Monday, October 6, 2008

The H.O.G.®s Roar Onto Facebook

. . .and MySpace and YouTube. A few days ago I got an email from Overdrive Interactive CEO Harry Gold. He invited me to check out the new social media channels Overdrive developed for Harley-Davidson.

The H.O.G.® (Harley Owners Group) is a classic customer community, long predating the Internet. HD says it was established in 1983. Long before that Harley owners were getting together to take rides that ranged from a few hours on a weekend to cross-country treks. Harley owners are passionate about their cycles and actively participate in activities. HD has been smart enough to nurture these activities and to insist that their employees participate. How better to learn what their customers are saying?

H.O.G.® chapters are sponsored by dealers. I couldn’t find out exactly how many, but I used the dealer locator. I found 6 dealerships in Massachusetts. Each one of them sponsors a H.O.G.® chapter. Some even have their own websites. There are also specialty chapters like the Chrome Divas who ride to support causes like a cure for breast cancer. Overall, they are clearly a force, with over a million members according to the Owners website. When you look at that site, it’s clearly an HD site although its set up to serve the H.O.G.® membership. It’s not very interactive. It publicizes member events and activities but I can’t see that it gives members much opportunity to participate and contribute content.

So social networking pages make sense. The YouTube Channel is pretty typical and a lot of the content has been provided by HD. There are 36 videos promoted on the page, all of which are from HD. When you access those, there are plenty of user-submitted videos you can access. There is also a series of Rider Stories, all of which seem to be HD-submitted material.

The comparison between the Facebook and MySpace pages is really interesting. Visually the contrast is striking. Some of the differences are probably dictated by the requirements of the two sites. You’ll have to visit the Facebook page yourself to see it all. What I found interesting is that there’s a clear distinction, both in the photos and the videos, between Harley-Davidson material and fan-submitted material. Other marketers might bear that in mind. The MySpace page is more edgy,but it’s also clearly structured between corporate and fan content. Again, there’s more than I can show in a static screen capture. When you take their invitation to “Tell Us Why You Ride a Harley” you find yourself back on the HD site, on a page called “Lets Ride,” which solicits owner experiences.

All this is really interesting and food for thought for the marketer. No marketer wants his or her brand to be entirely at the mercy of what the public says, even if it’s an audience that is overwhelmingly favorable to the brand. It’s rather clean and neat; not the free-for-all of personal pages on Facebook and MySpace or of the YouTube site (that’s why they have channels!). That makes sense. This is, after all, branded content and I’m sure it will be monitored for acceptability.

Harry says they’ve signed up over 60,000 friends and fans in the first few weeks. He’d be welcome to keep us updated on how they do/what they learn from this social marketing program!

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