‘The Netflix Effect’: Formula One’s Success Through Social Media

By: Emma Magruder

Expensive. Technological. Boring. 

These were the top three words fans of Formula One used to describe the sport in 2015. What brand wants this reputation among their fanbase?

Many organizations are faced with similar criticisms from their fans, and they are often left wondering how to reposition their image to spark positive engagement on social and digital media. Looking for an answer to fix this?

Fasten your seatbelt and hold on to your steering wheel as we take a deep dive into how Formula One shifted from near extinction to one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. 

Embracing behind-the-scenes content

Liberty Media took over Formula One’s media in 2017 and has never looked back. The media company threw out previous rules barring teams from posting content from official sessions, and engagement picked up immediately. Some reports say social media channels have grown by 55% since Liberty’s takeover! To illustrate the impact, take a look at the engagement growth compared to franchises like MLB, the NFL and the NHL.

Formula One saw a 99% increase in engagement growth from 2019 to 2020. (Image via F1)

Suddenly, fans previously limited due to broadcast restrictions could watch live updates of any and all sessions and engage with content and drivers as events were unfolding. Teams started to participate in challenges and trends like an NBA free throw challenge or a waffle-stacking competition which allowed viewers unprecedented access to the personalities of the drivers. As new relationships between the sport and fans emerged, F1 went from a struggling sport to one with a younger, more engaged audience.

Netflix took notice of the growing sport and jumped on board. In a rare move, the sport agreed and Netflix began to follow along drivers and teams during the season. From one-on-one interviews with top drivers and team principals, the Netflix crew also got a look into the personal lives of team members away from the track. Dedicated followings for drivers emerged after the show’s success, finding a large viewership in the untapped market of the United States.

Netflix filming a conversation featuring driver Daniel Ricciardo for “Drive to Survive.” (Image via IMDB)

In addition to Netflix’s role, the sport’s innovative approach to social and digital communications has contributed to fan growth. An important step the sport took was changing how it presented itself online to fans and how it engaged with them beyond a race weekend.

Becoming a fan

Official social media accounts of companies are not known for their unique and engaging voice, but Formula One decided to flip their previous approach to communications on its head. Instead of the once distant persona that shared technical details and performance updates, social media admins turned to the persona of a fan. Teams began using slang and emojis typical of a fanbase and referencing internet trends and memes. F1 effectively cultivated their own fan base through official social channels, and many brands can learn from their success in creating a loyal fanbase.

Proven success

Formula One’s social strategies have had measurable success. Toward the end of October, the United States Grand Prix was held in Austin, Texas, in front of a sellout crowd, the first in the track’s history. Over 400,000 people attended the three-day event (some would call it a carnival) which was a 51% increase from the last time the race was held in 2019. 

Many teams and drivers embraced some American cultural emblems and icons, from Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby and cowboy hats to driving a Nascar. All of these moments were captured on social media by fans and teams alike, spreading across all channels and driving an increase in engagements organically.

Top takeaways

There is a lot to learn from the success story of Formula One’s social and digital revival. Check out some of the key takeaways from their strategy: 

  1. Make the audience feel like they’re a VIP
  2. Sound like a fan on social media
  3. Showcase personalities, not technicalities
  4. Embrace change and social trends
  5. Use digital platforms to your advantage in reaching new audiences
Crowd at the United States Grand Prix on Oct. 24. (Image via Twitter)

Formula One is proof that embracing behind-the-scenes content and unique brand personas can have a profound impact on a loyal fan base, and many other social media teams should take note of this success. While the process is not easy, and it clearly takes time, it can turn your brand image around.

Expensive. Technological. Boring.

Sound familiar? Now, try this.

Bold. Welcoming. Exciting. 

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