Interview with Markus Höpperger, Marketing & Digital Media Manager, +Sauber F1 Team
– for Almanaque da Fórmula 1, questions by Alexandre CarvalhoClique aqui para ler a entrevista em Português
Hi, Plussers! Many of you wondered who was behind our social media activities. We reveal this little "secret" in this interview. Alexandre actually approached us via Google+, and it was a pleasure doing this interview for his blog. We hope you find this interesting! Who is in charge of Sauber F1 Team's social media platforms? What's your name and age?
My name is Markus Höpperger and I am the Sauber F1 Team’s Marketing & Digital Media Manager. I’m 44 years old, from Austria, and have lived in Switzerland since 1979. We started getting active in social media in 2011 and I have always been majorly involved. In fact, I was the team’s Social Media Manager for the last few years, introducing and taking care of Facebook, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Sportlobster and Vine.
I also tweet every now and then, especially when we have special content to share, like our infographics and videos. During race weekends, Twitter is mostly fed by two of my colleagues who attend all the races. Most race weekends mean home office for me as I usually only attend a handful of races per year myself. How long have you worked for the Sauber F1 Team?
I started working for the Sauber F1 Team in August 2000; this year will be my 15th anniversary with the team. My first position was as the Merchandise Manager, but my responsibilities soon developed into account/relationship management with team partners. Is this your first job with an F1 team or in the motorsport industry in general?
Yes and no… I didn’t work in the motorsport industry before I joined the team, but my responsibilities within the team changed quite a lot over time. From Merchandise Manager to Sponsoring Manager and now, Marketing & Digital Media Manager.
Always keep in mind that the team and its structure went through some huge changes especially after BMW bought the team in 2005. During the BMW era, I was the sole marketing contact at the factory in Hinwil for our colleagues in Munich, and for all global team partners. I oversaw the re-branding and introduced BMW’s corporate identity in Hinwil.
When Peter Sauber bought back the team from BMW at the end of 2009, we basically had to start from scratch (and with very limited funding). Is social media communication your sole duty or do you have other responsibilities within the team?
We have just gone through a minor restructuring of our Marketing Department and, always remember, we’re a rather small team compared to the big players. The same goes for our Marketing Department. We were able to shift some of my previous responsibilities to some of my colleagues, like the account management for a few of the team partners, as well as the management of our show-car fleet. This allows me to focus even more on the digital and social media side of things.
I’m still responsible for the team wear management which I do in close cooperation with our suppliers like Wikland, Nabholz, On and OMP. Furthermore, I organise all the sponsor branding, be it on the race cars, the equipment or the team wear…
Another task I recently took over is the team’s website. There’s a lot of work to be done and we have many ideas. How do the team’s chief executives perceive social media? Do they really care about social media, is it a strategic part of the business?
We perceive social media as the most important tool to connect with our fan base! Imagine a few years back… We employed a Fan Club Manager and spent a lot of money to produce and distribute fan club packages to a few thousand fans.
Today we can reach hundreds of thousands of fans via our social media platforms on a daily basis and at no cost. And the best part: we immediately get our fans’ feedback – their enthusiastic joy after a good race as well as their sometimes brutal criticism when something goes wrong.
As much as we, as a team, appreciate social media and as much as our senior management values social media as a means for our team to communicate with our fans, most members of our senior management are not really active on any of the platforms, at least not publicly. When did the Sauber F1 Team start to use social media?
We started rather slowly and “carefully” in 2011. Just the must-haves at the time, a few tweets and posts on Facebook and some videos on our YouTube channel. At first, we didn’t even allow comments on Facebook. I am proud to say that we are now one of the most engaged Formula One teams on all social media channels! Which is probably a benchmark when it comes to fan engagement and branded content.
We added Google+ in April 2013 and started getting active on Instagram, Pinterest, Vine and Sportlobster in 2014. In fact, we were approached by a fan who had started the @sauberf1team profile on Instagram and asked us whether we’d like to take over his account and continue it as the official profile. Well, we did… On which platform do you have the highest number of fans and the most interactions on a daily basis?
The first question is easy to answer: We currently (7th April 2015) have more than 480,000 followers on Facebook, almost 304,000 on Twitter, close to 80,000 on Google+, more than 34,000 on Instagram, some 33,000 on Sportlobster, nearly 32,000 on Pinterest and over 5,000 on Vine (vine.co
is Twitter’s 6-second looping video platform). On YouTube, we hope to crack the 40,000 subscriber milestone soon and we’re closing in on 6 million views on our channel.
