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A Life Inside F1: Riding the Tides of Change with Alex Thomson

March 7, 2024

The late, great David Bowie described embracing change as turning and facing the strange, but with the world evolving faster than ever before, the uncanny is just another part of human life.

Evolution is now simply a part of who we are, but when it comes to working in Formula One, very few have experienced as much change as Alex Thomson who sits at the apex of digital media.

Over the past decade, Alex has worked across motorsport with brands including Lotus, Williams, Alfa Romeo, Red Bull and Alpine, and since 2023, has been Pace Six Four's Head of Social Media.

Saying that Alex lives and breathes social is an understatement but declaring that she has lived and navigated the media landscape's rapid revolution is nothing short of a fact.

She has lived flashpoint after flashpoint, but alongside negotiating change, Alex has been at the heart of it, especially in F1 where she experienced the World Championship's entry into the digital age.

"Living and experiencing F1's changes under Bernie Ecclestone and then Liberty Media was quite immense," says Alex, who was leading digital media for Yas Marina Circuit when she first noticed F1's shift to become more social friendly

"In 2015 the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina was closing out the season, and F1 viewed the race as a testing ground to trial what they might put into practice for the following year, and this opened up a lot of opportunities for us.

"At the start of a season in most motorsport categories, social teams receive a set of media guidelines from the championship, outlining what can and can't be done at the track.

"In 2015, F1's guidelines were very restrictive, but to push the boundaries I requested everything I could just in case they said yes, especially because they were testing new things.

"From the discussions I was involved in, F1 entered a partnership with Snapchat, and at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix we launched the collaboration by doing the first global F1 Snapchat story.

"Looking back, it sounds small, but given how restrictive media rights were in the paddock, it was a very big achievement at the time. Even now, F1 still does a global Snapchat story for every single race.

"I think this was the moment I realised F1 was willing to become more social, so I kept pitching and the following year, we did the very first live broadcast from the paddock on social media, which made us the first people to do this outside of the F1 organisation and TV outlets.

"Pushing those boundaries was such an exciting experience, because when Liberty Media came in, F1 became more to the level of what other sports series were doing. This really was the start of what audiences now see and are used to.”

F1's growing involvement in social media aligned with Alex's own professional journey as digital media became a career path in its own right.

Now, the discipline stands on its own two feet and continues to grow. It shows no signs of stopping. 2020, in particular, was a key period of change as Alex explains.

"Digital media is still a very young profession," she continues. "When I was at uni, social media was still referred to as 'new media' in textbooks, so it wasn't something people viewed as a career path.

"In motorsport, social media was originally something that the Press Officer would look after. Instagram was managed from their phone, and Twitter coverage was haphazard with some occasional live tweeting, and sometimes, a URL going to a press release.

"One of the biggest shifts that happened in terms of social becoming a fully-fledged department was in 2020 at the time of COVID. It was a big period of change in the sport.

"F1 teams are run on a budget, and in the past, it was always very difficult to release budget to invest in social, but when no one could go to the track in 2020, the only way we could show what was happening trackside was through social content.

"I think this is what made teams see the importance of keeping an audience engaged through social. This was a key turning point, and it was only four years ago.

"Now in motorsport, social media is a real career path that has become its own discipline, and it's something that teams are investing in because they see the importance and value of having an online presence."

Alongside reshaping countless aspects of F1, 2020 also birthed a new generation of audience, sparked by the popularity of the Netflix’s hit sports documentary, Drive to Survive.

Since then, F1’s growth has been colossal.

2024 will be its longest season in history, and even now, the series continues to hit new markets and audiences. This, in turn, has changed how Alex and Pace Six Four approach social media.

"F1's popularity with the 18-24 demographic has changed the content we produce, and when Drive to Survive came out, we started to see that change," continues Alex.

"Social coverage from teams became less serious and less corporate, and it lent itself more naturally as to what I feel most brand social channels should be, especially in sport.

"I think Ryanair's social media is a good example of this. People follow their social channels because they're an engaging personality, not because of their product offering as a low-cost airline.

"Having the freedom to be more authentic in content has made a big difference, but so has changing the people we work with like influencers and celebrities.

"In the past, we might have worked with celebrities with a big online presence, but because their audience was very specific, they didn't always engage well on our own channels.

"Working with someone who aligns with our audience makes a huge difference in comparison.

"I worked with Max Fosh in a previous role, and the content he puts out, which targets the 18-24 demographic, merged perfectly with our goals.

"Motorsport is so much more appealing now to a younger audience, and this relaxed everything. It became less corporate, but it also opened more creative and fun content ideas."

Unfortunately, adapting to change alone isn't enough. Digital media is saturated – it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through the noise, yet perspective is everything.

63 years ahead of our time, Harper Lee phrased things perfectly in To Kill a Mockingbird: 'You can't really get to know a person until you get in their shoes and walk around in them.'

The same applies to social media, and now, understanding audience behaviour is the next step.

By embracing an audience's point of view and applying this principal, Alex is curating content to unleash engagement.

"Every social media platform has a different audience," explains Alex. "TikTok has the youngest audience. Instagram have a mixture of demographics, including millennials, Gen X and Gen Z.

"People go to different platforms for different reasons too. They all have different motivations when they go to a social media channel, and each person is looking for something specific.

"Understanding audience behaviour is something that I've always considered, and it's something that we strategize as an agency to drive engagement by carefully curating content.

"Audience behaviours are constantly changing as well, and that evolution can be gradual, or it can be quite immediate if a platform releases a new feature.

"X, which was Twitter, is a good example of this because it has changed so much in the last year, and we’re still getting new behaviour insights for that platform since it changed.

"Traditionally, Twitter was the place for breaking news, and there was a stat that said that on Twitter, news breaks 15 minutes faster than any other platform.

"Instagram was a platform where people would follow a curated lifestyle. Facebook was the place to keep up with friends and families.

"Every platform has very different audiences and uses, so to me, it makes sense that content will perform differently across each channel," she adds.

"There isn't a copy and paste solution for social media – each platform needs a very tailored approach to content to maximise engagement and growth."

For Alex, navigating change is simply second-nature. For brands, embracing it is the first step to building an authentic online presence.

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