The Late Motorcycle Industry… As in too Late to the New Media Party?

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Editor Neil JohnstonFaced with an economic downturn what would the motorcycling industry do for the tech-meme popularity of boomshine or Hunted Forever?  Where is the Honda branded Ride Red Forever?  Or KTM’s Bleed Orange Rally?  How many manufacturers are charging into the storm of social media like twitter, facebook or myspace and leveraging actual relationships with their riders? That chirping in the background you hear are crickets, the calm before the storm of marketing panic as nearly an entire industry gets caught with its marketing pants down.  Why?

To put a finger on it, lack of support.  The motorcycle manufacturers have in large part ignored web publications, even as readership numbers for print publications continue to decrease.  Why would a reader pay for Cycle Canada, when I can go read brit Mag TWO’s sharply written and passionate features on VisorDown.com?  Motorcyclist?  Have you met MotorcycleUSA.com?  The list is endless, and if I’m lucky OneWheelDrive.Net will be somewhere on it.  Who in their right mind goes digging though back issues of magazines for reviews of a bike they might purchase?

And now the downturn hits.  Having waited a number of quality web outlets into near extinction, the industry is casting around for ways to reach target buyers in a “cost effective” manner.  The problem is that the bar has moved.

Four years ago when one motorcycle industry “big wig” told me, “I will never advertise on the web.”, blogs were on the rise.  Now the world, his wife and their dog have a blog, and the once touted “blog-o-sphere” is the indistinguishable howl of everyone in the world screaming to be heard.  The lucky writer’s have established a core readership and continue to nurture that relationship.

The thing is, all that time not supporting internet publications, means that struggling internet outlets have been staling, unable to do the development required to breach social media’s technological barriers and leverage readership into relationship.

Relationship is the hallmark of new media today.  It’s not just the rise of a “social networking” buzzword, but common sense.  The web is near perfect for a many-to-many interactive model, or if you’re inclined conversations, and luckily a score of applications exist to manage those conversations.  It’s those conversations that will mark successful motorcycle brands in the coming years and that has important implications.

Case in point, our sister site Outdrive.ca, over the course of one week of consistent daily tweets (posts to our growing group of twitter friends) the site stats jumped by 43%.  A similar experiment on OneWheelDrive.Net, which has a stronger readership base, saw a 17.4% increase.

Companies such as Honda, Ford and Toyota have social media initiatives in which automotive industry marketers are coming down out of their ivory towers and interacting with individuals on twitter, facebook and similar social media.  That’s astounding be cause the shear volume of consumers these brands deal with means there’s a lot of relationships to be managed.

The motorcycle industry, in Canada at least, is a smaller player by a scale of 1000s, meaning the relationships that involve people with the brands are functionally easier to manage, but manufactures need to engage in the conversation either directly or via new media proxies.  Enough certainly exist, there are any number of forums that welcome industry representatives who clearly identified themselves.

At a recent motorcycle shop grand re-opening the representative of a boutique brand is looking decidedly uncomfortable in a conversation with an owner.  Admittedly the opening line is a forum gem about issues with the product, an off putting start.  Later the representative comes over to me.  He’s just had two conversations, one negative, one positive, both he seems to feel are an onus.  The unfortunate thing is they aren’t an onus, during the downturn they could be his brand in the future.

You can Follow me on Twitter or reach me via OWD’s facebook group .

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