Canadian Motorcycle Industry and Social Media

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TwitterUntil recently the following sentence made little sense to the Canadian Motorcycle industry, “I, @OneWheelDrive, twitter. Meaning that I send tweets to the micro-blogging site, and being a geek I’ve connected those 140 character posts though to http://OneWheelDrive.Net and my Facebook account.” The practical upstart is as a reader you’ve joined me overlooking glaciers, shivering at the Arctic Circle and mid-review of various bikes. Now, increasingly members of Canada’s motorcycle industry are adopting social media, but there are no guarantees they are using it well.

For those of you who’ve eluded its time sucking vortex, Twitter is a “microblogging” platform. Your posts, known as tweets, are limited to 140 characters. These posts can contain URLs, best compressed though a service like http://tr.im so they don’t take up a lot of your character allotment, which can link to articles, pictures, or more robust blog posts. In a bit of meta-humour, I’ve probably done just that, thereby using a link shortening service to link from a tweet to this article, which in part discussing link shortening services and tweets.

Excuse me while I recurse.

Schedule Time: Social Media has the most attractive cost of entry of any means of “marketing”, free, but the biggest cost is in time conversing with your followers. Try to allot a 15 minutes on either end of the day to keep up with the conversations as you would e-mail or other business correspondence. Most likely you’ll end up enjoying the conversation with like minded motorcyclists anyways.

You can also follow other twitter users that you find interesting, and address tweets specifically by prefixing a fellow twitter user’s username with the @ symbol. There are of course a variety of privacy settings, which are somewhat byzantine until you realize that at Twitter’s aim is to be one very large, very public exchange of thoughts. A massive network conversation, and that’s where the Canadian Motorcycle Industry is getting it wrong.

Twitter’s value is in its connections, according to 4 million connections between Twitter users as of April 30th, 2008 according to Silicon Alley Insider. Given that the site has been growing by 200,000 users daily and 3-million messages a day (as of March 2008), Twitter has huge potential for connecting and creating relationships between a brand and its consumers, or more appropriately in social media terms Followers, Fans or Friends. While Facebook now accounts for 25% of the page views in the United States, a staggering amount of traffic.

Follow Back: That doesn’t mean everyone, there are spam followers on twitter just like everywhere else. The sexier and less clothing in the picture, the more likely it’s a spam account, but following is key to involving people in your brand.

Keep in mind the italicized words in the preceding paragraphs, because they are the keys to unlocking Twitter’s (and other social medias) deeper potential; conversation, connections and relationships. So far most of the Canadian motorcycle industry is content to broadcast a shotgun blast of links to news articles, press releases, company announcements to their followers. Our fellow media aren’t guiltless, as most of those online like @CycleCanada or @CMG_Online don’t respond to followers on their Twitter timeline, while others like MotorcycleMojo, Canadian Biker and Inside Motorcycles are completely absent.

So, here is Twitter, a well-established social media in terms of popularity and it’s either ignored or approached with the same old broadcast message. Marshall McLuhan must be rolling in his grave, before we even glance at the second internet known as Facebook.

Currently in Canada there are a couple standouts. Didier Constant ( @motoplus_ca ), Publisher & Editor-in-chief of motoplus.ca, follows and is followed and can be messaged. The other is Yamaha Canada ( @YamahaMotorCa ).

Converse: You are building relationships with your followers, that means a two-way conversation. If your just in social media to broadcast advertise then you’re not getting it. Conversation requires time, but it carries a lot of value from a marketing perspective, your twitter replies often appear in the feed of the recipients, exposing your brand to an entirely new following of Twitter users.

@YamahaMotorCa isn’t big on following back yet, nor are they currently engaging in conversations with their followers, breaking with basic twitter etiquette, but they are moving swiftly in the right direction.

For the SCOOTER SENSE (ALMOST) WORLD TOUR! (http://motorcycles.yamahablogs.ca/2009/09/25/scooter-sense-almost-world-tour/ ), @YamahaMotorCa had a man tweeting from a scooter as he rides from Montreal to Toronto over three days, with, “No money, a $25 gas card, a stack of t-shirts, a tent for camping and a mission to spread the scooter gospel.”

