Whilst Formula 1 is well established and still growing in China, it remains a somewhat niche sport in the shadow of both football and basketball. In recent years, the immense power of social media has been very evident, particularly in the rise of European football.
To date, only three F1 teams have established official Weibo accounts and none have WeChat accounts. The lack of WeChat use should not be seen as a surprise, its role is far more centred around established fanbases, however, there is certainly no good reason for the lack of Weibo activity.
Here are the three teams that are online in China and what they’re doing.
McLaren was the first F1 team to launch in China back in April 2014. The majority of their posts are linked to their various sponsors, most of whom are not vastly popular or active in China. Like several other teams, the McLaren team has a well established and active fan-run club account. The official account does do a good job of interacting with this club, however original content creation is not frequent enough to inspire the sort of following that an organisation such as McLaren will want.
During the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix, the team attempted to run a Q&A on Weibo, certainly a well-proven engagement method. Unfortunately, these plans were undone by some technical errors.
It is yet to be seen whether they will continue to try and engage with China-specific content during the rest of the season, or whether it was just a push whilst they were in China.
2: Williams Martini Racing
Launching their official account on the 25th February 2017, Williams Martini is very new to the China market. As one of the few remaining privately owned F1 race teams, Williams does not generally do things by half or without the proper consideration. This move into China is doubtless with high goals and rapid value realisation.
The timing was obviously very good for the team, only a few weeks before the F1 circus made its annual visit to Shanghai, which gave them a boost amid peaked interest and excitement for the new season. They also have a trump card in their lead driver, Filipe Massa, who has a large following in China.
They ran a campaign, entitled ‘How Massa Became Your Idol’ in which fans wrote in with their stories and send Massa birthday gifts. They have also done a good job of generating China-specific content as well as lots of video content which has boosted their engagement in China.
3: Renault Sport
Renault relaunched their Weibo account at the beginning of April, for the aforementioned reasons. Different to the other two teams, Renault has a much wider interest in generating a following in China as it will help the sales of their road cars. Their commercial and race team accounts interact a lot so as to keep the connection at the forefront of fan’s minds. To this end, the accounts have been focussed on the 2017 Auto Shanghai exhibition which runs 21st – 28th of April.
Renault is also the only F1 team to have followed the latest Chinese social trend and produce a live stream. In the last 6 months, live streaming has emerged as the best way to engage and attract new fans in China. The broadcast performed reasonably well, without breaking any records, the focus for Renault should now be to build on this and establish a presence on this form of media.
In all, there is still a vast amount more that F1 teams can and should be doing online in China. If the sport has ambitions in what will soon be the world’s largest sports market, it needs to step up its efforts.
Mailman is a China sports digital marketing agency. We help deliver expert digital & social media programs for the world’s most powerful sports organisations in China.
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