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Renee Ballard

Formula One finally comes to the social media party

Bernie Ecclestone is renowned social media non-believer. In 2014, when asked about social media and Formula One, he responded:

“I think the change that is currently taking place is very short-lived, as these social media people are starting to think it is not as good as they thought.”
(Autosport – Jonathan Noble)

When I read that, it reminded me of the years I worked in the corporate sector with a bunch of older men who continuously denounced social media and would happily share with anyone who would listen that it was a fad, it had no place in business and we don’t need it.

Turns out it’s not a fad, it’s here to stay and it is very helpful for business!

I’m in Monaco this weekend for the Grand Prix (I am so name-dropping!) and I’m watching the sport go from the tight control of Bernie Ecclestone to the new social world order of Liberty Media.

In the months since the sport changed hands, I can see Liberty are encouraging its softer side and are trying to put faces and personalities in front of the sport. This is the bit I think Ecclestone overlooked, the human side to motor racing and how important social media is as a carrier for that.

I don’t think Ecclestone wasn’t anti-social media so much as he didn’t like that he couldn’t easily monetise it when it came to F1. But this is where I think he was missing the point, social media fits within a bigger marketing strategy, it’s not a pay per view channel.

A couple of weeks ago at the Barcelona Grand Prix, six-year-old Thomas Danel was seen crying in the grandstand when his favourite driver Kimi Raikkonen crashed out and had to retire in the first lap. Liberty tracked down the family in the grandstand and invited them into the Ferrari pits to meet Raikkonen and hang out in the paddock area. This act speaks volumes about the new approach to community engagement F1 is taking.

I doubt Ecclestone would have ever done what Liberty did here, but I can see why he wouldn’t have seen the value.

If you want to show the more human side to motor racing, then you need to have the channels ready for it to go out on. But if you don’t believe the channels are worth investing in, then any good deed you try to promote about the sport will go largely unnoticed.

Bringing Thomas Danel and his family into the F1 paddock generated more buzz, press coverage and social media engagement than the rest of the Barcelona race combined. A little bit of human-ness goes a long way in a sport that was ruled with a mechanical fist.

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