By Hans Ebert
When it comes to the 24/7 online world, instead of looking at more pressing matters like money going out and money coming in, not to mention winning the confidence of its customers, there are those in charge of managing and leading racing clubs that while trying to understand- and even censor- what’s being discussed on social media, get lost in the simple complexity of it all.
Like, “You had me at ‘Hello’,” to some in horse racing, social media starts and ends with a hashtag on Twitter and something said in 140 words or less. And as long as this tweet is not against “The Rules Of Racing”, it’s fine. Their thinking: It’s a free world and everyone can engage in freedom of speech, but with one caveat: Unless one is a Member of a racing club and goes against those “rules of racing”. What do you think, Kendall?
Instead of sipping from that half-filled glass, surely racing clubs should be looking at the online world and social media with its different delivery platforms as an innovative marketing tool to broaden its customer base and market its product more creatively, and not as the enemy? Despite all the talk about being “customercentric” etc, at least one racing club in Australia- Racing Victoria- seems to look at social media as cause to bunker down and get ready for The Big Chill.
There appears to be a Big Brother or Joe McCarthy-type fear and loathing waiting to stamp out anyone who stands in the way. If so, it’s power gone hopelessly and haplessly wrong- and a modus operandi that’s not winning them fans- anywhere. A bad image travels far, and these days, Racing Victoria has an image problem. Everything it does is viewed with suspicion. Every decision made is accepted with a smirk. Everything it proposes needs to be read twice in case the devil is in the details. And everybody must get stoned. Right, Johnny?
Apart from tripping over itself, the image problems that continue to besiege Racing Victoria come from social media. It can no longer pretend it’s not there. Or that lawyers will make the big bad bogey man go away. It’s not how it works in 2016. Ask Kendall.
Like it or not, Twitter, especially with its self-styled Joan and John Of Arcs enjoying their 15 minutes of fame through their 140 words or less of baiting and barracking backed by the usual group of media cheerleaders with their own agendas and axes to grind, has, simply put, made Racing Victoria an unpopular brand bordering on, whether true or not, looking like a racing club led by buffoons.
It’s a pity because the racing club has some good people. They’re just not seen or heard, which is a problem in itself. Are they being used to the best of their abilities? And if Racing Victoria honestly believes that playing “The Rules Of Racing” card to stop criticism on social media is its ace in the hole, that’s the wrong hand to play.
Sit down, children, and let me explain: In the online world, which is located way up there and away from planet Earth, whether it’s right or wrong, there are no laws and no rules. Few were prepared for the Digital Revolution that swept through the world over a decade ago like Pandora opening her very big box.
Every industry was caught napping while clutching onto their old Nokia phones and thinking nothing will change. They were lost and confused as to what this all meant while trying to come to grips with what some college students had wreaked on the world- the creation of an online community where everyone could join for free, and be part of some brave new world that was being shaped. It still is. Whether creating a better very real world, or an online world, it’s no walk in the park. There are serpents, potholes and Googles at every turn. The online learning process has no ending in sight.
For over a decade, the music industry, with its army of battle-hardened Clockwork Orange lawyers tried to bring everyone, especially the music fans, into line and away from the online world. After all, they’d done it before and won, so why should they not win again? Their thinking: We give you a vinyl record and you buy it. Same with a music cassette and CD and DVD. But downloads, file sharing and the free streaming of music? This was different. This was difficult to contain- plus, like groupies, music executives were in awe of someone named Steve Jobs and his genius thinking that gave the world so many new digital products. Steve Jobs was the new Rock Star and his biggest fans were investor groups and fawning music executives. Steve Jobs used them all.
The problem was that music companies were in awe of an innovative Rock Star creator whose products would, eventually, make music free. Steve Jobs was the Trojan horse the music industry invited to break bread with them. Wrong move. Once they realised what had happened, music companies went into overdrive and embraced the digital world by creating New Media marketing teams made up of staff from Yahoo etc. Too late. Every time they tried to rein in what was already out there and being used, or tried to become part of the ongoing digital party, they got kicked in the teeth. Playing catch-up is like chasing when losing on the punt. One never wins.
The music fans had taken sides. They bought into everything Apple offered. Steve Jobs became their Captain Marvel, and they were not going to let music companies call the shots. Music fans were looking for change, and Jobs gave it. The timing was perfect. As for the music industry, it has been kicked in the teeth so many times that it’s now toothless. It has become Steptoe without ‘arold.
Despite all the numbers trotted out about the success of the latest record by Adele, nothing has really changed other than Ms Hello becoming extremely rich and rolling in the deep end of some extraordinary money paid to her, which Sony Music, her record label, will never see a return on investment. Hello? Does this make business sense? No. But it’s all about keeping up pretences, isn’t it?
Music companies are doing somersaults to be allowed back into the game by music fans. Again, too late. They now see these one-time arrogant power brokers as witless, irrelevant eunuchs. There’s no place for them. Anywhere. If they’re anything at all, they’re running dogs for the technology companies that hold all the keys to the kingdom.
These tech companies are run by savvy young business people who have created new database-driven delivery platforms for consumer generated content that are now snaking their way into other consumer-driven areas where few have dared to go before. Maybe it’s because they weren’t there before? Yes, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and they’re smart, they’re aggressive, and they’re changing the old world.
