THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN HORSE RACING

By Hans Ebert
@hanseberthk

Just think about this: If one is to believe all the various numbers bandied around in what is an increasingly numbers-driven world where the popularity of anything and anyone is gauged by the number of “likes” and “views” and retweets, how much of this is real and how much of this is fake? Other than childish bragging rights, even by those mature enough to know better, who really wins other than every single online delivery platform?

Have we somewhere along the way allowed ourselves to be bamboozled into thinking “popularity” is based on “followers” and “likes”? When did all this creep up and bite us on our collective arses?

On Twitter, for example, there are those peddling extra followers- and which Twitter doesn’t stop. Why? More numbers, even if they’re fake, means more “popularity”, and more “followers” attract more “followers”. That’s the thinking, anyway- to create a chain reaction of emptiness with gullible people kidding themselves.

Right now in the music industry, there’s plenty of talk about the new Taylor Swift single, not whether it’s a piece of groundbreaking pop, but about who it’s about, the supposedly hidden messages in the accompanying music video and, of course, its chart position and the THREE MILLION “likes” it has received in just four days.

In an age where many believe everything they read, all this is accepted as fact and shared and the snowball of hype rolls along getting bigger and bigger.

Speak to industry insiders, however, and it’s a very different story- a story about a conniving singer-songwriter struggling to regain control over a career that in the past year has been rocked by controversy after controversy- the sudden need for an almost desperate highly publicised romance with actor Tom Hiddleston, their quickie breakup, and then the very public feuds with former bestie Katy Perry and Kanye West.

It’s called for very demanding damage control with artist management and one guesses her recording company pulling out all stops to try and make the world believe that Taylor Swift is not only back, but bigger and better and no longer the innocent girl next door who dated and got dumped by many, and then wrote about her breakups. And they have the numbers to back this up. They also have created and launched the brand new Taylor Swift model- stronger, afraid of no one and something like a psychotic Cat Woman.

The relatively newly created role in many industries often known as “Director of Social Media Services” that now appears on organisation charts is an interesting one. How is this person different to the traditional media director? They know more about how to use social media? Like how? How and when to buy ads on YouTube and Facebook and Instagram and use hashtags to get a product noticed? Fine. And then what? To where is any of this leading and what are the financial and business benefits?

If all these “social media experts” get together in one room- and nearly everyone believes they’re a “social media expert”- what will be the end result? Mayhem where confusion reigns, or bursts of enlightened Eureka Moments?

To distill it further, what’s the end game other than having a product look popular even if this “popularity” is propped up by having bought fake “views” and “followers”? And gawd knows, there are many who believe they know better- many with zero experience in marketing or the creative product or business strategies or customer segments and who will be more than happy to be argumentative and believe that one must be young to understand social media. That this is a young person’s domain and damn the rest- even other younger people.

If having a sense of humour and the patience of Job to “engage” with these “new thinkers”, it’s amusing for a few minutes before realising that other than second guessing, it’s nothing more than bluffing and collecting bibs and bobs of information from, yes, social media, so it must be true. It’s not unlike self-medicating one’s self by visiting Dr Google.

When it comes to horse racing, where does social media fit in and does it help promote how the sport all works to those other than that captive market? Does horse racing have real “influencers”? And who are they “influencing”? The already “influenced”? Please, stop!

At least right here and now, these purported “influencers” cannot be equated to the number of one’s “followers”. One might “follow”, but it doesn’t mean that like music fans and those infatuated by the entertainment world, any will buy into most of what is said. What’s there to sell anyway? Sectionals, latest bits of track work etc? But how is this information any different to what the hardcore racing professional can find on any website dedicated to the sport?

To his credit, from being a vague plan talked about in the early days only by a few Sherpas, RNSW powerbroker Peter V’landys has at least made his Everest project a reality and a positive talking point in Australian racing circles and promoted by him alone by taking to the mainstream media. And from there, he spread the word while others clung to every word.

Though now part of racing’s Twitterverse, one really doubts Pete’s Twitter account helped bring new flock to the mountainous slots table. And who are these people? The usual suspects that racing will always attract because they basically run horse racing. Everyone else are bit players in a Cecil B DeMille epic. Well done, Pete.

Is the more important role of social media in horse racing to attract new sponsors and ensure the current ones are retained? And if this is the case, what’s the carrot? What’s the creative product to entice and attract THEIR social media team or make a dent on their customers? Facebook or YouTube or Instagram or SnapChat are not going to create this product, so where it’s going to come from?

How is that huge audience out there who want nothing to do with horse racing- and the image of gambling that too often goes with it- going to be convinced and converted and at least come racing once and see what it’s all about?

By making its Happy Wednesday brand more about entertainment in all its many ways, the HKJC has beaten the odds and attracted a new and younger customer base. They’ve been sold on the on-course entertainment first, and then the actual racing. And with more and more revisits, these new regulars become important in spreading the word…through social media.

This type of engagement is credible. It’s not coming from the school of corporate speak. Their friends believe them. What happens next is the most effective advertising of all. It’s called word of mouth advertising.

Here’s a brilliant marketing opportunity for horse racing to swim against the populist tide and win. Apart from the speed in the distribution of information to racing fans, surely there must be the challenge of winning over newcomers to horse racing including new sponsors? And this can only be achieved through smart “man made” business strategies, an understanding of different customer demographics by actually going out there and meeting real people, and an accompanying and producing a likeable (man made) creative product that engages people while giving the sport an image that’s still lacking.

What’s the image of horse racing today to the millions who have never set foot onto a racecourse? What’s the image of equestrian sports? If an upmarket sponsor which product would you be betting on- and marketing to your customer base?

The marketing of horse racing, despite these often farcical attempts to embrace “social media”, because it’s the thing to do might be correct…because it’s the thing to do. But what is often missed in the often obscene rush to be seen and heard and be part of the same old party going on this brave new online world is that the technique nor the technology is never the idea. We live in very strange times. Sometimes it’s as if the world has had a lobotomy.

#Twitter #TaylorSwift #KatyPerry #KanyeWest #YouTube #Facebook #SocialMedia #PeterV’landys #HKJC

This entry was posted in HAPPY WEDNESDAY, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong Racing, Horse Racing, HORSE RACING AND SOCIAL MEDIA, Peter V'landys, The horse racing industry and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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