Tom Spencer, Owner of Apex Racing PR, discusses the common mistake that many teams are making with their fan engagement efforts and the value that they can unlock by adopting a new approach.
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Motorsport has, generally, been slow to embrace fan engagement, but in recent years there has been a renewed focus from marketing and PR departments to reach out to supporters in new ways.
Such efforts have been in part to address declining audiences on TV and at race events, while a changing of the guard has also seen the teams being eager to unlock the commercial potential of their fan base.
Yet many teams and race series continue to make the same simple mistake on social media, which limits their potential for standing out from the crowd and stymies potential revenue stream.
What is the common error? Avoiding direct, two-way conversation with fans.
Engaging Generation C
Forget millennials, Generation C is the target audience that motorsport wants to appeal to. These are connected consumers who are both content creators and content curators.
Digital Media is their primary point of consumption, with TV, print and radio all an afterthought. They move seamlessly from laptop to mobile device and are constantly connected and craving fresh, new content. Most importantly, however, they use social media as a tool for participation, not passive consumption.
The team received photos of the entire pre-school class watching every Formula E race, having converted them to commitment followers and future consumers.
While many teams still follow the aged model of proscribing social media content to their audience (e.g. “Read about the history of our team”), Generation C users want to be given the opportunity to show their creativity to the world. For example, a contest to illustrate the team’s history with fan-made video content.
By engaging creatives from among the fan base, teams directly appeal to like-minded supporters, who will be eager to showcase their own talents and share those of their friends.
Such commitment and dedication from fans require rewards. To many, this will still mean the offer of an inexpensive team cap or driver autograph card, but there is a greater prize to be won by fans – having their content shared by a team.
A 2015 survey by Crowd DNA found that 74% of music fans on Twitter say that a Retweet from their favourite artist is more desirable than a traditional autograph. This holds true across motorsport, and yet many teams see their accounts sacrosanct, and reserved only for an official team or partner sharing.
Putting theory into practice
Apex Racing PR worked with the Team Aguri Formula E outfit during the 2015/2016 season to provide media relations and social media support and immediately sought to build an engaged community of fans.
Fan engagement is a core tenet of Formula E and the series has attracted a tech-savvy audience who are eager to find out more about the technology that will be driving the next generation of electric vehicles. Yet with a lack of content aimed at younger fans, a key audience was being overlooked.
Apex Racing PR devised the Aguri Art competition – an initiative to engage Formula E fans of all ages by sharing their artistic talents with the world. Blank templates of the team’s car were created and shared for younger fans to colour in their own fantasy livery, while known creatives amongst the Formula E community were proactively targeted to ensure their participation.
In addition, the Team Aguri accounts would follow any fans, media or interested parties who followed the team. Having a follow from your favourite team is a badge of honour for the vast majority of fans, and yet many teams still only follow a few dozen accounts, primarily those of their commercial partners. This is a fundamental oversight.
The result? Aguri Art received over 600 entries in the first two months – ranging from an entire pre-school class providing glitter-based colour schemes to professional artists creating time-lapse paintings, the creation of Forza 3 in-game liveries, and even a song! All entries were shared via the team account.
Why does this matter? Those initial 600 entries led to thousands of shares, which in turn led to hundreds of more entries, while also driving increased traffic to the team’s website and growing its social media following exponentially.
Such metrics are crucial to sponsors, who want to partner with a team who can offer the best possible engagement for their brand and their product.
Over this period, Team Aguri boasted the highest levels of social media engagement of any team in Formula E, with a 200% growth in social media engagement, and a 186% increase in following.
More tangibly, the team received photos of the entire pre-school class watching every Formula E race, having converted them to commitment followers and future consumers.
This is just one small example and was all achieved with no additional spend, but the value of true fan engagement was genuinely priceless.
By adopting a few simple PR approaches from more developed industries, motorsport teams have the potential to access free content that has a higher likelihood of driving meaningful engagement and increasing their commercial appeal. There is simply nothing to lose.