Social Media and Formula 1: When Opportunity beats Strategy

There is an increasingly common misconception about ‘social media’. It is a phenomenon that is still rather loosely interpreted and with sufficient uncertainty surrounding its true meaning to warrant the need by some firms to segregate it into a separate box within its annual marketing and PR plans.

This has led to an influx in recent years of specialist digital PR firms, experts and social media strategists, all of whom are – quite legitimately – finding new business with brands or companies who are not truly au fait with all that social media entails. But sometimes even the most expert of experts cannot fully capitalise on the various social media opportunities that arise hour by hour, day by day.

In Formula 1 circles, there has been a notable increase in the use of Twitter as a communications platform this year, which has been a huge step forward in bringing Formula 1 fans closer to the action on track and behind the scenes. This revolution has been sparked by the need for journalists to satiate the immense hunger of the F1 fanbase who are always after the next morsel by laying claim to the next big story or the most insightful backstage feature.

It has also been helped in no small part by the openness of the new teams and their drivers who have embraced social media unreservedly. While the new teams have adopted social media as their communications tool of choice, it is unlikely that they have a specific strategy on how it should or should not be used. And that is no bad thing. In my own experience of social media, the moment you start to stifle it is the moment you start to go wrong. With anything as open and engaging as, say, Twitter, there comes an unwritten invitation for the public to criticise, to deride and to attack the brand, but in equal measure there is the opportunity to praise, commend and – most importantly – recommend.  Ah, yes, the power of an endorsement.

An excellent example of an organic social media success story in recent weeks was with the tongue-in-cheek GrandPrixDiary.com and German race driver Timo Glock. Below is a brief background to the story and how Glock’s team Virgin Racing used an out-of-the-blue social media opportunity to bolster its own reputation online. GrandPrixDiary looks at the world of F1 from a very sarcastic viewpoint. Its founder has made no qualms about the site’s sincerity, but instead offers a light-hearted and comical look at Formula 1.

When Virgin Racing driver Timo Glock started to use Twitter, there was an overwhelming culinary feel to his content. From a quick coffee to lunch in the motorhome to dinner in a restaurant, Timo would always tweet a photo. GrandPrixDiary pounced on the subject and quickly developed a column called Ready, Steady, Glock! (for those not familiar with the TV show Ready, Steady, Cook! its premise was to challenge chefs to cook a meal from an unknown bag of ingredients in under 20 minutes).

The column reproduced Timo’s Twitter images and presented them as if from his own German recipe book. Cue meals such as ‘Pizza mit der ham und mushrooms und olives’ to ‘Double chocolate cake mit Ice Cream’. After the Turkish GP, GrandPrixDiary challenged Timo (via Twitter) to participate in F1’s first ever online cookery show, Ready Steady Glock, offering Twitter followers the chance to submit recipes for Timo and his girlfriend Isabella to cook during the weekend.

Succumbing to a barrage of online pressure, Timo agreed. In fact from here on in, it was Timo’s own enthusiasm for the challenge that really propelled it forwards. The winning recipe was selected and announced on Twitter through the @grandprixdiary page, as well as through @realtimoglock, with suitable fanfare, and thus the shopping trip was set.

The winning entry, submitted by Kathryn Bird, was Marinated Chicken with Virgin Olive Oil followed by Timo’s Truffle Chocolate Puddings. Timo promised to tweet photos of the shopping trip as well as images from the cooking challenge itself, which he duly did. Credit also to @VirginRacing who recognised the growing stature of this online competition and agreed to supply a prize to the competition winner. The team has agreed to cook the winning recipe in its hospitality area for team members and guests at the weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.

As Rob Sinfield of GrandPrixDiary.com explains: “Ready, Steady, Glock! would not have happened were it not for a combination of Virgin’s laid back style and Timo Glock’s now obvious sense of humour. We never set out to be cruel but we do like to prick the precious F1 bubble. So, referring to Glock as ‘the 5th best German in F1’ and then writing the cookery column in an ‘Allo ‘Allo style could have easily offended him but once he got into the idea it was he that drove it. The photo diary of the day is hilarious, he even decorated the fridge.

Once Virgin saw the fans response they too embraced it. The feedback I have had about Glock has been immense; he has scored a hit here. Now he has turned the tables, organising his own competition via Facebook where I have to cook a meal of HIS choosing with the winning recipe provider getting the cap he wears at the Canadian Grand Prix. A whole lot of fun has been had by all.

F1 must encourage this sort of participation with its fan base.” The outcome has been a hit for all concerned: – The GrandPrixDiary site has a heightened profile with endorsement from Timo Glock and Virgin Racing – Timo Glock has engaged directly with a website who were portraying him in a comical light and turned potentially negative comments into a massive positive – Virgin Racing has used an impromptu social media competition between one of its drivers and a Formula 1 fanbase to derive positives for its team – Formula 1 fans have been able to gain a closer connection to both team and driver via a social media portal and to have a bit of a laugh along the way.

So it doesn’t always need a carefully honed social media strategy to enhance a brand’s reputation online. Sometimes, it just takes a sense of humour and a willingness to engage socially.

About author

Chris Hughes
Chris Hughes 15 posts

Chris Hughes is Director of Communications at Sine Qua Non (SQN), a marketing and communications agency with a passion for sport and technology. @chrishughespr @techandsport

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