Under the hood of The Grand Tour trio’s auto site DriveTribe and its ambitious expansion plans

DriveTribe's landing page

DriveTribe founder and CEO Ernesto Schmitt believes he has struck gold with a “blueprint for the next generation” of publishers with a format that can be replicated beyond motoring and into fashion, music, food and pets... if it works.

Fronted by former Top Gear trio Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, the community-focused media company launched a week after the Clarkson and co returned to screens courtesy of Amazon’s weekly motoring show The Grand Tour in November.

The site rode the commerce giant's coat tails, and substantial marketing spend, to unveil an intriguing cause - to leverage and involve the community like no media outlet in the sector before it.

Backed by investors including 20th Century Fox, Breyer Capital and The Grand Tour trio, the venture's immediate focus was to create a company and website capable of merging content with community. The vision was for something between a feed, a forum and a publisher where auto fans could be at home. It was this idea that led to the conception of the ‘Tribes’ - its unique selling point that sees content split into categories, communities, hubs.

Users can subscribe to their interests and belong to these Tribes, and as an added incentive they are encouraged to post content via a multimedia-friendly content management system; they can even access analytics tools to chart their success. Below are some of the most popular Tribes on the site, hinting at the scope and diversity of its coverage.

“There’s three layers [of content], there’s the Clarkson, May and Hammond and other tribes, our own writers and then there’s the tens of thousands of contributors,” he said.

Currently around 12 dedicated writers are posting content on the site, but Schmitt predicts that will grow in the coming year.

Meanwhile the thousands of users are also welcome to post images, articles, videos, stories and more into the respective niche categories or 'Tribes', of which there are already some 20,000.

“We really have some well-established content creators and celebrities next to people like you and me who can just have fun with it and post stuff which sits side by side… some of the content we’ve seen gets massive reach from people who’ve never had a stage to share their stuff before.”

An obvious and immediate issue that crops up is how the good content is separately from the chaff.Posts can be anything from daily picture updates from Richard Hammond (at the moment the most popular contributor), to wider editorial pieces, tying in with the respective tribes. Like upvotes on Reddit, the community moderates the content with 'Bumps' which helps surface it on respective feeds.

The Tribes provide a place where car people can go and “share their passion”. One of the things separating it from rivals in the category and beyond however is the fact that all users must sign in to access the content, either through Facebook or via email. From here, their journey is meticulously tracked. Later in 2017, this will be the main source of data that will be used to populate the tribes with related native content in regions where there will be a guaranteed audience.

But appears there’s a grander plan at play, which will see DriveTribe act as a testbed for a wider media structure that could be applied across various categories and interests.

“We absolutely intend to replicate the Tribes model to other media categories," Schmitt said. Off the cuff he mused that fashion, music, food and pets would lend themselves to the models particularly well.

“Fashion is very tribal," he added.

Of course, before the Tribes expand their territory, the model has to work, and more importantly generate revenue. In time, Schmitt said, native ads will likely be the solution.

“Motoring is the world’s biggest advertising category… we’ve had auto manufacturers and media agencies knocking on our door asking ‘when can we spend money?’ but our answer to that is ‘in good time’ when we can do it perfectly seamlessly," he explained.

“It’s never going to be disruptive, there’s never going to be display advertising, that’s now what this is about.”

Facebook was suggested as the model to be emulated, “it generates vast amounts of ad revenue and you don’t even notice it – because it’s seamlessly integrated with your stream”.

Time will tell whether the gambit pays off and Schmitt bridges the gap between publisher and social network to evoke a sense of community, and even loyalty, from tribal car fans.

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