Americas Cup / story / Uncategorized

In the full glare of social media…… decisions need to be made


Artemis Racing has called for an end to the rumours and speculation about the horrific accident that killed Andrew “Bart” Simpson. Quite reasonably, his family and friends need space to come to terms with losing someone who was so popular but taken from us way too early.

Privacy has disappeared. Everyone can be heard.

But this is 2013 and social media is alive and kicking. We cannot turn back the clock.

Social media has shown through articles, blogs, videos and tweets how respected Bart was. As a blog on the Americas Cup website says, Tributes pour in for Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson. Thousands of Facebook profile pictures have been changed to Bart Simpson cartoons. The true feelings of the sailing community have been expressed. How much he inspired others. What an ambassador he was for the sport.

But social media is also a mechanism for very rapidly distributing views on the future of the Americas Cup and the Ac72s. Everyone has a voice, whether informed or not. Their opinions are broadcast, discussed, forwarded and judged on their own merits. In the absence of an official statement on the future of the Americas Cup the press, bloggers and sailors who are hungry for answers look to others to fill the vacuum.

Newsjacking is rife

The term coined by David Meerman Scott  is newsjacking.  His recent book explored the phenomenon. In short, an event hits the news. In this case the Artemis Racing accident. The press run with every angle of the story they can for a day or so, but eventually they run out of things to say. They are hungry for the secondary story. Enter newsjacking. Clever (or the opportunistic) create the next story. In this case it is the debate about the future of the America’s Cup and the future of the AC72s.

Definition: Newsjacking: the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.

The newsjacking of the accident may be deliberate and planned, but much of the debate is simply a passionate sailing community keen to discuss the future of the pinnacle of their sport. The Americas Cup was anticipated to be a showcase for the sport with similar boats racing in the perfect setting – San Francisco bay. The AC45s on the Americas Cup World Series offered that. But with the AC72s it is rapidly turning back to being a few rich boys playing with a few expensive and very dangerous toys.

Decisions and statements already being made

Social media takes any message and amplifies it. Twitter, as many politician and celebrity know to their cost, can land them in trouble in just 140 characters.  There have been no such gaffes by the teams who have sensibly been tight lipped. However there have been a few notable interviews that are fuelling the speculation on both the cause of the accident and the future of the AC72s.

  • An interview with Nathan Outteridge, the skipper of the Artemis Racing yacht suggests how the accident occurred and it questions the structural integrity of the boat.
  • Patrizio Bertelli, the Italian owner of the Prada fashion label and a long-time sponsor of Italy’s America’s Cup campaigns, spoke to Vsail and in the interview said his team  needed 48 hours to reflect on the tragedy and decide whether to continue with their €30million campaign.
  • Sir Keith Mills has publicly commented that he refused to fund a AC campaign due to the rules that would allow such high speed boats. “Seeing what those boats were capable of, speeds of up to 40 knots, frightened the life out of me.”

Considered decisions required, but fast

Tasked with running a review into the circumstances surrounding the capsize of the Artemis Racing AC72 on Thursday, Regatta Director Iain Murray says consultation with stakeholders is already underway.  “The meeting with the teams is a crucial next step,” Murray said. “We need to establish an open flow of information to ensure this review meets its goals of fact-finding and putting us in a position to recommend changes, if necessary.” There are also investigations by the San Francisco police and the US Coast Guard.

However, it makes it very difficult for the various bodies to have the time and privacy to conduct their reviews and come up with a considered response. The press, bloggers and sailors are hungry for answers. And in the absence of the official answers, they will fill the vacuum. And may influence the outcome before the reviews are even completed.

people-power-300x233Companies have found to their cost that customer-power through social media is a very real and tangible force as a recent Forbes article highlighted. There are numerous examples, but here are just a few.

  • Maker’s Mark reversed itself on their decision to lower the proof of their standard bottling.
  • Starbucks, has offered to pay UK tax, to avoid a boycott backlash
  • BP’s official Twitter account: 16,000 followers. Satirical (anonymously-run) BP Twitter account: 180,000 followers.

Back in 1986, there were a serious of accidents in World Rallying involving the very powerful Group B cars. It reached a critical point, rather like the current situation for the America Cup, when the death of Henri Toivenen and his co-driver, made the organisers consider the cars and the rules. Within hours Group B cars were banned. And the World Rally Championship (WCR) was the better for it. Viewing figures increased as people could relate to the cars that were being driven. Spectators do not watch sport to see crashes and fatalities.

Social media should help inform the decisions

The analysis of the accident is happening behind closed doors. Which is right and proper. But to ignore the voice of the sailing community, which has been made possible through social media, when deciding on the future of the Americas Cup would be wrong. Canvassing the views from that wider community before social media would have taken weeks. Now is is all available – now. It should make it easier to make the better decisions more quickly. Which is what is needed for the good of the America Cup.

Social media is with us. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be switched off. It should be harnessed.