The music companies stopped crying foul and threatening legal action against music fans for things like illegal file sharing years ago. It was a lost cause. What were they going to win in a court of law? Some kid’s computer? Music companies have now become foot soldiers to game-changing technology-driven partners. They had to, because they were cornered. Wherever they turned, there was a legal loophole protecting the music fan. Why? Because there were no black and white laws in place in the online world. It was- and is- a new lawless digital world answerable to no one- no one except the consumer.
Meanwhile, in the very real world of the Court of Public Appeal, music companies and their cronies were disliked- disliked for being fat cats who had got rich through arrogance and total control. It was time for the Revenge Of The Nerds.
Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, the hugely powerful Google machinery, and every other social media platform, came along and changed the rules by having no rules, something that has crept up and also changed how the world today watches movies, television series and sports. The online world also killed off what were once called newspapers and magazines. Add television to that list.
Meanwhile, sites like Pirates Bay offer everyone the opportunity to download the latest movies and television series- for free. Yes, it’s illegal, but no one’s been able to close it down. Plus there’s a veritable buffet of other sites to go and download what you want. For free. The online world has changed every industry and made “entertainment lawyers” extinct.
As always, the horse racing industry has continued to plod along with the blinkers on oblivious to many of the changes mentioned above. What intellectual property rights does it actually own? Any race almost anywhere in the world can be watched for free by buying that “little black box” and fixing it onto one’s computer. No one needs permission to do this- not in today’s free-for-all world. Get used to it.
Thinking that all its “participants” will fall in line to- Fanfare For The Common Man, please- and salute and live by “The Rules Of Racing” is archaic thinking that belongs in a staid gentlemen’s club in the 19th Century.
It’s also petty-minded thinking when there are far greater priorities to sort out in order to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The supposed Good Guy has become the enemy. The Good Guy has become unlikable. He’s not trusted. He’s made too many mistakes too frequently and too many U-turns. It’s become tedious to watch. The support system is gone. And there are those in social media fanning the fires. And like the music companies learnt, the answer to quelling this are not threats and censorship. Social media is not going away because someone doesn’t subscribe to what someone has said. It’s here to stay. Just ask Yeezy.
A recent case where Racing Victoria has questioned one of its members about a harmless tweet is much ado about nothing. It makes the club not only look petty, desperate and clutching at straws in a Monty Pythonesque example of management, it could be going against that great advice: Don’t PokeThe Bear.
What poking of the bear does is drag up everything else- all those loose ends that have been allowed to dangle. All those supposedly open and shut cases that refuse to go away. The polite emails asking obvious questions that have been ignored.The almost four-year old saga of a battling female trainer with independent proof that she was unfairly treated. She has the law on her side and is still looking for closure. Why not go on Twitter and plead her case? Who dropped the ball- and keeps dropping the ball? Where is this going to end? Guess. She can’t be dismissed anymore as being a “troublemaker” or “some crazy bitch”. She has the Court Of Public Appeal and the Court Of Law on her side.
Every time all this goofiness, tardiness and incompetence resurfaces, a very bright light shines on some high-profile, extremely well-paid racing executives with many asking, Why? Why are they still there when it’s obvious that they have the leadership skills of Basil Fawlty?
This is where the online world holds the power and takes no prisoners. It has the sheer weight of numbers on its side. It’s something Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker understood right away: The power of the online community they had created- and could control.
Again, whether one agrees or not with their rants, sarcasm, humour, attempts at humour, or carefully crafted communications on Twitter or Facebook is not the point. The point is why these cases over what’s said on social media have had to go public and reach a tipping point? What happened to the gentle art of negotiations between two parties? Remember what happened to a Goliath. It only took a slingshot.
All these almost daily horse operas between Racing Victoria and its detractors show poor crisis management. It shows a lack of an effective communications strategy to nip these in the bud instead of letting them fester. It shows an ignorance of social media. It shows arrogance. It shows a lack of common sense. It shows that power can buy lawyers, but not even the smartest lawyers can fight and win against a world located up there where there are no laws- at least no laws to find someone on earth guilty of a naughty earthly tweet. Come on, fellas. Please. Get real.
Use those expensive lawyers to fight horse racing’s real cheats- the race fixers, the crooked jockeys and trainers, and those involved in the unscrupulous buying and selling of horses. Seeing the guilty parties gently smacked on their wrists by a wet lettuce leaf doesn’t make anyone look good. These are way too obvious token gestures to appease the natives and keep them from getting too restless. It’s not working.
As Bob Dylan sang, “Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters”, and realise that time is ticking, ticking, ticking into the future. A huge paradigm shift is on its way that will change the face of horse racing forever. What’s happening in Victoria today is only a dress rehearsal played out by bit players on a Heavy 10 track.
In the meantime, don’t try and understand the online world by staring at that iPhone or website or iPad for answers.
Hire new thinkers, pay them well for their talents, and give them the freedom to improve the communications process through better content, speed of delivery, and giving the customer what they want, when they want it and how they want it. And if you can’t beat them, try to work as partners with proven technology companies. It might not only increase that customer base. It might bring horse racing into the 21st century- and not just through some tweets.