McLaren continues social media gains despite Honda relationship

The 2017 Formula One season saw the split of two brands after three painful years together. Re-entering Formula 1 at the start of 2015, Honda aimed to take McLaren back to championship winning ways. Just two and a half years later, and very little to celebrate, their marriage ended, with McLaren pairing up with Renault from 2018 onwards.

McLaren’s relationship with Honda has caused damage to their on-track reputation: their last podium visit was at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. But has the damage for both McLaren, and their lead driver Fernando Alonso, extended to off the track and onto social media?

The F1 Broadcasting Blog has analysed the number of social media followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that Formula 1’s teams and drivers have obtained going back to the middle of 2015, reporting on progress at checkpoints half way through the season and at the end of the season. Generally, you expect to see all metrics increase, as drivers become more popular throughout their career, growing their fan base. Similarly, fans may switch allegiances depending on which team their favourite driver heads to.

At this point, I hear you say “why are you not tracking engagement”, and maybe saying “the number of followers is useless if no one interacts with the brand.” Both points are equally valid. However, engagement data is not readily available in the public domain, and it would be extremely difficult to track and record the engagement data across three platforms, covering potentially thousands of different data points (platform, multiplied by 33 accounts, multiplied by individual statuses).

No two tweets generate the same amount of engagement. There is no “one size fits all” approach to presenting this data. For the moment, it is what we have, although I am open for other ways of analysing the data. I would argue that, as a measure of popularity, the number of followers one driver has compared to another is still an interesting statistic.

McLaren continues to rise, but at a slower rate of knots
In July 2015, McLaren reached 4.37 million followers across the three main social media platforms. Fast forward two and a half years, and that number has increased by 64 percent (or 2.79 million followers) to 7.16 million followers. In isolation, it feels like a good increase, and not one that suggests apathy from new fans engaging with the brand. Given the brand history of McLaren, it should be looking to grow at the same rate as its nearest rivals, such as Ferrari and Red Bull.

Interestingly, Ferrari’s number of followers over the same time has also increased by 64 percent, from 4.82 million followers to 7.90 million followers. So, despite having a much poorer period than their Italian neighbours, McLaren kept the pressure on, rising by an identical percentage from a similar baseline.

Social media - 2018-01 - F1 Teams

The problem for both Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes is the onslaught from Red Bull. The drinks company has increased their following by 113 percent, rising from 5.77 million followers in July 2015 to a whopping 12.27 million followers. Whilst still shy of Mercedes, their positive and fun social media strategy, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at the helm, has caused a surge in their following, bringing new fans to their outlets. As noted during the Summer break, Mercedes’ social media growth has slowed in the past year.

For allegedly such an important brand to Formula 1, Red Bull is now streets ahead of Ferrari in the social media game. And, to their credit, McLaren’s following has continued to rise despite their poor on-track performance. One of the drawbacks with this data is that we do not know the overlap of followers between teams. How many of Red Bull’s new followers are new Formula 1 social media followers? If the answer happened to be ‘the majority’, from a Liberty Media perspective, this is a group of people that they should be interested in tailoring their output to.

Hamilton wipes social media history as Raikkonen joins the fray
Fernando Alonso’s social media profile has also risen, but to a slower degree. Comparing Alonso’s performance across social media with other leading drivers on social media is difficult as there are only four other drivers who were in a similar situation in July 2015. They are Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

Unsurprisingly, Ricciardo’s and Verstappen’s following has surged and both have increased in larger share and volume than Alonso. Alonso’s performance flat lined in the second half of 2017, but the gulf between him and the remainder of the field means that his social media position is not under threat. Of course, Hamilton is still comfortably out in front. For the moment…

Social media - 2018-01 - F1 Drivers

Following the gathering of the statistics behind this post, things went south for Hamilton, and his social media profile has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. As a result, the four-time Drivers’ Champion has wiped his complete Instagram account, and his Twitter account dating back to October 2013. If any of them disappear completely, his large profile of over 15 million profiles will be gone in a flash, and places a major dent in Formula 1’s social media presence.

We live in a bizarre world now where Kimi Raikkonen has more Instagram posts than Hamilton. No, that is not a misprint. Yes, the Finnish driver has joined Instagram, already amassing over 300,000 followers in a week, ahead of the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen.

Outside of Hamilton, the Red Bull drivers and Perez, no one else stood out in the second half of 2017, in what was a quiet end to the social media year. The one team further down the field that impressed was Toro Rosso, who are on course to overtake Force India, a surprising development considering Toro Rosso was the lowest ranked team on social media just two years ago. Toro Rosso’s large increase is likely due to their driver rotations this year, bringing in a wider variety of fans as a result to their social media pages.

