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How To Build an Online Community the Harley-Davidson Way


Photo Credit: Bruce Bailey

I love Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Except for the fact that they are too expensive and break-down too often. Other than that, they’re great.

Ok, snark aside, Harley-Davidson (from now on abbreviated as H-D), the brand, the company–the culture?–has accomplished something incredible.

While all other motorcycle manufacturers have taken a nose-dive with their profits, H-D remains incredibly successful. Why?

Because they know how to build a community around their motorcycles, and by the time you finish reading this post, you will know H-D’s secret sauce for building a community and a culture around their brand.

Let’s rev up our engines and pop a wheelie, shall we?

Get Out the Way

If you’re hoping to build a community around your blog, brand, product, service, etc., the best thing you can do is do what H-D has done. Get out the way.

In other words, create an environment for people to congregate in, and enable them to make connections with one another, and then just get out of the way.

All successful implementations of online community building, have that one simple thing in common. Create an environment for people to congregate together, and get out of the way.

This is why Facebook, Twitter, Triberr, and countless other online communities, are successful. They’ve created a way for the members of those platforms to connect with one another, and the less noticeable the technology is, the better. The less noticeable you are in the online-building equation, the better.

Facilitate connections amongst the members, and watch magical effects take place.

How Not To Do It

A notable author and a marketing powerhouse, Jim Kukral, recently asked me how to turn his Author Marketing Club site into a community.

At the moment, authors can submit their books for distribution to readers, and readers can sign up to get a list of free Kindle books delivered to them every day. A neat service, but NOT a community. Why?

Both authors and members are “walled off” from one another. They are visible to Jim, but they are NOT visible to one another.

This is how all email-based subscription services work. They are good for “pushing” information, but they are useless in helping you create a community and a culture around your blog/brand/product/service/etc.

Jim is limited by the fact that no blogging platform–not even WordPress–is build for engagement. It’s built for publishing.

The member-site plugin Jim is using is built for selling products, and capturing emails. Both are fine and useful functions for sure, but NOT conducive to community building.

How TO Do It

Facebook is a popular platform for building pseudo-communities.

I call them “pseudo-communities” because you don’t own the Facebook Group you’ve created, Facebook does. And you don’t own Facebook Likes people give you, Facebook does.

And if Facebook decides to shut you down, change their model, or go out of business, all your community-building efforts are essentially wasted and you have to start from scratch.

So, what’s the answer?

A few weeks ago, Triberr deployed something called Atomic Tribes (AT). It’s a feature that addresses the issues I’ve discussed above.

  • The members can “see” one another
  • Members can “congregate” around a Tribe Counsel wall (essentially a Facebook Wall function)
  • Members receive your new blog posts, RSS-to-Email style
  • Members share your new blog posts automatically to their Twitter followers and Facebook friends (soon LinkedIn will be added)
  • You can export member Emails (in development)

To experience what it means to be a member of an Atomic Tribe, I invite you to join mine for a while, take it for a spin, and if you like it, get one for yourself.

Do What Harley Does

Harley-Davidson motorcycles transcend the technology on which they’re built

  • To ride a Harley has deeper implications on who you are as a person than riding any other motorcycle.
  • To own a Harley is the first step in being admitted into an exclusive club.

And Harley-Davidson has accomplished this by creating opportunities for its customers to connect with one another. THAT is the one and only difference between H-D and other motorcycle manufacturers. And THAT is the only reason H-D is successful while others are struggling for market share.

Be like Harley. Facilitate connectivity and just get out the way.


Editor’s Note: To learn more about community from Dino, check out his session, “How to Build a Community of Fanatics” at NMX in Las Vegas this January. 


  • Bruce

    It would be nice if you would give me credit for the photo that you have used for this article. I shot the photo myself in August 2010 at the Sturgis Rally. See my article with the photo here: http://westcoastbiker.net/bike-trips/sturgis-2010/

    • WordsDoneWrite

      Bruce, we ask all our contributors to use images that they are allowed to use or give credit as necessary. It sounds as though something fell through the cracks and for that we apologize. I’m happy to either credit and link to your site, or remove the image.

    • dino_dogan

      Amber, thnx for taking care of Bruce, and Bruce, thnx for saying something. 
      Sourcing  the image from google, I never know if the original site is the actual source or not…so I never bother putting the credit. When in doubt, do nothing, is my motto, it seams 🙂
      But Im glad you said something, and Im also kind of amazed that you stumbled across your image …small world, huh? 🙂

  • Laurie Eno

    This rocks. I’m completely on board with the building community and setting it loose concept. People want to connect with one another about their experiences with the product, it enhances the cohesiveness of the group. People get to identify as members of the group and feel that their individual participation matters too.  I’ve taken this tack with my blog’s facebook page and it’s grown to 11,000 fans in three years, because I’ve given them a place to connect around something they all love (Welsh Corgis), and support one another in real time around both losses and joys.  Sure, there’s some moderation to keep trollish and offensive things out of the mix, but that’s become less and less of a problem, to the point where it hardly happens anymore. The personal is SO important and can’t be overlooked.

    • WordsDoneWrite

      You had me at Welsh Corgis 😉

    • dino_dogan

      Hi Laorie, 
      Hitting people over the head with your presence is no way to build a community, and certainly keeping them “walled off” will never even have a snowballs chance in hell in creating a community.
      Thnx for commenting and more importantly, thank you got “getting it”. 

  • David Fink

    “And if Facebook decides to shut you down, change their model, or go out of business, all your community-building efforts are essentially wasted and you have to start from scratch.
    So, what’s the answer?”An unproven start-up such as Triberrrr? I don’t think that’s really the answer to that question. But since this is a sales pitch and not an actual article, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

    • dino_dogan

      ya, you have a point. Startups come and go, and why should Triberr be any different? 
      Here’s the difference. If Triberr goes away, you still get to keep the people who are in your tribe. 
      We’re building Triberr to be the best thing since sliced bread for bloggers…what am I supposed to do? Not say anything? lol

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