The second question is harder to answer… Facebook recently changed their algorithms, which means that Facebook pages’ organic reach was dramatically reduced. Reach obviously induces interaction which means that interactions on Facebook went down, too. We haven’t paid for reach yet on any of our social platforms and solely rely on organic growth…
It also depends on what people are saying. We usually don’t answer comments whose sole intention is to dis the team or our drivers. We’d rather make use of our time and efforts to reply to genuine questions and to connect with fans who want to be connected to our team. Luckily, we have many loyal fans who will tell “trolls” when they have had enough of their useless comments. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t delete negative comments, we respect the freedom of speech on social media. We simply don’t engage with such people.
Coming back to the question… We try to value every interaction with our team, be it by simply “liking” a comment or, whenever possible, by replying. From my personal experience people on Instagram are very engaged. Most of the “trolls” may be found on Facebook. Which is logical as it’s still the biggest of all social platforms. My personal favourite is Google+. While Facebook is a network based on contacts with family and friends, G+ is actually interest-based and allows people to connect with a community of shared interests. It’s also the most “demanding” of social platforms: G+ users expect brands to interact with them, whereas the general Facebook user is still rather surprised when a brand answers their comments or messages. As you may know, YouTube is owned by Google and closely connected to Google+, so the same goes for comments to our videos.
Engagement on Pinterest, Sportlobster and Vine is less intense, at least for now. We could do a lot more on Twitter but our limited resources simply have not allowed for a seamless Twitter strategy thus far. Up till now we mainly used Twitter as the short-message news service it is, in particular for timely updates from the racetrack. We are working on being able to engage on Twitter in a more intense way in the near future. All F1 teams manage social media channels. Unfortunately, most of them don't focus on the conversation with their fans, even knowing it's something so essential in digital communication. This so particular detail seems to be very important for the Sauber F1 Team. Has it been this way since the beginning? Why?
As I said before, we started our social media campaigns very “carefully” in the beginning. I was personally extremely fascinated by these new means of communication when social media started to take off, and it didn’t take long for us to realise that it was an amazing opportunity to not only connect with our fans and grow our fan base from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands or even millions of engaged fans, but also to broaden the visibility for our team partners in ways never before possible.
Our partners’ brand exposure on TV very much depends on our team’s performance and success on the racetrack. Having a loyal fan base on social media we are able to expand our team partners’ exposure dramatically. Just to give one example: Despite the reduced reach of Facebook pages, we still reach millions of people with our posts over the course of a year, most of which include a picture of our racecar and, thus, our partners’ branding. Furthermore, most of our official posts and all of our infographics include a banner with the logos of our Principal and Premium Partners.
Now… Social media has its name for a reason: It’s meant to be social, sociable and bi-directional. That’s what social media is all about. We’ve always appreciated our fans but it took a lot more effort and resources to answer a fan’s letter by regular mail than it does to connect with fans through social media channels. Social media is like paradise for a sporting brand like ours. It allows us to engage with every single person who is interested in what we’re doing, on a global basis. I believe we are a brand who understands and appreciates that aspect of social media. We genuinely invite people to engage with us. I’d rather have 100 fewer followers (who only clicked “Like” or “Follow” or “+Add” and never engage with us) versus one truly committed and loyal fan who sticks with the team through good and bad times…
Our team, our sport would be nothing without the millions of fans who regularly watch the races, who suffer with their beloved teams or cry for joy together with their favourite drivers. The closer this connection with our fan base, the more loyal our fans, the better for us as a team and so too for our team partners. Every person who takes the time to engage with us on social media deserves our appreciation. Which is the most challenging platform to update when you're at the office and when you're at the racetrack?
None of the platforms are necessarily more or less challenging to update. The biggest issue is actually to regularly produce compelling and interesting content and to find a suitable format for each individual platform. Each platform has a way of showing content and usually, this even differs between desktop and mobile versions. A picture optimised for desktop will be cropped on mobile, a video link may show the full video thumbnail on mobile but only a rather “unsexy” text on desktop…
The challenge of tweets is usually to fit our message into the character limit while still making it understandable and interesting. G+ users are very interested and open to reading longer text and the platform allows us to format the text (highlight parts as bold/italic text). We try to keep Facebook posts shorter and we try to post bi-lingual (English for our worldwide fans, German for our Swiss fans) as often as possible.
At the moment, square pictures work best for Facebook and G+ posts, rectangular ones for Twitter and a vertical format provides the highest impact on Pinterest. So one of the biggest challenges overall is to keep up to date with the constant changes of the various platforms. We have templates for all social media channels but it still takes quite some time to optimise each post for every single platform.
