiquette lessons on the use of Social Networking, so it is important for them to show how it is done.
Who uses it the best? I think both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso use their social networking streams very well, with pictures of what they are doing, sharing their honest thoughts, feelings and opinions as well as tweeting thanks and showing their own support for the fans. I personally find it really interesting to see what a Formula 1 Driver does when he is not racing, what his thoughts are on certain events or his own race.
The importance of Social Media in the sport is also evident by the number of drivers who do not have accounts like Twitter. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are the only current F1 drivers not to be active on social network sites, so avoid any who claim they are!
Some drivers get it wrong though, this is mainly caused by someone else actually running their account. This is a slight pet peeve of mine because we want to see personal tweets that show their true opinions and voice what they want, not some PR person typing out tweets about links or sponsors. Yes that is an important part of being a Formula 1 Driver in its current guise, but we want it to be a personal message written from the heart of the driver.
It can also be very rewarding for drivers to see the support fans give to them, they often recognise this with a tweet, maybe a video on YouTube saying thank you. It is a great moral booster for everyone in Formula 1 if they see something nice.
However Social Media has a nasty bite too. It is something that I try and avoid and most importantly ignore, because there will always be people putting drivers, teams, fans or members of the F1 fraternity down and it has been made even easier by the access to Social Networking sites. It's so simple, just to type something in and send it within seconds. People feel the need to send rude and horrible things, not knowing what the consequences of that could be. Sometimes it can be a cruel thing, thankfully in F1 there are very few of these people. That is why there is a clear right and wrong way to go with it, but thankfully the majority of people get it spot on.
Social Media can also be used by fans of the sport in ways that produce similar success. There are tonnes of fantastic Social Networking accounts on Facebook, such as Die Hard F1 Fan, and Twitter, F1_Fans_Updates, Formula1_com, #F1chat and #F1Follow to name but a few. These accounts help bring fans together and use what they have in common to spark debates, share opinions and get to know each other. There are then the accounts where people show their support and opinion, try and promote their work or express their love for the sport.
I personally have found Social Media to be one of the best methods of gaining new friends who have similar interests to me, not many of my friends or family are F1 fans so it is nice to share a common interest with someone. It is also a great way to learn about new projects, it is how I have got to start writing for other websites and contribute to other things. One of its most important characteristics is the speed of Social Networking. I could be missing a practice session, but just one tap on my Twitter or Facebook App and I can see results, what they have to say, links to reports.
It is also incredibly rewarding to get a tweet from a team, driver or for me a journalist that you admire. Being able to have that connection with someone, even by just a tweet, and know that they have seen your message and wanted to reply creates a very warm and humbling feeling.
Obviously this post has been very Twitter and Facebook heavy due to the fact that I use them so regularly and see what the F1 world post, but YouTube, Google Plus and many other sites are used in F1 to help do the same thing. Connect people. It really is a great tool when used correctly.
Social Media and Formula 1 really do go hand in hand if used in the right way. It is not only a great source of news and information, but it also gives a better insight into the sport and most importantly unites fans by their love of the sport.
Obviously these are my views on the subject and my opinion on who does it best. I do not see every Tweet, Facebook post or Video the teams and drivers put up but I have come to the conclusions in the piece from the evidence I have seen.
Because of the technological age we now live in, this is only the start of the dominance of Social Media in F1. Let’s just watch it evolve, grow and expand into an even more prominent aspect of the F1 world, and appreciate what it does for us fans as well as the drivers and teams.