A long way to go for F1, and motor racing as a whole
Formula 1’s official social media pages have shown strong growth across 2017. Between March and November, their profiles grew by 39 percent, reaching 11.04 million followers, overtaking NASCAR during 2017. However, Formula 1 remains some way behind MotoGP overall, thanks to a significant gulf in following on Facebook, and is unlikely to overtake MotoGP for many years.

Social media - 2018-01 - Series

Liberty Media themselves have touted Formula 1’s growth on the official F1 website. Whilst F1 has indeed grown proportionally compared to other brands, their reach remains far, far lower. La Liga, which according to F1 has grown just under 30 percent year-on-year, has 34 million followers on Facebook, dwarfing anything motor sport has to offer.

The F1 website also points out Formula E’s growth on social media, which is amusing considering how it is not in the same category as any of the other major brands listed. IndyCar’s PR team may be mystified at how they have not made the list considering it has a far greater social media presence than Formula E and grew their number of followers by 33 percent between March and November.

Proportionally speaking, F1’s following is spread equally between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, something Liberty needs to work on changing as Facebook is a far bigger platform than Twitter and Instagram. Different content works for different audiences across the three platforms, and that is something F1 needs to explore further in 2018 if it is to unlock the potential that Facebook presents.

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Full-length classic F1 action heading to YouTube

For the first time ever, Formula 1 will upload a classic race to YouTube in full, in Liberty Media’s latest move to bolster the series’ social media presence.

To mark the nineteenth and final Malaysian Grand Prix, fans are being asked via the official Formula 1 website for their favourite Sepang race. Voting is open on both the website and Twitter, with 2001, 2003 and 2012 the three choices.

In a sign that Formula One Management (FOM) are testing the waters at this stage, a caveat is that the classic race will only be available for fans to watch for 19 days. Formula 1 follows in the footsteps of the IndyCar Series and MotoGP who have uploaded full-length races to social media for several years.

For UK fans, it is the first time that full-length races have appeared legally on a platform such as YouTube. From 2009 to 2011, the BBC uploaded a selection of their ‘Grand Prix’ highlights shows from 1982 to 1996 onto their website, again based on fan voting, with shorter edits for ITV races from 1997 onwards.

Since 2013, Sky Sports F1 have aired classic races during the season primarily in a 21:00 time slot, but the last classic race ‘new’ to the channel aired two years ago, with the same races on rotation since. Races after 1996 are covered in full, with the races from the original BBC era covered in highlights form. Of course, whilst the classic races help fill a lot of air-time for the channel, the audience for races behind a pay wall in that timeslot are minuscule.

There are two points of interest with the upload, depending on the chosen race: the feed and commentary used. For 2003 and 2012, the answer is simple, the UK commentary with the World Feed. In the case of the former, James Allen and Martin Brundle will be the voices fans hear, with David Croft and Brundle expected for the latter.

However, in 2001, FOM had two feeds: the F1 Digital feed and the local World Feed, which most viewers saw. In terms of commentary, there are three options: the ITV commentary with Murray Walker and Martin Brundle, a re-dubbed version of the race, or just the raw sounds. I hope we hear the ITV commentary, but that may be complicated if FOM want to use the F1 Digital feed, as the pictures will not match the commentary. Either FOM could splice the pictures together to create a hybrid feed, or re-dub the commentary.

From a strategy perspective, uploading a complete classic race to YouTube is a significant step from Liberty Media, as they continue to exploit Formula 1 on social media. There is no doubt that FOM will be chewing over the YouTube numbers as demand (or lack thereof) will dictate whether we see more of this content. Broadcasters’ such as Sky will have approved the latest change from FOM.

If numbers are strong, but those viewers are on average watching an hour of the race, truncated versions may appear in the future. It also helps Liberty plan their future over-the-top platform. Is there genuine demand for full classic races, or is the demand exaggerated in certain quarters? The viewing figures are key for FOM in many respects.

Formula 1 conducts successful live 360º video trial
Elsewhere, on the Formula 1 spectrum, a successful live 360º video experience was conducted during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.

Historically for sport, the latency between 360º video and the television feed has been greater than 30 seconds. However, the prototype from Tata Communications and FOM during Singapore has reduced the latency to zero, with the 360º pictures completely in sync with the other feeds, something that the official F1 website is promoting as a world first in any sport.

