Social Media Case Study: Humana's Freewheelin - Social Media Explorer
Social Media Case Study: Humana’s Freewheelin
Social Media Case Study: Humana’s Freewheelin
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

Most of you know I like to brag on Louisville and Kentucky. Humana, one of the country’s largest and most successful healthcare companies is headquartered here. Humana also has a division dedicated to consumer innovation, which has been doing some interesting things with social media lately under Greg Matthew’s guidance. Today’s post is a case study of Humana’s Consumer Innovation team’s use of social media to promote and grow its Freewheelin initiative. But first, some disclosure.

Doe-Anderson presently works with Humana on a number of advertising and marketing projects, none of them with its innovation division. While I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Greg, Chris Hall and some others within the Innovation Center there, and a former co-worker of mine, Kristen Jordan, is currently employed with them, I had no ties to this program, nor knowledge of their strategies before execution. Greg simply asked if I’d be interested in seeing how they did. I agreed, so long as an honest appraisal could follow here. He agreed.

Freewheelin can best be described as a bicycle sharing program with a community of green- and health-friendly participants at its core. It’s not just a set of stations where you can rent a bike for a few hours in big cities. It’s that, but with the fundamental higher purpose of promoting better health for humans and the earth as the fabric that ties its users together. No, you don’t have to be a health nut to get a bike. But if you are, you’re probably going to find some new friends when you do.

Because Humana’s Freewheelin program was new, the basic goals of the social media program were to build awareness, participation and buzz and create a place online for users to interact and generate content. This summer’s political conventions offered the perfect backdrops as both Denver and Minneapolis are generally healthier cities.

Matthew’s team identified biker groups in each city using and arranged group rides leading up to the conventions as word-of-mouth initiatives. At the rides, participants were given business card sized information sheets about Freewheelin and where to go online to share. They were also given the chance to upload images or videos at upload stations when they returned their bikes. During the conventions, they were also given a free branded memory card reader so they could continue to remember to upload their Freewheelin experiences.

Of course, Humana volunteers armed with smart phones cycled around the city and seeded some content but when a little started flowing on YouTube and Flickr, more organic content followed.

They began their online efforts with a Facebook page which they advertised to build up some fan base. Some blogger outreach, the launching of its own blog and Twitter stream helped lead to a community shift to a larger site at where you could:

  • See team blog posts and tweets through a FriendFeed widget
  • Play the team’s YouTube videos
  • Watch streaming video through the uStream widget (with a click-thru to all cycle stations)
  • See the most recent uploads to their Flickr group
  • Link to all of the Freewheelin community sites

To date, two fan blogs have sprung up over the initiative. The Flickr group has over 1,500 photo submissions. About a dozen or so YouTube fan videos have appeared. The efforts in the convention cities resulted in eight days of rides, over 7,500 total rides, 41,000 miles ridden and then the what the hell stats — 1.2 million calories burned and carbon offset of 14.6 metric tons. I hope Humana doesn’t pay someone to calculate that. I would NOT want that job.

Matthew Modine visits the Freewheelin Experience
Matthew Modine visits the Freewheelin Experience

There was a Freewhillin biker arrested live on CNN during one of the conventions, only protesting he had to have his bike back by seven p.m. Actor Matthew Modine, an avid biker himself, led a ride to support more bike-friendly cities in America at the Denver stop. Tom Browkaw, David Gregory and Daryl Hannah also showed up as other politicians and celebrities hopped on the band wagon for some Freewheelin support — all just because they were there.

Fantastic buzz and numbers and all from simply social media and presence. The challenge Freewheelin faces now is how to grow and sustain what has arguably been a successful program launch using social media. (No, I haven’t been retained. Heh.)

So here’s my take, unfettered and unapproved by Humana or Doe.

The strategy to seed and identify biker groups in each city was spot-on. The info cars, memory cards, upload stations, flat panel screens showing the online activity at bike stations (did I mention that?), all good. The fact that two fan blogs popped up? Phenomenal. The number of photos? Fair to good. YouTube fan videos? Fair. Was it successful? Yep. They developed a strategy, hit the ground with it and got people interested in Freewheelin’ for all it’s worth.

While they could have capitalized on the celebrity involvement a bit more (or could they if it was so organic?) and they admit their use of Twitter served as a great connecting point for the program but they were well into it before “figuring out” how to leverage it, the outcomes were still respectable as the grew into their new social media skin.

But was it enough? How does Humana benefit? Where is the payoff?

Other than incentivizing participation somehow — community votes on best video ride submission, etc. — I don’t know that they could have done a lot more to seed or promote. Maybe expanding their outreach beyond the biking communities to local fitness clubs and YMCAs could bring in a few more numbers, but they were hitting their prime target.

And where does Humana benefit in all this? Yeah, yeah, I get it. A healthier world means lower healthcare costs, lower overheads, bigger profits. And yes, Humana is a large company with large budgets to spend on such Consumer Innovations where ROI is sometimes an afterthought. But the skeptic in me says for Humana to really reap the benefits of a program like this, it needs more than three cities (they had pilot stations in Louisville) and YES, it needs more than social media, though what they’ve built is a great foundation.

What Matthews and his team has done is taken an idea – bike sharing – and turned it into something bigger. They’ve used social media to lay a foundation of success for future programs, invigorate a community of people behind a higher cause than just borrowing a bike to save some carbon footprint and they’ve established an on-line embodiment of that community that feeds it. Now all they need to do is find a way to get programs up and running in more cities to fan those flames and get us all Freewheelin.

While they could have done more, this was really a social media first for Humana. What the did more than anything is learn. With a foundation built and some lessons under the collar, I’m sure this is just a launching pad for more Freewheelin to come. Matthews and his colleagues are blogging about healthcare innovation at if you’re interested in following their learning and thinking.

At the risk of being a bit critique-averse because of my company’s affiliation with Humana and my friendships therein, I’ll turn this over to you. Shoot holes in it. What did they do wrong, right or not enough? What can they do to make it better, more meaningful and connective with future communities? Believe me, they are reading. Your opinion will make a difference. The comments are yours.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at

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