Laura Petrolino

How to Integrate Online and Offline Communities

By: Laura Petrolino | July 2, 2014 | 

How to Integrate Online and Offline CommunitiesBy Laura Petrolino

Two hundred and thirty eight years ago today, the legal separation of the 13 colonies with Great Britain occurred.

The Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution of independence (woohoo America!).

Two days later, after much revision and debate, the Declaration of Independence (which I used to be able to recite word-for-word when I was in the third grade) was approved (important history geek note: The actual signing date is a source of much debate, but let’s just go with the 4th for tradition’s sake).

This led to the celebration of fireworks, retail sales, and men walking around on stilts dressed up like good ole’ Uncle Sam. 

Had this whole event occurred in today’s world, we no doubt would have first heard of the separation via the Twittersphere.

@tjefferson or @jadams would have tweeted something poetic and memorable, which in turn would be re-tweeted and favorited a zillion times.

Instagram would be ablaze with duck-faced photos of girls across America wearing really skimpy red, white, and blue bikinis.

Some random teenagers on Facebook would be asking why we separated from Ireland.

LinkedIn would probably shut down as a result of mass disconnection from business colleagues across the pond and Google+ would be filled with keyword specific updates.

Social Changes Everything

Social media has changed the world. It not only affects how you market your business, but how you DO business.

While many businesses have added some type of digital outreach to their communications, few have successfully integrated it into everything they do.

I recently read a Forrester statistic that said by 2017, $1.8 trillion worth of sales will be “web-influenced.” This doesn’t include the $370 billion of e-commerce sales (together that makes up 60 percent of retail sales).

This is web-influenced alone. So, someone is inspired to buy from you offline based on something they see, hear, or observe online.

That’s huge, and it means you have to make the connection – for your team, for your consumer, and for your community – between your online and your offline activities.

You need to motivate your online viewer to connect with you offline and your offline viewer to connect with you online.

You need to understand how your online and offline customer service can work together to provide the ultimate customer experience.

And you need to be consistent in your branding and messaging throughout.

So where do you start?

Online and Offline Can Work Together

Often the biggest missing piece businesses face is providing their offline community opportunities to connect with them online and vice versa. Looking at how you can find ways to do so is an easy starting point for this type of integration.

First think about the why: Why would someone that already connects with you one way be motivated to do so another way as well?

What do you provide online that you don’t provide offline?

  • Greater customer service?
  • Quicker response time?
  • More detailed educational materials?

What do you provide offline you don’t provide on?

  • In person contact?
  • Better product demos?
  • Better user need analysis?

Once you’ve developed your differentiation points, start strategically placing calls-to-action in your content and social updates that help one community understand the benefit of being part of the other as well.

Oh, and small detail, you need to actually make it worthwhile for them. Otherwise they might just decide to limit their connection with you everywhere, since you destroyed that layer of trust.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate set-up. It can be very simple, straight forward, and clean. It just needs to provide value.

Strategic Thinking Brings Communities Online and Off

We have a client who attends a lot of trade shows. This is a major source of leads for them and a place where they can connect in person with prospective buyers.

Other than adding them to their email list, however, they were having trouble bringing these connections into their online community (which consists of a well-written and targeted blog, other useful content such as white papers, engaging social networks, and an informative email newsletter).

We started working to think of ways they could do just that. What motivation could they provide these offline connections to take the next step and join them online (which obviously would be extremely useful for further nurturing and engaging with them during the sales cycle).

Some of the ideas we put in place:

  • Contests based on checking in on Facebook, trade show tweets mentioning them, or other engaging and often educationally focused set-ups.
  • Specific follow-up emails that provided additional potentially useful links based on the trade show focus and prospect demographic.
  • Requesting their top questions and answering them in the blog.
  • Special access downloads to white papers targeted to their interests.

Likewise, this client had a great online community and active blog readership, but these connections often sat ignorant of their trade show activities. The chance to be part of this real life experience, working with the sales team, and seeing the product in action could be just what many in their online community wanted (and needed to convert to buyers).

So we decided to test out a weekly blog post during trade show season that would discuss best tips, tricks, and advice from the trade show floor within the context of the shows they were attending. It would then provide a list of their upcoming shows and ways to connect with them in person.

Having a social business means more than just sending tweets and writing blog posts. It means changing the way you look at what you do and how you engage with your customers everywhere.

How have you worked to integrate your online and offline operations?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the director of operations at Arment Dietrich. She is also a ninja. When not working with clients, collaborating with the Arment Dietrich team, or practicing her roundkicks, you can find her walking her dog, working out, or exploring the great outdoors.

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