More importantly the rider, Bryan Hudgin, “would love to have any fans and riders join me along the way.” If this had been tweeted with Bryan’s location, we would have had what in twitter speak is called a “tweetup”, the real world meeting of twitter followers. Unfortunately the conversation isn’t yet a two-way street, but the “tweetup” potential moves Yamaha away from spamming broadcaster and towards creating an interesting and valuable relationship with the its tweeps (twitter followers).

Engage: Social Media allows you to create a unique relationship with readers. Want to show off a product, having a rider tweet from the road is the most obvious way, but why not allow the readers suggest destinations for that rider?

Danny Brault, Public Relations Coordinator for Yamaha Motor Canada Ltd., discussed the companies use of social media via e-mail. According to Brault, Yamaha decided to use twitter for the SCOOTER SENSE (ALMOST) WORLD TOUR!, “Because of its speed and timeliness. Twitter’s biggest benefit is the ability to update in real-time, obviously, and fit the bill perfectly for what Bryan was trying to accomplish and how he was traveling. You can update Twitter from your phone, on the road, in a restaurant – you’re not bound to anything. We also have our Twitter feed embedded into our Bike Blog, so readers can also find updates there.”

What Yamaha values in this medium to quote Brault is, “The ability to interact with our consumers. The best form of advertising is hearsay, and what better way to get people talking about our products than by talking to them, and giving them a chance/platform to talk back. It’s also instantaneous. There is no waiting for a magazine or newspapers to be printed. People want it now, today, not tomorrow.”

With all the talk of immediacy one could be concerned that Yamaha’s Twitter effort might be a quick test of the waters or a flash in the pan. Not so says Brault, “Personally, I see this continuing. We are looking at this long term. We want to become a force in the social media world, and really bring to life our products, racing and events. It’s really the best way to speak to our consumers, and have them talk back.”

In an industry where there tends to be barriers between the consumers and the manufacturer, Yamaha’s approach is refreshing. For one it takes the onus of interaction with the end consumer off the dealership, for two there is the potential that dealerships will be held more accountable to the customers if there’s direct contact between the manufacturers and the consumer.

Value: Make sure your tweets or facebook posts have relevance to your audience. “This is the bike we’re riding.”, isn’t near as interesting as, “Here’s a twitpic of the bike we’re riding through the middle of a desert in the American Southwest.”, or “OMG! I cratered the off a dune in the SW, but the suspension saved my ass. [twitpic link]” The later combines information a visual (twitpic), information about the bike, personal detail and travel.

The biggest criticism most social media users will have with Brault’s statement is the use of the term advertising, but remember this is an industry which is slow to engage the web and the terminology will likely reflect that for some time. Across a variety of media interruption based advertising is proving less and less effective, and in and industry as relatively small and passion driven as motorcycling consumers are more than willing to interact and converse, one can look to any number of hugely successful motorcycle forums for evidence of that.

Conversation though caries risks, like any other Internet medium social media could be abused by consumers who’ve an axe to grind with a dealership or over a minor product issue, but by and large surveying tweets among OneWheelDrive’s 830-plus twitter followers its remarkable how civil the conversation is – there’s a lack of flaming, cursing and slander.

That’s mainly because Twitter success requires you to participate in a conversation; behave well, be interesting and you receive the psychological reward of people following you. Behave like and ass, and there’s the immediate sting of the unfollow or block buttons. As a social model, Twitter and Facebook are largely a self-regulating system that behavioral psychologists will handily recognize – random reinforcement in the form of approval for good and interesting thoughts, and far swifter disapproval for bad behaviour. Twitter is perhaps one of the strongest arguments that the web conversation is growing up.

It’s a structure that safely lets a company like Yamaha Canada use a more conversational, rather than broadcast relationship, with its followers on Twitter.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. We want to create a two-way conversation with our consumers and readers,” says Brault, “the same goes for our Facebook account and Bike and Sled Blogs. We aren’t trying to hide from anything or anyone; we want to directly interact with consumers.”

While Yamaha is at the forefront among the Canadian brands they aren’t entirely alone. Kawasaki’s Jeff Comello, Assistant Manager, Marketing & Accessories, says his brand is like many, “we are evaluating the best methods to enter this new medium. We’re certainly looking into Facebook/Myspace.” While BMW’s Chris Duff says the Canadian manufacturer is beginning to “explore the possibilities of creating a Facebook page for both our BMW Motorrad Summerfest Event and our corporate race team for next year. It is still early in the process so we will see how it goes.”

