Bike Week lures visitors with tweets, postings

Laconia’s Bike Week, the nine-day motorcycle rally that each June attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers to the Granite State, has rolled out a social media campaign to market itself to old and new attendees.”This is really the first year that we’ve used (social media) to any sort of a larger extent,” said Jennifer Anderson, director of the annual bike festival, which is now in its 88th year and kicks off on June 11.With more than 8,000 fans, the Bike Week Facebook page has turned into a hub for attendees around the world to post pictures from past rallies, find riders from their region to ride with and ask for advice on where to lodge during their stay.”Facebook is really allowing people to talk to each other,” said Anderson. “My first reaction when people post a question is that I want to be the helpful first person to answer, but I don’t have to. It’s creating this nice little community that we don’t have on our website.”And since so many Bike Week patrons are likely to have smartphones tucked into the pockets of their leather jackets, Anderson said organizers intend to reach out daily throughout the nine-day rally using social media, whether that means tweeting reminders about an upcoming concert or posting directions on Facebook to a race.Local businesses have also jumped on board. Anderson said this has been the first year that sponsors have included in their advertisements QR Codes — bar codes that users can scan with their camera phones that can, for example, direct him or her to the advertiser’s website – which, for a nearby restaurant or retailer, is not a bad way to instantly direct eyes to its menu or wares.One area business that has kicked up its social media marketing efforts ahead of Bike Week has been Harley-Davidson of Laconia, which is running contests through its Facebook page, one of which grants two lucky attendees the chance to meet Jackyl, the band headlining the rally (and, in a nod to the band’s signature on-stage prop, an autographed chainsaw).”Social media, online marketing and mobile technologies have revolutionized the way we interact with customers,” said Anne Deli, owner of Laconia Harley. “A recent survey of our customers and riders showed they are turning to the Web and social media to get more information about events, including Laconia Bike Week.”During lean economic times, free avenues of marketing, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been beneficial to promoting the event, said Anderson.”Last year, we were down in corporate sponsorship, but we refused to cut our advertising,” she said. “Not advertising is like winking in the dark – you’re the only one who knows you’re doing it.”Since welcoming a record 415,000 attendees in 2004, the rally has seen a decline in attendance in more recent years, thanks in particular to the recession.”With any motorcycle rally, it follows the climate of the country,” said Anderson.Factors like high gas prices could affect how many attend this year’s event. Sure, says Anderson, motorcycles get great gas mileage, but “people don’t live in this isolated bubble. At home, they’re paying high gas prices for their cars, and that money has to come from somewhere – typically, vacation funds.”Even though attendance declined from 2004, it has remained fairly steady in the years since, said Anderson. Based on attendance at other rallies this year, she anticipates 2011 will be a strong year – especially if the weather cooperates.Because Laconia is an easy day trip destination for many Northeast states, a sunny day can be all the impetus someone from Connecticut or New York needs to head up for the day, she said.Plus, she said, the rally has kicked up its efforts to court international visitors, particularly from countries like Germany, where motorcycling is a major industry. In addition to a “considerable amount of marketing in Canada,” Bike Week has also teamed up with Discover New England, the New Hampshire Department of Travel and Tourism and the Highland Lake Inn in Andover to plan tours for international visitors around motorcycle week.Communicating with other rallies about the ways they have taken advantage of social media will help Laconia’s marketing efforts in the coming years, said Anderson. “You keep evolving … it’s important to learn from each other.” — KATHLEEN CALLAHAN/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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