Straight from the horse’s ‘Tweet’: Four-legged social media
It seems that these days, the second a promising two-year-old scores a stakes win (or even a high-level maiden or allowance victory), they aren't just Tweeted about—they're Tweeting.
Many farms are already using Facebook and Twitter to promote stallions at stud, but the motivations for keeping current runners on news feeds can be very different. Not only are the motivations different, so are the posts, many of which are written from the racehorse's ‘perspective'.
Kelly Wietsma, president of Thoroughbred public relations firm Equisponse, said that as administrator of the social media presence for Uncle Mo at the start of his career, the project was all about keeping fans informed on the star's progress. At the height of his virtual popularity on Facebook and Twitter, Mo had around 8,000 followers, according to Wietsma.
“We had one lady who was sick and in the hospital who said his Tweets brightened her day,” said Wietsma. “If you're a fan of a Major League Baseball player, he can talk to you. Our four-legged animals can't.”
Upon Uncle Mo's retirement, Wietsma stopped updating the horse's social media accounts, believing that those with hands-on experience with the horse could better represent his persona.
“I think there are people who are motivated by business, if they've got a horse going to stud or something … once Mo went to stud, we stopped. To keep 8,000 fans happy and really giving the true day-to-day, you have to be living at the farm,” said Wietsma.
For those working in trainer Doug O'Neill's barn, the element of hands-on experience helped I'll Have Another's Facebook page take off. These days, the team manages the social media presences of Derby contenders Goldencents, Know More, and He's Had Enough, as well as 12-year-old retired star-turned-lead pony Lava Man.
“We saw that people really loved the idea that they were talking to the horse … in fact, they're asking us for more pages. It's a way for them to be involved in these horses' lives like they would never get to do normally,” said Sharla Sanders, Team O'Neill representative. Sanders said O'Neill is very supportive of helping fans connect to the horses in his shedrow.
Mucho Macho Man, whose Facebook and Twitter accounts are managed by owners Dean and Patti Reeves, joined the social networks as a way to help keep the owners' friends and family updated on his trip down the Kentucky Derby trail. When it became clear that he was gaining fan attention, Patti Reeves embraced the chance to interact with Mucho Macho Man's admiring public and began aiming posts for the over 6,000 Facebook fans and nearly 1,500 Twitter followers.
“We enjoy the horse racing lifestyle so much that we want people to come along for the ride … the longer a horse stays in training like ‘Macho', the bigger they can build their fan base,” said Reeves.
She said that as a result of Macho's social media presence, she's had the chance to meet several fans in person and feel it's enhanced her experience as an owner.
“When it's his birthday, people have sent us cards and gifts,” said Reeves. “I actually had someone send me gift certificates to buy him carrots and peppermints and things. It's really, really endearing. “
Reeves said she hadn't considered Macho's stud career when she launched the page and isn't looking to sell anything. She is not sure if she will continue to update it after he leaves the track.
Both Reeves and Sanders said they try to incorporate the horses' personalities into their online “voice”, and have had fun sharing their antics with the public. Devoted fans know He's Had Enough is a fan of chewing on elements of his stall, while Know More has a ‘girlfriend' in a nearby stall and shows off for her while she cools out in the aisle. Mucho Macho Man is an intensely curious character, and keeps in touch with everything going on in the barn around him. Reeves brought this element of his personality to life online by posting Macho's ‘comments' on current events such as the Super Bowl (he particularly enjoyed the Budweiser Clydesdale commercial).
“Even though he's a ‘Macho Man', there's a woman who runs his Facebook page, and I think we've been able to connect with the majority of his fans who are women because he has a sensitive side,” said Reeves.
Besides promoting the sport directly to fans, Wietsma said horsemen are motivated to create equine social media presences as a way to interact with the media. For Team O'Neill, it's a great way to let Santa Anita patrons know a workout is coming up for a popular horse, but it also gets the word out to television anchors, writers, and editors whose reach extends beyond a horse's few thousand followers.
Although social media account managers aren't primarily motivated to create Facebook and Twitter pages for horses as a marketing tool for their future careers as stallions, the practice does have value for public relations professionals like Wietsma. She doesn't charge her clients extra for promoting current runners online, but it is part of the overall package she offers to owners.
“It's something I recommend they do for the fans…to bring them closer to the connections and let them know what's going on inside the barn/stall and behind the scenes,” she said.
Not all the representations of racehorses on Facebook or Twitter are authorized by owners or trainers, however. Many Facebook pages are managed by fans who use the accounts similarly to an RSS feed focusing on their favorite horse. These pages usually post articles or publicly-released photos of the Thoroughbred in question to create a “one-stop shop” for others.
While owners like Reeves appreciate the enthusiasm, they said the idea of having a stranger speak on behalf of their athletes is a little unnerving, since fans may express opinions that don't fall in line with those of the owner or trainer.
“Social media is a blessing and a curse at the same time,” Team O'Neill's Sanders agreed, noting that she has had to ask fans to revise the wording of their pages to indicate that they do not represent owners or Doug O'Neill.
Wietsma and Sanders believe the trend of using Facebook and Twitter to promote individual horses is only likely to continue as racetracks, trainers, and jockeys keep Tweeting, posting, Instagraming and pinning images and content to market the sport to fans.
“Do I think it will continue? If people are smart about how they market their horses, yes,” said Sanders.