Get Real: Use twitter to announce real world “tweetups” and events. Have a demo trailer in a special area, reward your followers with a special “tweetup” demo ride? Or show off the latest new bike in a bit of gorilla marketing by announcing its location on twitter. Social media offers a unique way of connecting your Internet followers to your brand in the real world.

The caution around social media is understandable, it’s new by comparison to the venerable interruption model of outbound marketing, which has been slowly evolving for the past 150 years and sees advertisers fighting each other and even media’s own content for a reader or viewers attention. The problem with outbound marketing as the internet becomes the social-web is that the audience has moved on to expressing itself (through blogs, opinion and review sites and ratings), sharing thoughts and opinions via social media, and searching rather than passive consumption.

A brands print ad may be fabulous, but when you ask your friends what they think of the Honda CBR1000RR, you’re unlikely to buy based on the response of, “Well, the ad is really slick.” According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 47% of people will believe peers and 13% marketers for credible company and product information.

Be trustworthy: Engaging in social media requires transparency and a willingness to answer questions truthfully. That lets your audience trust you.

Failing a trusted peer review, the consumer’s next move is a web search with reviews as final destinations, not an ad. More than likely they will find a blog or social media post, that’s because a consumer’s trust or distrust of a brand is widely shared on the web; 56% of people age 35-64 and 63% of 25-34 year olds, share their trust or distrust of a brand on the web (Edelman). Using social media to create a conversation between a motorcycle brand and its consumers, requires an abandonment of the “trust issues” around the interruption model and the adoption of unprecedented transparency.

What the “early” adopters will gain is a strong conversational history within social media, while more cautious brands are simply loosing the audience. As Oscar Wilde put it, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” So it’s probably best to strike up the conversation.

Still unique in media is that Twitter and Facebook are real time based, making them especially useful for engaging followers in direct conversation or encouraging them to track a particular event, or, as in Yamaha’s case, a product in the wild. As such social media opens the door to demonstrating products in a way that has never been possible on a limited budget.

Diversify: Twitter is only one arrow in a broader social media quiver; Facebook and YouTube have huge followings and can effectively reach your followers. There are a number of client programs that will let your reach multiple social media simultaneously.

Want to demonstrate a new adventure bike? Cue up savvy journalists, arm them with a cell phone, and send out onto the dirt and the roads. Let them post, review, shoot video clips and interact with readers in real time, creating immediate and wide spread buzz about a product. Pontiac used this model with the 2009 Vibe Launch in Vancouver, going so far as to partner with Rogers to supply journalist with Blackberry Pearls for the event. The side effect to this, Twitter and other social media generate a ripple effect. Tweets are available on a public timeline, reaching beyond the bounds of current motorcycle-centric followers, and combined with twitpics and twitvid, create an appealing media stream encourage non-riders to the sport, which is something specialist magazines reaching a targeted audience fall short on.

On the US side of the web it’s clear that @SuzukiScoop and @DucatiUSA are both leaders. @SuzukiScoop established itself early, interacting with twitter followers, taking part in the conversation, and accumulating over 3,500+ followers for its efforts. While @DucatiUSA has been far more creative with the media, such as running an RT (re-tweet) giveaway for 3-day passes to Laguna Seca or Indy for 2010 in order to quickly engage more followers.

Still the motorcycle industry is a long ways from Nissan where Twitter played an integral part in the social media campaign to launch the Cube, a ‘Ute that overdosed on cute. The entire launch campaign for the Cube was built around social media and aimed to, “engage with the creative class across Canada, whose members personify the Cube brand,” according Jeff Parent, VP sales and marketing of Nissan Canada.

The motocycle market of course isn’t so broad that one can segment it so selectively, but if building a strong relationship with ones potential clients is the holy marketing grail, then the proper use of Twitter can’t be ignored. This social media’s strengths are clear; it cares nothing for distance, which is important in a country the size of Canada. The medium is free to set up, with the primary cost being the time required of a corporate representative to hold a conversation with enthusiasts. The biggest problem is shifting from a broadcast to a relationship model; to overcome that, the industry needs is a willingness to open up.


Author Neil Johnston can be found on twitter at: http://twitter.com/OneWheelDrive
Before his life as a motorcycle journalist Neil Johnston has consulted to notables AOL, Time Warner, Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in the capacity of Web Developer, Information Architect, Product Manager and User Interface Designer and Social Media consultant.

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