How to get your customers' motors running (hint: engage them like Harley)

So you've set up your social media accounts, posted a few tentative messages and...crickets.

Building relationships with customers through social media starts with the same building blocks as does all marketing; understanding who your target market is, why they buy and interact with your brand and what problems your product solves.

What is different is in the nature of the interaction. Instead of pushing your message out at customers, you need to allow for a conversation that goes both ways. And yes, that will mean having to relinquish a little control of your brand to your customers, which may seem scary at first.  But, it’s that 2-way dialogue which is crucial for customer engagement.  

Just think about it - you meet someone at a party, and all they can talk about is themselves, and why you should like them.  Do you a) feel connected and tell everyone else around you they should also want to hang out with your new friend, or b) excuse yourself and go find someone more interesting to talk to? Thought so.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking engagement is as easy as asking "when did you fall in love with <brand>" which I recently saw on Facebook.  This shows a lack of self awareness  - don't assume fans are unquestioning, as they will both seek out alternative opinions and share their own with you. In this case, the Facebook feed was filled with a litany of the ways the brand was currently failing to measure up to previously high expectations - clearly not the response the company was expecting.

A better example is one that leverages the creativity and genuine insights of followers, like Harley Davidson, who crowdsourced both the concept and execution of a recent marketing campaign from their fan base Their crowdsourcing platform, Fan Machine, let 4.4 million Facebook fans create, review and vote on potential marketing concepts. The result was #StereotypicalHarley, a campaign intended to challenge stereotypes and show the diversity of their customer base, while encouraging customers to proudly showcase their ride.

Our fans know how to express our brand. They live it every day.
— Dino Bernacchi, Director of Marketing Communications for Harley-Davidson

A separate microsite The Ridebook (which in a year has over 5 million fans) features stories and videos curated by bloggers and musicians from Napa Valley wine trips to a Brooklyn Barbershop, further highlighting Harley’s place as an American icon and inspiring and connecting with younger customers.


Lessons from Harley Davidson

To start with, be honest with yourself about who you are. While it’s important in planning your social media strategy to consider your customers, it also has to meet your communication objectives. So content, placement and tone which is is suitable for Harley Davidson won’t necessarily be right for a small accounting firm. 

Some points to consider:

  • Understand enough about your target market that you know which social media channels they are active in and what they might like to interact with
  • Go beyond product information - what are the concerns, pain points and interests of your target market, which are tangental to you (and thus where you can say something relevant)?
  • Give fans something to share
  • Ask them questions
  • Invite them to contribute. Businesses like Harley Davidson and Toshiba have had really successful results crowdsourcing ideas for advertising campaigns 
  • Consider other forms of content - text, photos, video, info graphics, podcasts and webinars are all ways of increasing engagement and encouraging sharing


Image via Moyan Brenn