Two 360-degree cameras were present during the race weekend, one in the paddock and one situated track side. The new development could allow fans to follow the action live in the future via 360º feeds on an over-the-top platform.

“In a sport like F1 where every millisecond matters, there are huge opportunities to empower fans to take control of key Grand Prix moments and create their unique, personalised race experiences through the powerful combination of live TV and 360º video,” said John Morrison, Chief Technical Officer, Formula 1.

“We want to unleash the full potential the F1 fan experience through the latest digital technologies,” said Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations, Formula 1. “Through this proof of concept, we’ve explored how live 360º video, and next VR, could transport fans from across the globe to the middle of the thrilling world of F1 and enable them to immerse themselves in each Grand Prix like never before.”

Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track

The direction from Liberty Media, through Formula One Management, to pour resources into Formula 1’s official social media platforms appears to be paying off, figures for the first half of 2017 show, with Formula 1 the fastest growing motor racing series.

Liberty Media helps F1 to significant growth…
This site has tracked the cumulative number of followers for the likes of F1, MotoGP and the IndyCar Series across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram since March. The results for Formula 1 are impressive, with a 20 percent boost in the cumulative number, going from 7.9 million followers in March to 9.6 million followers at the end of July, racing past NASCAR. Assuming the rate of trajectory continues, I would expect F1 to reach 12 million followers across the three platforms by the end of the season.

At the foot of the table, Formula Two and GP3 continue to struggle, below the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. As I mentioned briefly last December, Liberty needs to work hard to help promote Formula Two, after all it should feature the next generation of Formula 1 stars, such as Charles Leclerc. A few video highlights on Facebook and Twitter would significantly help the series’ reach, as would cross-promotion with the F1 channels. Instead, Formula Two and GP3 hides their video highlights away exclusively on their website. I suspect Liberty needs more resources dedicated both of their social media channels. It is absurd for example that Formula Two still does not have an active YouTube channel.

Social media - August 2017 - motor sport series comparison
Comparing the leading motor sport series on social media, showing their cumulative follower growth between March and July 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has helped IndyCar’s standing on social media, jumping from 860,000 followers to 1.06 million followers, a percentage rise higher than F1’s outlined above. The social media strategy around #AlonsoRunsIndy worked, although I suspect any long-term impact for IndyCar will be minimal, unless he returns next year! Further back, the electric Formula E series gained around 60,000 followers from March to July, a jump of 13.9 percent (note: figure recorded prior to the season finale). Formula E is rising at a similar rate to the World Endurance Championship, which is not a great statistic considering the interest from manufactures in the former. Certainly, Formula E’s social media standing is reflective of their viewing figures worldwide in my opinion.

The small rise for Roborace is because of the removal of ‘bot’ followers from their various platforms, meaning that they only see a jump of around 2,000 followers. As mentioned before, I am highly suspect of Roborace’s numbers, I would be unsurprised if the real number was a quarter, or even a tenth, of what the statistics suggest.

…but Mercedes’ F1 growth stagnates…
The loss of Nico Rosberg has hurt Mercedes’ social media portfolio, with Red Bull Racing the major winners. The drinks company has seen growth for the past two years, which has continued in the first half of 2017, their platforms (excluding drivers) rising from 8.95 million followers last December to 11.36 million cumulative followers, a substantial rise of 26.9 percent. In comparison, Mercedes following increased from 13.99 million followers to 14.57 million, a smaller jump of just 4.2 percent. Their Facebook following has stalled at around 11 million followers for the past year and a half, suggesting that it may have peaked in that department.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 team increase
Comparing Formula 1’s ten teams on social media, looking at their cumulative followers and growth between December 2016 and August 2017.

Whilst Liberty Media’s aggressive social media helped the official F1 channels, the loss of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg hurt the series as Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll replaced them once the dominos fell into place. Rosberg and Button were Formula 1’s third and fourth biggest stars on social media, behind Lewis Hamilton and Alonso. The pair leave behind a significant gap, with Daniel Ricciardo now F1’s third star on social media, currently half of Alonso’s following and less than a quarter of Hamilton’s combined number.

Moreover, Hamilton and Alonso are still recording the biggest growths on social media with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2017, Hamilton acquired 1.73 million new followers, with Ricciardo acquiring 683,000 new followers. The loss of Rosberg, who was Formula 1’s first new champion since 2010, is extremely apparent when you look at the numbers. It continues to be the case that neither Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen have a social media presence, both would likely fill that gap in another world.

