In less than two years the global automotive online community platform, DriveTribe has grown into a thriving social ecosystem with one of the most engaged audiences on the planet. Monetising from engagement, and not scale, was the next logical step, explains DriveTribe CEO Jonathan Morris.
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Founded by Amazon’s ‘The Grand Tour’ presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, in November 2016, the thinking behind DriveTribe was pretty straight-forward: create an online platform for automotive social media where global communities - they like to call them ‘tribes’ - can contribute content on any motoring subject under the sun.
As funding came in from the likes of 21st Century Fox, Breyer Capital and Atomico, the platform’s popularity grew at an astounding rate. There are over 30,000 different automotive-themed tribes engaging on the platform, covering every conceivable subject, from those you would expect, like F1, motorbikes and supercars, to those you could imagine, like classic and auto themed gaming, to those you would not dream about, like cars best for transporting goats.
As many as 10 million active users have engaged with the platform on a monthly basis, by posting to it, taking part in live chats with other tribe members, sharing ideas, videos and experiences or playing online quizzes. Millions more are also consuming DriveTribe content on social media every month.
If the original ‘Top Gear trio’ wanted the DriveTribe team to achieve almost instant reach, that’s exactly what former FinTech and digital start-up pioneer CEO, Jonathan Morris has delivered. But, warns Morris, huge reach is not remotely as important as meaningful engagement. “Digital publishing, from a monetisation point of view, has been a challenging market. When the large social networks came along they took profitability from most digital publishers. Why then, you may ask, did we launch a digital destination for global car enthusiasts?”
The value of engagement
The answer, he says, lies in the fact that information derived from engaged online communities has huge value. “We decided to focus much more on engaged communities and much less on programmatic advertising revenue. What this means is that when a client approaches us they are interested in what our audience - our tribes - think about them and their products, and how they can iterate their particular products across different market segments”
For this reason the DriveTribe platform was not built with traditional publishing technology but rather technology normally associated with data and financial trading systems. “This makes it possible to extract big data analytics instantaneously from the interactions of our engaged tribes. In fact, we can put chunky questions out there and get answers to pretty much anything the automotive industry is interested in.”
This ability comes at a crucial point in history, says Morris. “DriveTribe’s ability to engage audiences and then mine information in real time, comes at a time when the auto industry is going through the most significant change. This includes not only a move from diesel and petrol to alternative fuels but also a progressive move to autonomous vehicles. On top of this, the way in which people buy cars is changing. New generations might be more interested in renting or fractional ownership of a vehicle, while others are happy to rely on ride hailing via Uber, Lyft and others”. Large automotive companies are investing in multiple high risk areas, spending vast sums on research and technology, while realising they need to understand how people think about the changes that are imminent in the world around them”, says Morris.
The widest possible audience
“Motor manufacturers have woken up to the reality that they need to know how people from different walks of life think about fragmenting choices across the automotive world. Issues that lead to fundamental and obvious questions like: what will people do in the 30 minutes while their electric cars are being charged? or: what will you be doing while the car is driving itself? Questions, says Morris, that all need to be answered, impacting not just motor manufacturers but also supporting industries such as service stations as well.
The business model behind DriveTribe is designed to help answer these questions. What makes data derived from tribes more valuable, according to Morris, is that the platform was not designed to attract so-called petrolheads. It was designed to attract everybody with an interest in mobility and transport, no matter how diverse or small.
This is why DriveTribe is not a destination for die-hard petrolheads. “Understanding petrolheads is not really useful, we need to understand people's’ emotional link to all types of vehicles, as well as how they feel about the future of transportation in its entirety, on a global basis.”
The result has been a platform where the widest possible audience can find comfort. Morris credits a huge part of this to the fact that Clarkson, Hammond and May are “very heavily involved. I spend a lot of time with them on a week-to-week basis and they are certainly three of the most insightful people around the automotive market ever. Crucially their knowledge extends across global markets. They have been everywhere, they have seen everything. They have witnessed the transformation of the auto industry.”
The trio also have the ability to talk about cars “in a way that will engage your grandmother, your mother, your wife and your kids,” says Morris. “There are so few people in this business that are able to do exactly that.”
Alongside content from the founders, DriveTribe marries together content generated from five broad groups:
- Celebrities including an array of motor racing stars;
- A diverse group of motoring journalists both in-house and freelance;
- Social media influencers from around the world who regularly post on the platform across a large range of categories;
- International media owners who publish on the Drivetribe platform in partnerships or to increase their reach
- User generated content coming directly from the various tribes who are engaged with the platform and app.
Revenue through content and data-led engagement
While DriveTribe’s focused its first year on building its platform and audience, from April this year it turned its attention to revenue generation.
DriveTribe’s “typical client engagement” with clients such as Audi, Shell, Renault, Amazon and Ford has four key components, says Morris.
First, we work with the client and their agencies to understand their audience, brand and messaging objectives, looking at creative opportunities to intersect with the communities on our platform. A key output might be the creation of a branded or thematic Tribe, into which we can deploy content to build the client’s story.
The second part of the client relationship is content creation, taking creative developed by the client, other media owners or developed through our in-house creative agency. Each piece of content is edited specifically for the destination platform, whether that is DriveTribe or via our extended social media channels. It is a process that could lead to over 20 video or content edits being created specifically for each platform used. The content process also includes identifying and recruiting personalities to appear in videos and other formats. In many ways this is a key USP, as we are able to call on the broad range of celebrities, influencers and community members regularly using our platform.
The third part is distribution. This includes active curation across DriveTribe, to propagate content across relevant communities and formats, for example using live stream broadcasts, email marketing, podcasts, quizzes and polls. We also spend a great deal of focus on extending reach via our extended social media and influencer partner network. DriveTribe, for example, has nearly 30 different Facebook accounts, each dealing with different markets or themes. We’re therefore able to calibrate delivery across a vast array of channels.
The fourth aspect is analytics. “We intelligently mine the user engagement with the client’s content to derive any trends in sentiment and behaviour. All analysis is GDPR compliant because we never deal with individuals but groupings within our audience.” Because of this, says Morris, “Drivetribe can provide many categories of insight”.
Morris says while they have only been commercialising the platform from Q2, “we’ve already clocked up an impressive and diverse range of campaigns. We’ve developed commercial work with over ten social media influencers, five formula one drivers and of course our very own Clarkson, Hammond and May. We’ve also generated a substantial portfolio of video work, filming in destinations as diverse as the USA, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia and Namibia.”
On the data front, the team extended their observational tracking of user activity with a range of quizzes and polls designed to be engaging. “This gives the user some fun, which means the value equation is we get their insight in turn for some enjoyment. From these engagements we can work out sentiment and views on brands. And that is the real gold dust.”