At the racetrack, my colleagues (and me, when I’m on site) are first of all responsible for taking care of the media and our team partners’ guests. It may be quite stressful to fit in a tweet every now and then while at the same time entertaining guests or making sure the drivers find some time for interviews. Keep in mind that every single tweet must be thought through as a spontaneous tweet may quickly lead to a political nightmare for the team’s management or even to a “shit-storm”…
For me personally, race weekends always come with a trade-off between posting and engaging with our fan community versus spending time with my family. My wife will tell you… I spend a lot of time – from early in the morning until late at night, weekdays and weekends, race or not – on my tablet or smartphone, constantly checking comments and feedback on all social media platforms. Or on my laptop, downloading, formatting, texting, uploading pictures and posts… During a Grand Prix, how difficult is it to update Twitter or Facebook while at the same time keeping the focus on what's happening on the track?
We don’t see Facebook as a tool for down-to-the-second news. That’s what we have Twitter for. On Facebook and the other platforms we concentrate on one to two posts (e.g. pre- and post-session) and uploading pictures as soon as they are available.
At home, I usually follow the races on TV and in parallel on the F1 app. Which is, in fact, similar to being at the track where we also follow the race on the TV screens in the garage and look at the timing screen all the time. The only difference is being able to listen to the team radio, which I can’t do from home. It’s quite possible to miss something of importance while preparing the next tweet. Plus: by the time it takes to type the next tweet, the information contained may already be old news… Luckily, I don’t usually have to deal with these challenges and am able to fully enjoy the races – before getting busy on my laptop as soon as the race is finished. Your drivers, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, manage their own social media channels. Do you give them some kind of orientation considering the fact that they are Sauber F1 Team employees and must be careful with the team's image in terms of PR, or are they free to use it in their own way?
Yes, of course. Besides some behavioural rules being part of our driver contracts, we also provide our drivers with guidelines regarding social media. We encourage them to be active. But we can’t force them to be someone they are not. First of all, they have to be good race drivers and quick on the track but if they are interested in being active on social media, even better. Our current drivers are more or less active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Which is good. Although they use their channels mostly to put out information and not so much to engage with the audience. It is simply impossible for a driver to engage with fans on various social media platforms the way I do for the team. They don’t have the time for that. Which is the biggest challenge in social media after the season ends, when there are no races to watch and the fans don’t focus on F1 100%?
That very much depends on the circumstances, e.g. if there are big sponsor or driver changes or not, how “political” things currently are, etc. Usually, the community is craving anything to do with F1 during the off season. So any information you put out there is usually well received. During the season many very interesting posts may get lost in the clutter.
We are lucky in that content basically lies at our feet. We just have to pick it up and use it… There is a lot of information during race weekends and posting becomes about sharing what we have. Also, we’re constantly developing the car; drivers visit our factory and so many technical aspects of racing that our fans may find interesting... What would you like to do on social media to raise even more interaction with fans and that wasn't possible to do so far (considering technological aspects or not)?
I’d love to do Google+ hangouts. We just haven’t gotten there yet… It’s merely a problem of time and resources, but I’m sure it would be an awesome asset. And imagine what we could do if the teams and drivers were allowed to take short videos at the racetrack! This is currently a huge limitation and would open up endless possibilities.
Looking at the bigger picture, we’re in the process of reviewing our website and our newsletter. Those are bigger projects that will take some time, but I’m very excited to tackle them soon. What was the biggest success of your digital communication so far?
Undoubtedly, our biggest success was our Cutaway F1 Car. Viewing numbers of the respective video(s) and shares of the infographics went through the roof! In general, we’re very successful with any insights that we provide our fans, especially the technical ones. Steering wheel infographics and similar content explaining the technology and complexity of our sport are highly appreciated.
And, despite our disappointing performance in 2014, we were able to outgrow the World Champion team on G+ - it’s currently our 80’000 followers versus their 24,000. That says something, especially on a platform as demanding and craving for engagement as Google+. How do you describe the Sauber F1 Team’s approach to social media compared to how other F1 teams handle it?
I’d say that most teams pretty much do the same thing. We all have similar content to share and I think that many teams do a great job in content generation. What sets us apart is probably the engagement with our fans. We take our fans seriously, listen to what they say. And we interact with them; answer their questions and generally make them feel appreciated.
We genuinely value the “social” in social media.Please comment! How are we doing on social media? Would you like more or less posts? What do you like or dislike in particular about our social media approach? #F1 #SauberF1Team #SocialMedia #socialmediamarketing #Formula1 #FormulaOne #motorsport