…as Ricciardo becomes the third top dog
The loss of Rosberg and Button may explain why audience figures have struggled to rise, for example in the UK, where Button would have had a strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully, this is a short-term pain, long-term gain situation, whereby Ricciardo and Verstappen fill the gap left behind in the years to come, assuming both drivers have the equipment underneath them to deliver the results on the circuit. F1 on the list below does skew older age wise than MotoGP, which is a major issue moving forward.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 vs MotoGP
Comparing how Formula 1’s and MotoGP’s top drivers line-up against each other on social media.

The problem illustrated above will be one that MotoGP faces when Valentino Rossi retires, although you could easily see Rossi going another three to five years. Whilst Rossi is firmly top dog on social media, the championship is in a situation where there are other stars on the track building their reputation. MotoGP’s rider numbers are generally lower than Formula 1, as one might expect. From an age perspective, Marc Marquez, Max Verstappen and Maverick Vinales are the stars with potential in the next ten years in the new media platforms.

It will be fascinating to track the trajectories in both MotoGP and F1 as the baton moves from Rossi and Hamilton respectively. Of course, this assumes that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still around. Instagram is the platform continuing to surge, with it set to overtake Twitter in terms of F1 team and driver influence within the next six months to a year, despite only having a quarter of the F1 following two years ago.

“Post Bernie” F1 evolution begins with extra flexibility for testing

Formula 1’s teams and drivers have been given extra flexibility for testing, with Formula One Management (FOM), now under the ownership of Liberty Media, giving them the freedom to upload short videos to social media. The news was first announced through Motorsport Network’s portfolio of websites.

The new guidelines allow teams and drivers to film footage from the confines of the paddock and pit lane, and then upload it to social media. A variety of content has been uploaded within the past few days. Red Bull have produced multiple Facebook Live sessions with Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo from the paddock, something that was impossible under the previous regime.

Other teams, such as Mercedes, have recorded footage from pit lane of cars going at full speed down the start finish straight. The possibilities this opens up for teams, from a marketing perspective are endless with drivers now able to directly interact and record video for their fans straight from the circuit. The only team that is stuck in “the Bernie era” is Ferrari, who have yet to upload any video content from the circuit to social media.

FOM themselves have been doing new things. A lot of quick bite-sized video clips have been uploaded to social media. The key moments that were uploaded included a high-speed spin from Valtteri Bottas, caught from an exterior camera, and a camera looking back from Jolyon Palmer’s Renault capturing a spin at turn three. However, it also looks like that some broadcasters, such as Canal in Latin America, are airing footage that has not been uploaded to social media, such as on-board footage from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

By uploading these to social media, it unlocks a new audience, and future revenue stream. An audience that may have never watched Formula 1 may see this footage for the first time on social media, where videos can go ‘viral’, and hook them onto the sport, converting them to a fan. The idea of sharing new on-board footage on social media, let alone from testing, was unheard of just six months ago! It is a new world for the sport which is quite rightly being exploited.

With that in mind, it is mildly frustrating to see that Sky in the UK, despite being a pay TV broadcaster, is not taking advantage of FOM’s relaxations. The channel did not air Bottas’ spin during their round-up in Tuesday night’s broadcast, for example. One of my pet annoyances is to see five seconds of car footage in a 90-second feature. FOM’s current approach, with a full-round up at the end of each day narrated by Holly Samos, is geared towards the right audience. Whether Sky’s approach to testing is correct, when you compare it to that of other pay TV broadcasters, could be debated.

Overall, whilst FOM’s coverage of testing is clearly not on the scale of MotoGP or IndyCar, it is a natural step in the right direction for Formula 1. You could argue that we have lost content with no round-ups throughout the day, but the majority of fans are watching testing videos for the large part to see the cars in action, not to see talking heads.

Mercedes continue to lead Formula 1’s social media landscape

With another championship battle going down to the wire between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, it is no surprise that Mercedes continued to benefit massively on social media during 2016, analysis of the leading three social media websites show.

Hamilton is the second biggest motor sport star currently
Across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Lewis Hamilton is the second biggest motor sport star out there currently. With a combined audience of 11.62 million followers, Hamilton is comfortably ahead of his nearest rival Fernando Alonso, who reaches 5.37 million accounts. In front of both Hamilton and Alonso is the MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi, who reaches 21.53 million accounts. Rossi dwarfs Hamilton’s and Alonso’s numbers on Facebook, with 13.10 million accounts ‘liking’ Rossi through that service.

Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo are both ahead of Alonso overall, with a reach of 7.76 million and 6.80 million accounts respectively. From a social media point of view, MotoGP has more superstars than Formula 1 currently and with neither Rossi, Marquez or Lorenzo retiring any time soon, that picture looks set to continue. It is one thing that Formula 1 has struggled to do: build superstars on social media. The reason for that is MotoGP’s large audience of Facebook, which Formula 1 is only starting to replicate (see below).

> September 2016: In conversation with Ian Wheeler (part one; part two)

Away from the MotoGP and Formula 1 comparisons, Nico Rosberg bows out with 5.26 million combined followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Losing three of the five biggest names on social media in 2017 will hurt Formula 1. Jenson Button in fourth can reach out to 4.17 million combined followers, whereas Sergio Perez who sits in seventh reaches out to 2.12 million combined accounts. That’s a sizeable difference. It takes time to build up the younger stars which is why the older stars are still up top. But that is where FOM and Liberty Media come into play by working with the teams, in the same way Dorna did with MotoGP’s outfits to build up a strong social media presence.

Red Bull utilise the power of Facebook Live whilst Mercedes use Rosberg’s exit to generate hits
Facebook Live is becoming increasingly important to reach out to new audiences, something Red Bull have exploited in the latter half of the season. More and more teams are using these tools, but clearly Red Bull are doing something right in this space as their combined audience jumped by almost a million accounts between August and December, jumping from 8.08 million to 8.95 million, an increase of 10.9 percent. Red Bull’s Facebook videos have a lot more views and interaction than Mercedes despite having a lot less ‘likes’. No other team can boast that activity aside from Mercedes, and it is clear fans are liking the antics of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen… for now.

social-media-december-2016-f1
Four of the leading ten drivers from 2016 will not be in Formula 1 next season, a big loss for Formula 1’s social media profile.

Nico Rosberg’s retirement sent shock waves across social media, with the BBC reporting over two million unique hits for its article on the subject. Whilst the news itself generated attention that Formula 1 would never usually see in the off-season, Mercedes capitalised on it brilliantly from a social media standpoint. A spoof advert appeared in AUTOSPORT Magazine, which in turn led to several ex-drivers and media personalities ‘applying’ for the role via Twitter!

It is difficult to stand out from the social media crowd without a coherent social media strategy. You get the impression that Formula 1 is really starting to get the handle of what content works on social media and what doesn’t. When looking into greater detail, it’s interesting to note how the follower profile differ between MotoGP’s leading riders and Formula 1’s leading drivers. The overriding conclusion is that MotoGP skews firmly towards Facebook with over 60 percent of its social media audience coming from that platform. In comparison, Formula 1’s social media is much more ‘thinly’ spread out between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

social-media-december-2016-motogp-vs-f1
How MotoGP’s leading riders and Formula 1’s leading riders perform across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: a stark difference depending on the platform.

Are casual fans more likely to ‘like’ superstars on Facebook and monitor their activity there, rather than create a Twitter account and follow them via that medium? As previously mentioned on this site, the grower in this space at the moment is Instagram, which is eating slowly into Facebook’s market share where Formula 1 is concerned having gone from a combined following of 8.57 million accounts in December 2015 to 19.13 million accounts in December 2016 (all teams, drivers and official F1 included).

MotoGP has the largest presence overall
The official Formula 1 accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have a combined audience of 7.34 million, up 14.4 percent from August and up a massive 211.5 percent on December 2015. This time last year, their combined following was just 2.36 million, although the large increase is due to their Facebook migration back in March. Nevertheless, the numbers should help Formula One Management (FOM) see how important social media is to the Formula 1 brand. In Abu Dhabi, FOM did their first #F1Live broadcast on Facebook, which was a success story (more on this in the next few days).

However, the official MotoGP accounts across social media are followed by a combined audience of 17.28 million people, thanks to a large Facebook following, as noted above with Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez. Behind MotoGP is NASCAR, which is helped by a strong Twitter profile. MotoGP, NASCAR and Formula 1 are the ‘big’ three motor sport series and this translates across to social media.

social-media-december-2016-series-by-series
A comparison of the leading motor sport series across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

At the other end of the spectrum, a combined audience of just 433,000 people follow the official Formula E channels, which puts it in line with the World Endurance Championship and the British Superbike Championship. The other point to note down the latter end of the table is the very small profile for both GP2 and GP3, showing why Liberty Media desperately need to integrate both series’ into Formula 1’s overall offering as they are firmly treated at the moment as a ‘bit on the side’.

Lastly, Roborace. A combined audience across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram of 2.24 million having never turned a wheel in anger during a real race. Fake followers? I think so…