Social Networking Gets On Its Bike
The rise in popularity of cycling coincides with the growth of social networking and microblogging. New Media Knowledge took a look at the industry and spoke to one firm which aims to build a social network for keen riders.
Fuelled by environmental consciousness and the success of the British Olympic team at Beijing 2008, cycling is enjoying unprecedented popularity in the UK. The number of people in the UK riding their bike at least once a month has risen to more than 3.5 million with bike sales up five per cent year-on-year.
Cycling has absorbed social media to enhance its popularity. Craig Brophy, head of PR at the Tour of Britain, runs influential blog site Sweat n’ Gears and believes that tools such as Twitter have made cycling even more compelling.
“Twitter’s a great tool. You now have journalists tweeting updates live from races and uploading twitpics so you can get updates in real-time,” Brophy said. “[Multiple Tour de France winner] Lance Armstrong has a big following on Twitter and to see him on there makes fans feel like he’s their buddy.”
To cater for the growing number of cyclists hitting the roads, new social networks have emerged to help keen riders to exchange ideas and get together. NMK caught up with the founder of one network to see how one builds a social network from scratch.
Wheels in Motion
Ben Ayers’ day job is working to engage ITV viewers and encourage them to interact more with the broadcaster’s web offering. In his spare time he founded cycling network Meandmybicycle.com in late 2007 and has since grown to several thousand members from around the world. This spring Ayers became a partner in Cycle Social, a social network aimed primarily towards UK riders.
Cycle Social is built on Ning, the site which enables users to create their own social networks, and is a free to join social network which enables riders to blog, debate, share experiences, photos and videos for people who love cycling, Ayers says. At the moment, it’s all about building awareness.
“Social media is definitely a big part of it,” Ayers told NMK. “The blog and the website are the main channels to reaching users, but we’re using Twitter as well and that’s a brilliant marketing tool.”
But with so many types of rider interest – racing, mountain biking and touring, for example – how does the site cater for all interests?
“We’re aiming to make it easy to group with other people with similar interests,” Ayers said. “We don’t want it to be for any particular interest group, it’s for all types. We’re building up horizontal links to help people group themselves as suits them.”
Mapping technologies are revolutionising the way cyclists record their rides, with sites such as MapMyRide.com enabling riders to chronicle their trips online via global positioning system (GPS) on either satellite navigation tools or via 3G iPhone.
“We’re very interested in mapping, GPS and video. Using tools like the iPhone to download data on your rides will be de facto in next couple of years,” Ayers said. “Googlemaps has done some great work in route mapping.”
Wheels of Commerce
Cycle Social currently does not carry ads, but this may well change, Ayers says.
“Beyond what we pay to Ning we don’t have any overheads. At the moment we’re just building up scale,” he said. “With a niche, interest-driven network like Cycle Social once you get into the tens of thousands of members we can build good scale. When you have a community that’s into a specific interest, like cycling, then you can market cycling products more effectively to them.”