It’s time for the second installment of Social Media Smackdown, and this time, I’m putting two Northern California-based purveyors of fine outdoor performance clothing to the test: Mountain Hardwear and The North Face. As an owner of several pieces of gear from these two brands, I can attest that I wouldn’t be as comfortable skiing or hiking without them. But how are they engaging with their fans online through social media? Let’s find out:
Round 1: Twitter
Mountain Hardwear: Following 476, Followers 1,121, Tweets 72
Mountain Hardwear started Tweeting at the end of 2008. Even though the account doesn’t identify who is tweeting on behalf of the company, the account really seems to have a personal voice and it’s more than just pushing out product news. There’s a good mix of replies and retweets in the stream, and Mountain Hardwear does a good job of sharing a variety of content: links to gear reviews, videos and blog posts from outdoor/adventure bloggers. They also highlight awards and accolades not only for their products but also for their company (named one of America’s Best Places to Work). Mountain Hardwear also tried to start a Backcountry Cookbook and asked fans to DM them with recipes. However, since it doesn’t appear to be following back most of its fans, followers wouldn’t be able to send a DM to the account. Mountain Hardwear’s stats from Twitter Friends show that Mountain Hardwear earns a CQ (conversation quotient) score of 50 percent and relatively high LQ (link quotient) and RQ (retweet quotient) scores of 16.4 percent and 44.4 percent, respectively. A new account, but one that shows good promise in actively and authentically engaging with fans, and it’s very focused on conversation and not necessarily marketing.
The North Face: Following 327, Followers 1,839, Tweets 91
The North Face has been on Twitter since October 2007, so the fact that they’ve only posted 91 tweets in that time immediately indicated to me that maybe the brand wasn’t too engaged with Twitter. It seems as though the account’s activity has picked up lately, however. And the tweetstream also has a personal voice to it. @replies to followers clarify differences between products, give instructions on how to return a product for repair, and even help a potential intern with where to send a resume. Tweets include alerts on new store openings and coupons, product announcements, and events. Overall, the marketing is kept minimal and a lot of time is spent replying to and engaging with followers. Twitter Friends shows a CQ of 58.9 percent, LQ of 46.4 percent, and no retweets.
Point: I’d say this one’s a draw. Both brands are doing a good job of being personable and accessible through Twitter and connecting with fans while not merely trying to push out their own content.
Round 2: Facebook
Mountain Hardwear’s Facebook page currently has more than 3,800 fans. They have 12 photo albums with some fantastic shots of “Mountain Hardwear Athletes in Action” but there are also photos of staffers at events at the company headquarters– really giving a personal feel to the company. The discussion area of the page shows good engagement from fans. Mountain Hardwear posts questions like, “What’s your favorite climb?” and “What’s your favorite recovery food?” They’ve integrated their blog’s RSS feed to post notes to their Facebook page and posted more than 100 links to climbing news, articles about outdoor adventure travel, and blog posts on conservation events. Fans are very engaged on the page, asking questions, posting product line suggestions, and uploading pictures of themselves in MHW gear.
The North Face has ten times as many fans, at 37,000+ (although The North Face is much more widely distributed and sells a greater variety of attire, including less-technical gear). Five photo albums on the page showcase The North Face-sponsored outdoor events and fans have uploaded close to 100 of their own pictures. Some sponsored events are posted, including an Endurance Challenge.They also have an RSS feed of their blog so that posts appear as notes on its fan page, and The North Face uses notes to push out sales promotions such as free gifts and discounts at its outlet stores exclusively for Facebook fans who print out the note and bring it to the store. Additionally, some of The North Face’s Outlet Stores have just started their own individual Facebook fan pages (The North Face Store Minneapolis, for example).
Point: Ever so slightly, The North Face gets the point here. Both brands have a solid Facebook presence, but The North Face’s innovative use of exclusive coupons and deals for its Facebook fans via the notes feature gives them the edge.
Round 3: Web site
Both brands’ Web sites start with landing pages that ask you to select your country/language. Both sites are aesthetically pleasing. The major difference is that The North Face sells gear directly through its Web site, so it is set up as more of an eCommerce site. Mountain Hardwear’s products are sold through distribution and so there’s a prominent “Where to Buy” link at the top that directs customers to dealer Web sites.
The Mountain Hardwear site includes a link to “The Expedition Republic” social community, but the site takes an interminably long time to load. BUT, if you can hang with it, it’s a truly awesome landing page. It almost comes across looking like a 3D video game, where you can click different parts of a landscape to zoom in and get a glimpse into an online community of hikers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. Once you’re in the community (it’s built on the Ning platform), each member has a profile page and can post photos, videos, discussion questions, or join groups. There are currently more than 1,200 members. Additionally, the Mountain Hard Wear site links to a company blog, Hardwear Sessions, which is more of an outdoor adventure blog than a company or product blog. It features posts from Adventure Journalists and information about rock climbing clinics, mixed in with a few product posts (“Mountain Hardwear Gear Featured on the Amazing Race”, e.g.).
The North Face site is designed to sell, and most of it is devoted to products. Customers can submit product reviews on the site. There’s a brief “Explore” menu with links to Expeditions, Videos, Downloads and Feeds. The North Face has several blogs and a podcast, and RSS feeds are available for all of them. One blog follows The North Face climbing team around the globe, another focuses on endurance challenges, a third dedicated to The North Face gear. Feeds to various “Expedition Dispatches” blogs follow specific athletes on their adventures. You can also sign-up for e-mail updates on the site. There are dozens of videos on The North Face site, grouped by type of activity. Overall, while there’s a lot of content, it is very dispersed and fractured. You have to leave the site to visit all of The North Face’s blogs–which are at different domains–and that’s if you can find the links to the blogs, which are buried on the site. There’s nothing on the site that engenders a sense of community among customers or fans, and there are no obvious links to find The North Face at their other online properties like Twitter or Facebook.
Point: This one goes to Mountain Hardwear, for building a focused blog and an incredible Ning community for its fans to connect and share – and making all of these features easily located from the home page.
Round 4: Other Social Sites (Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, etc.)
The North Face has a branded YouTube channel with 63 videos and the most viewed video has more than 9,000 hits. Mountain Hardwear also has a YouTube channel, with 26 videos (most-viewed has 5,000+ hits). The North Face didn’t have a Flickr page that I could find, but Mountain Hardwear had both a Flickr profile and group. They invite people to post pictures showing creative use of their gear to the group photo pool. More than 130 pictures are posted to the group, and over 1,100 images are on the company’s profile. I did not detect a Myspace presence for either company (and honestly, I don’t think that many in their target audience frequent that site).
Point: I’ll go with Mountain Hardwear here, although it’s close. The North Face essentially loses out due to their lack of presence on Flickr, where Mountain Hardwear has come up with some creative ways to get its customers/fans involved by photographing their use of MHW products.
The Final Verdict: It looks like the tally favors Mountain Hardwear, by a smidgen. Both brands are to be commended for embracing social media and engaging with fans on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube. The North Face has a more diverse customer base, while Mountain Hardwear caters to more technical and focused outdoor enthusiasts, so a dedicated Ning community devoted to mountaineering expeditions may work for them but not for The North Face. Regardless, these two brands aren’t afraid to use emerging social media tools to find and connect with fans.
I think I’ll throw on my Mountain Hardwear base layer and The North Face waterproof shell and head to… the grocery store. Sometimes everyday is not an adventure.
Image via Flickr user Domingo Sandoval