By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

There was a time not really that long ago though time often flies on unexpected wings at a worldwide music conference in Munich when us executives listened to a panel of young Facebook execs explain how we could use the social media platform- very new at the time- to sell more music. To work closer with music fans. Introduce new music much more cost effectively. And with more pinpoint accuracy. How MySpace was finished. But never ever thinking that this thing called “social media” would get off the ground, we never listened.

Ignorance and arrogance came into play and most of us saw their presentation as a break to grab some chocolate muffins and chat up one of the Facebookers.

We -the music industry- had successfully sued illegal file sharing site Napster and co founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning and believed that nothing was going to change our world. The six star lifestyle was going to continue. So much for that dream.

The music industry was caught napping. And spanked. While video killed the radio star in the shape of MTV, technology and streaming and social media has given all the power and control to the music fans. The consumers. Do they know what to do with it?

The paradigm shift has happened and it’s all about how much of the tail wagging the dog can be used to benefit us in business. Every business.

Of course, some music executives saw the online world coming, embraced it and became very rich in the process. So did those artists who owned all Rights to their original content.

Today, Lyor Cohen, who started the Def Jam label and gave Rap and many of those original urban artists their first respectable home, before moving around looking for something that would not look like a comedown, is today the Global head of YouTube Music. He’s a lucky man.

This is a time where every industry is trying to make sense of the online beast that consumes everything in its path. Every industry including horse racing.

Of course, horse racing will always look at turnover and those who feed it. But let’s never think that the wagering landscape can continue without change. Without new initiatives. With possibly help from social media. Who knows?

The older generation might not want anything to change, but Change is a multi headed beast. Chameleonic and crafty. It’s manipulative. It’s ambitious and selfish. And because it is, one must learn to play the same game. But in a smarter way.

What is a marginal industry when it comes to using social media, horse racing must remove its blinkers. It needs to revisit their websites. They’re lame. Unexciting. Not inviting. Slabs of nothingness.

The horse racing industry is one of the few industries that still needs websites. At least racing clubs do. It’s the only home for all that information- the data- that the professional gambler needs. All those computer syndicates and their data driven programmes. And though over the years having seen many computer syndicates from Australia arrive in Hong Kong with dreams of swimming with the sharks in rivers of gold soon leave after taking a battering, that was then and today is now.

Racing clubs have allowed too much to just plod along- slow moving websites, often impossible to navigate, and hardly inviting plus executives who really don’t get out much and believe nothing will change. Because they can’t. And they know it. This is as good as they get. Most are hardly inspiring dinner companions.

From the earliest days of Racingbitch, there was always the advice that horse racing can learn so much from the arrogance and foibles of the music industry. And so when one listens to soundbites from Old Schoolers in especially the racing media about “younger people” and the great man from the North Country preach so knowingly about SnapChat versus Facebook and how horse racing must change- in 2018? Really, Pete?- the madcap inside laughs.

What’s nothing to laugh about is that horse racing is behind the eight ball. The obvious might be in place. But the obvious always needs a Big Picture frame to make it more attractive. This Big Picture frame is very much part of social media.

“Social media marketing” is no different from traditional marketing and original thinking that gave the world great advertising. It’s about common sense. Don Draper would have got it in a heartbeat.

It’s really about taking the online platforms available today and using them as much as they use everyone for free content. It’s not about purchasing fake anything. It’s about partnering with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and with each side adding to the relevance and popularity of the other.

Without getting too deep into new thinking that is still taking shape and cannot be shared for the time being, let’s just stay with the very basics.

For example, how can horse racing use Twitter more effectively? And here, I’m talking specifically about Hong Kong racing- horse racing that happens twice a week at two very different racetracks and which appeals to two very different customer demographics. A Happy Wednesday can never ever become a Happy Sunday at Sha Tin.

Being involved in the marketing of horse racing in Hong Kong, other than the same old same olds tweeting the same old corporate news, is Twitter- and other social media platforms- being used effectively? Especially with HKIR week practically at our doorstep?

How much of the same thing can a captive audience read before it becomes one long yawnfest? And with everything today moving at the speed of a nanu second, how much memorability is there in anything that exists in the online world? In it comes, out it goes. Until the bed starts to creak.

Let’s also remember that Hong Kong is a bilingual and, more and more, a trilingular market.

There is a Chinese version of Twitter- Weibo- and Chinese equivalents of every other English language social media delivery platform. For example, WeChat and Youku Toudo. Weibo has 328 million monthly users. What’s discussed there? How much pertains to Hong Kong racing?

According to Chinese friends, there’s practically nothing on Weibo about horse racing other than the usual HKJC news and those mentioning their on course experience- the venues, lunch, dinner, the people, the cuisine. In other words, horse racing as a leisure activity and possibly part of one’s lifestyle.

Doesn’t this scream out Instagram? And consumer generated content? Working with KOLs? Creating competitions? Taking things to another level? But being realistic enough to know that marketing horse racing is no walk in the park. What’s there to interest those who have far more attractive choices when it comes to leisure activities? Recycling ideas is not the answer. Nor is mentioning the G word: Gambling.

When friends were pressed if there was anything on Weibo about the jockeys and what they were riding and the usual game of musical chairs, the response was the same: “What for? No one knows them. They’re not Ronaldo or Lewis Hamilton. They’re not global superstars”. Really wasn’t expecting that. Reality bytes are however always food for thought.

As for those now increasingly frequent Twitter grenades lobbed by champion Hong Kong jockey Zac Purton, the Idi Amin of Hong Kong horse racing, do these resonate with anyone other than his loyal band of homies? And HKJC Chief Steward Kim Kelly?

There was a $5000 fine for a tweet where “Idi” criticised a ride by South African rider Grant van Niekerk? Really? For part of an ongoing on course and online catfight with Krystle and Alexis Carrington? Does anyone really care?

Far more important would be for the HKJC to build up the international profiles of Hong Kong born riders Derek Leung and Vincent Ho. Perhaps Matthew Poon.

Leung and Ho are too good to be ignored. And keep being ignored. Or dismissed by some outside of Hong Kong as two more “local” riders just making up the numbers. “Local”. Despise the word. It’s like being a second class citizen.

After being sidelined for several meetings, Derek Leung came storming back to win Wednesday’s Jockey Challenge with a winner and three placings. “Idi” fired blanks on short priced favourites. So did Champion British jockey Sylvestre de Sousa.

The great Andre Fabre with whom Leung spent part of the off season gaining more experience has commented on his riding talents, especially his hands. Is any of this being marketed?

What about his three consecutive wins of Hong Kong Horse Of The Year Beauty Generation including that memorable win in last year’s Group 1 Hong Kong Cup?

How effectively was this marketed? Wasn’t this win a watershed moment for a Hong Kong born rider? Riders not born to ride in a city where there might be country sides and farms, but no horses?

If any one person associated with horse racing in Hong Kong would be relevant to social media- and on English and Chinese delivery platforms- it’s Hannah Butler.

Having only fairly recently started hosting the Fast Track Fashionistas episodes on Happy Wednesday, she already has a fan following. She’s likeable. She’s well on her way to becoming a brand. A brand that is marketable and can attract sponsors. Especially fashion brands.

Sadly, she admits to being tone deaf. She could have had a Dance hit. But as a host/presenter and someone the new generation of racing fans, especially females, can identify with, Hannah Butler is the Face of Happy Wednesday. And could easily be the new international face of Hong Kong racing.

But these things don’t happen through osmosis. Nor by risk averse over-thinking of what might go wrong instead of what could unchain Django.

Just going around in circles and talking to the converted is like another last slow tango in Paris. But without the butter.

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