Opinion: Roadtrek CEO shows power of social media

By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

It was interesting watching a Facebook post as it developed last week after being initiated by Jim Hammill, president and CEO of Erwin Hymer Group, the parent company of Roadtrek.

First of all, Hammill deserves major kudos for putting his face on the front lines of the social media battlefield. It is rare to see corporate CEOs willing to ask questions of owners and field responses from customers on a public site.  It’s rarer still to find the CEO of a company actually engaging customers and answering their questions on dozens of posts every week.

He posted this simple question to the Facebook Roadtreking group at 7:17 a.m. Feb. 21:

“Hey folks, I am at a business conference in Germany right now. I need your help! Can you please tell me if you like this Roadtreking group? Is it important? Does it matter to you? Why? Thanks in advance and keep on trekking!”

Within seven hours, he had 358 comments. Four days later, that jumped to 476.

The comments provided specific information about what members appreciate about the group and why they turn to it day after day for information about the company, its products and the RV lifestyle in general.

I have no idea what research he was conducting or why. But, the evidence shows how easy it is for CEOs and corporate managers to gather near instantaneous feedback at absolutely no cost. Just ask a question, go grab a cup of coffee, talk to a few folks in the break room, then come back and start reviewing answers.

Some will criticize the group because moderators are quick to step in and clamp down on negative discussions. They actually go so far as to ban super-negative people from the group. I’ve been told it’s okay for people to seek advice for problems they are experiencing and to even indicate dissatisfaction with something. But the type of flamethrowers that have been known to ruin other Facebook groups are not tolerated in the Roadtrekking group.

Still, it is not unusual for Hammill to respond directly to customer posts, both good and bad. In fact, it appears he has participated in almost two dozen discussions in the past 10 days or so.

I’d encourage the CEOs of every RV-related company from manufacturers to suppliers to dealers to join or create a Facebook group devoted to their business, select a moderator or two and create an awesome online community. I truly think they’d be surprised when they can sit back and read how others are talking about the company and its products.

Year’s ago, business consultants were preaching an MBWA style of leadership — managing by walking around. Today, they can do the same thing, but by lounging around instead.

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • Jim Hammill says:

    I was showing a group of 200 EHG colleagues why they ought to embrace their brand families personally. Not with plastic customer service policies and flowcharts and cut and paste answers.
    Take it on the chin. It’s worth it.

    The people in the Roadtreking community are amazing.

    Mike Wendland has built a site with 1.5 million visits per quarter. 400000 Facebook likes on his main Facebook pages. It’s unreal. His commitment to lifestyle and support for each other is amazing. His volunteers who moderate for him are superb at keeping the conversations productive and global.

    We are pleased to sponsor him and I consider the vast majority of these folks to be my friends.

    Our lifestyle is a fantastic way to live.

    Be human. It only makes it better.

    I don’t think anyone would see it. It was perfect for my point.

    • Bob Zagami says:

      You do a great job Jim, keep it up. Mike is a terrific spokesperson for Roadtrek!

      • Mike Wendland says:

        Hey Bob… just to be clear: I am not a spokesperson for Roadtrek. I am a reporter and podcaster and Roadtrek is a sponsor of my blog and podcast, along with a half dozen other companies. I report about the RV lifestyle and travel experience and just happen to drive a Roadtrek. But our social media, blog and podcast platforms are all aimed at RVers of any kind. We keep it positive, focused on the lifestyle and don’t allow bashing.
        Jim is an active member of our online community and he has many friends in our community. He really gets social media and never mixes marketing or sales with community. He genuinely enjoys engaging with our thousands of participants. He may be a CEO but in our community, he’s just another member who offers support, encouragement and ideas.
        He understands that it’s all about the lifestyle. The RV is just the vehicle we use to get out there and have fun. Literally.
        My wife, Jennifer calls our Roadtrek RV an “adventuremobile.”
        That’s why we all RV. To have adventures. And that’s what we concentrate on, reporting and discussing the places we visit, the many hobbies our RV lifestyle enables, the interesting people we meet, boondocking, being “out there” and enjoying God’s amazing creation.
        As Greg noted in his main post, most of the RV industry misses the mark on social media. They hire marketing firms or PR people to run their various platforms, “professionals” who are not personally invested in the RV lifestyle and thus can’t relate to those they are trying to attract. And the CEOs never engage. They just pontificate.
        My unsolicited advice to the industry: Trust your customers, engage with them like Jim Hammill does, quit looking at social media as a sales tool and…. have fun!

  • Dan VanHout says:

    Please share this with Marcus Lemonis! Camping World needs to take it on the chin and see what people really think of them. Maybe then they will grow at the same pace as the industry.

    • Rick says:

      Don’t look now, EHG is going down a road that could lead to some bumpiness, seeing as Camping World are now selling a product from the Erwin Hymer Group. Marcus could care less about what he sells, just as long as the investors are happy. I think EHG needs to be very selective in who they partner with on the dealer side, making sure that they are not just pushing product out the door, and when service at the dealer level comes up, turn a blind eye. There are dealers who sell much more than they can service already signed on as Hymer dealers. A quick idea would be to call and ask them how long to get a service appointment before signing a dealer contract.

      • Jim Hammilll says:

        actually our consumer surveys show Camping World has some of the best service around, So I don’t understnsd your points. They don’t even compete with you Rick.

        EHG has to have entry level brands and has to have mid levels brands and premium and luxury level brands.

        Roadtrek and Hymer dealers are generally mid, level premium level and luxury level. They don’t embrace entry level coaches . Somebody has to to so the middle class can fully engage in camping in a van.

        Thanks for your opinions, I always like them,

  • Don Pace says:

    This is a lesson that is oft repeated. To be successful the executives in a company need to be engaged with their users. Understand their products and have an understanding of how their customers see them. If they do this they can keep their products relevant and be market leaders. If not their products stagnate and their users will go on.

    Social media is just the latest way to do this and what a way it is. It allows the community to be world wide. It allows all of the users to have a voice. It gives the executive an unfiltered view as to what is going on. And the speed is almost instant. No more waiting for the annual users group meeting and only talking with the 1% that can come. If the emperor is naked the community will tell you if you choose to listen.

    But companies must also understand that this is a community and the members are customers, not employees. Though the company is part of the community and provides the focus of all of these people to initially come together the community will quickly become more than that. Communities will evolve in the ways the members want and in ways no one expects when they are created.

    Companies that try and force direction and control will cause revolution not evolution. Revolutions are messy and break things. With social media, revolutions can occur at the speed of light so companies need to structure their interactions to account for these rapid movements.

    What most companies need to do is foster and support these user groups but not create them or try and control them. Engage the user base and give them a sense of ownership in the community. Companies that listen, provide feedback, provide resources and engage with the community are the ones that will succeed. A simple “how can we help the community” to the leadership of a community goes a long way.

    If a CEO decides to be a leader in the online community or just a participant or observer the strength of the community will strengthen the products.

  • Jim Hammilll says:

    This is accurate.

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