When it comes to making the most of social media to get its message across, the world’s most technologically advanced sport is near the back of the grid.
The 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix will not be remembered for being a captivating race, as the Mercedes pair drove off into the distance to fight between themselves while other drivers – Lewis Hamilton included – complained that they couldn’t overtake the cars in front.
It will, however, be remembered for one particular moment in qualifying courtesy of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Thanks to yet another engine failure, Alonso’s McLaren-Honda came to a smoky halt on track during the first qualifying period which forced the Spaniard to vacate the cockpit. Instead of hopping on a bike back to the pits, Alonso walked to the side of the circuit, pulled up one of the Marshalls deck chairs and relaxed his feet up on his helmet.
Although Alonso was just making light of another Honda related issue which has plagued his return to McLaren, it was Formula 1 fans who, through social media, instigated a worldwide trend of the Brazilian Grand Prix by creating the hashtag #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe.
When used properly, a hashtag allows anyone using a social media platform (whether it be Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) to join in a conversation with other users who are also watching the same event. Each Grand Prix has its own hashtag, just like each football match, UFC fight or even reality T.V shows. To put it simply, if I wanted to make a post or tweet about how dull exciting the Brazilian Grand Prix was, I would say: “Wow, what an excellent race between Rosberg and Hamilton, really glad they’re able to choose their own strategy! #BrazilianGP”. By adding #BrazilianGP to my tweet, not only my followers, but everyone else searching through tweets about the race would see what I have said, expanding my reach to a larger audience.
#PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe was started by a Twitter user by the name of @_McMike_, who photoshopped the still image of Alonso sitting by the track enjoying the sun, away from the Grand Prix and on to a beach. Within minutes the rest of internet, accompanied with Photoshop, jumped on board and before we knew it we were seeing Alonso everywhere. On the moon, at a WEC race, on a bench next to Forrest Gump, at the Last Supper, Twitter exploded with doctored images of Alonso. Over 16,000 posts on Twitter were recorded with 12,000 of those posted on the Saturday alone, reaching an online audience of an estimated 7 million. And this doesn’t take into account Formula 1 fans who joined in the fun on Facebook or Instagram, as both social media platforms – especially Facebook – are predominantly private.
While the numbers may seem impressive initially, one must keep in mind that Twitter has over 307 million active monthly users, and reaching just seven million during a worldwide sporting event puts a slight dent in achievements of the “places Alonso would rather be” trend. This is a direct result of Bernie Ecclestone’s well-known reluctance against social media, which he has repeatedly shrugged off because to push for a younger fan base would be a “waste” since they “don’t know what they want” and “have no money”.
Never mind the fact young racing fans are downloading (and paying for) the official F1 app for their tablets and smartphones, are live tweeting during races, sharing photos through their Instagram and checking-in to a race event that they’ve bought tickets to on Facebook. They still can’t afford a Rolex or have enough money to worry about making the change to start banking with UBS. This makes them, in the eyes of Bernie, unmarketable.
If Bernie ever doubted the power social media holds over modern day society, he obviously slept through, or paid no attention to last year’s World Cup. The semi-final between Brazil and Germany highlights the impact and reach Twitter alone holds. The match was always destined to trend globally as two heavyweights of Football were about to clash on Brazil’s home soil, but no one would have predicted what was to happen next. Germany demolished and humiliated the national Brazilian Football team defeating them 7-1, with Germany scoring four goals within four minutes of playing time. Twitter went into meltdown, as the record for the most tweets sent during a single sporting match was shattered by over 10 million tweets. The game was tweeted over 35.6 million times, hitting a peak of approximately 580,000 tweets per minute, which broke another record set during Miley Cyrus’ notorious performance at the VMAs. Delve even further into the statistics, and tweets were being sent at a rate of 9,667 tweets per second after the 29th minute of the match. During the World Cup final, the record was broken again once Germany secured victory, as the tweets per minute rose to 618,725.
Formula 1 has now started to become more active through social media since the 2014 season, where they posted photos during sessions as well as links to driver quotes via their Twitter. The sport has also started to add videos to its YouTube channel as of March 2015, which mostly consist of highlights from previous Grand Prix. Unfortunately it’s a case of too little too late, as Formula 1 now has a monumental challenge ahead of itself in gathering the audience numbers other major sporting organisations already enjoy. A quick comparison of Formula 1 and MotoGP YouTube accounts sees MotoGP comfortably ahead with 853,000 subscribers to Formula 1’s 114,000 in their eight years’ operating on YouTube.
It gets worse for Formula 1 when you compare their Twitter account to other motorsport social media accounts. Formula 1 currently has 1.7M followers; match that to MotoGP’s mighty 10M followers on Facebook and you start to get an idea how far Formula 1 has fallen behind – NASCAR: 4.5M, WRC: 2M, V8 Supercars: 685,000, DTM: 390,000 and the WEC: 179,000. The numbers grow when you expand to other sporting codes, for example, in the English Premier League [EPL] Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea carry over 6 million followers. Yes, Football is known as “The World Game”, but the EPL has many leagues to compete with, like La Liga in Spain where FC Barcelona enjoy a whopping 16.3M followers.
Being the pinnacle of motorsport and technology where only the best drivers race each other, Formula 1 should be selling itself to the world through the internet. Hitting all corners of the globe through free advertising of its brand, uploading more videos, sharing classic moments in history in more detail, presenting “guide to” videos for anyone interested in following the complicated sport. All of these options are free and easy to do, so it’s no justification to hide behind the excuse of “I’m too old fashioned” when a multi-billion dollar sport can’t get something as simple as social media right.
Originally published in GP+ issue 181