At last, Formula 1 seems to be waking up to the immense possibilities that social media offers. With new management from a media background, F1 is finally starting to realise the capabilities of reaching new audiences through social media.
We saw glimpses of new freedom in the first test last week when all the teams were informed that they were allowed to upload video clips from the pit lane and paddock to their social media platforms. Most of the teams were straight on the ball with this, posting regular clips of cars emerging from the garages, and getting shots of them whizzing down the pit straight.
Lewis Hamilton even hosted an Instagram Live session directly from the cockpit of his new Mercedes W08 Hybrid, while the mechanics were working on his car between runs. With an audience of 3.9 million followers, unsurprisingly his live video was incredibly popular, with up to 10,000 people watching at certain points. There wasn’t any talking, just pure visuals, but that is exactly the sort of content die-hard F1 fans want to see. This is access like never before.
While this is brilliant progress, this is the exact sort of thing that should have been happening 5 or even 7 years ago when social media was starting to really become big for businesses. The results are clear to see when you compare F1 to the NFL. F1 only joined Twitter 2 years ago, and they have 2.6 million followers. Meanwhile, the NFL has 21.3 million followers, mainly because they joined back in 2007. It took F1 a good 7 or 8 years to finally realise that they’re missing out on a huge audience, and they’ve suffered because of it, with rapidly declining viewing figures in the last decade. Perhaps with more social media presence that wouldn’t have been the case.
Fortunately the new owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media, and its new CEO, Chase Carey, have realised this, and F1’s social media platforms have been far better so far this year. There were multiple occasions last year where Lewis Hamilton uploaded short 10 second clips to Snapchat, but was asked by FOM and the FIA to remove them. The reason for this is because of Bernie Ecclestone’s lucrative TV deals. He didn’t want the drivers to be uploading video, accessible to everyone for free, when companies such as Sky have paid millions of pounds for exclusive rights.
Yet that is exactly where Bernie Ecclestone went wrong. He was turning down free publicity of the sport from one of the most internationally famous sportsmen on the planet. Thank goodness Liberty Media and Chase Carey are now turning this archaic mindset around and allowing this.
The best use of the new social media freedom came earlier today with a Facebook Live session from the Barcelona testing paddock. The ever fantastic Will Buxton took the reins for this 17 minute long video, which was essentially just a wander down the paddock, having the occasional chat with drivers and team members when he encountered them. It was a very similar concept to Ted’s Notebook on Sky Sports F1 and Will Buxton’s Paddock Pass on NBCSN, both hugely popular with the fans.
Part of the reason why these programmes are so successful in my view, is because you can tell Will and Ted are both genuine fans of the sport, and you can tell how pleased they are to be there and what a pleasure it is for them. With so many TV pundits being former drivers you sometimes don’t get that feeling, yet with Will and Ted you really do. Both the and Paddock Pass and Notebook are mainly Will and Ted having a natter about the sport, being very free in terms of what they talk about. There’s no fancy camera work, no video tapes, it’s just a good old chat. The fans love it.
And that is why I think F1’s Facebook Live video was so successful. Just 2 hours after finishing their broadcast and it’s already received over 100,000 views. That will only increase throughout the day. Again, all this content just means more exposure for the sport, you can’t go wrong!
I hope F1 does more Facebook Live videos for the remaining 3 days of the final test, and it would be brilliant to see a different person doing it each time. That’s part of the beauty of the official F1 social media channels, as they can pick out loads of people from various broadcasters around the world. We’ve already seen this through the podium interviews, with the duty of the question master often going to a TV host, be it from the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Italy or elsewhere.
It is so refreshing to see such good use of social media at last, and I can only hope it will continue as the season progresses. F1 is finally coming to the 21st century.