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 chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • Such great points, Laura! I was visiting NYC once and went to a business with whom I felt I had a GREAT Twitter connection. The biz positions itself on Twitter, FB, IG as totally “fun” … which it is. But the ppl behind the counter seemed to have no clue that they even have a Twitter presence. I walked in feeling like it would be a reunion with an old friend (and perhaps my expectations were unrealistic…) but it was more like a formal introduction (i.e., they calmly said “oh that’s nice”). I’m going back there again in July LOL and will give it another shot, especially since it involves ice cream. And unicorns. 🙂

  • biggreenpen Yes- I agree. There is a danger of breeding what I think of as ‘false intimacy’ over social. Consistency is key!

  • Excellent post Laura! I would love to know if the blog post you experimented with for the customer- with the tips for trade shows and the schedule- helped encouraged customers to make the jump. I’ve been considering similar issues lately, so this is very timely. And to answer your question, we don’t. We have a LI biz page, but that’s it- we don’t have any social at all. I love my in-person visits and the relationships they foster, but am seeking a meaningful way to keep that alive with a two-tiered customer base, one of which doesn’t ‘use social’, the other of which does not make the purchasing decision, yet pays… This is getting saved for future use.

  • I absolutely love the idea of incorporating trade show activity into the community. Any company that is sending folks out “into the field” has a great opportunity to get some face-to-face community building going.

  • rosemaryoneill Exactly Rosemary! It’s such a fantastic opportunity to connect on that next level. It also serves to establish an extra layer of expertise and social proof for their online only community. This is especially true if they presented or had some sort of booth at the tradeshow. “Hey look we were at this show, this is what we talked about……, this was the presentation we gave….., this was the feedback we got……”

  • First of all, thanks for the history lesson, LauraPetrolino! For some reason, I always believed everything happened magically on that one day. And what a perfect description of what could have happened on social media. Of course, being a Canuck, we would likely have had a lot of angry and cynical updates (I’m thinking of you, belllindsay 🙂 ). And probably a bunch of sad faces…

    But back to the post – you’re so right that on and offline are reciprocals and we need to figure out how to tie the experiences together for customers. That’s the challenge and opportunity for those who can navigate both worlds like they belong.

  • RebeccaTodd They have, in fact, seen lots of cross over from their tradeshow integration (in both directions). Integrating social for you especially would be such a natural mix. It’s a basic lead nurturing mechanism that would totally support they way you interact with clients overall. The great thing with doing it this way is that you are able to create additional lead/customer touchpoints  without RAT cloning (in order to have time to do it all), plus it provides a nice extra dose of social proof .

  • RebeccaTodd biggreenpen This is such a great point! I have heard so many stories like that. It’s even more painful when it’s a personal brand (like an author) that’s run by someone else. 

    Doing social business is a responsibility. You have to have seamless transitions. That’s fundamental to making it successful.

  • Excellent post Ms. Petrolino! It’s not easy to do, but so, so important.
    Also, I can’t stop laughing about the teenagers on Facebook … I mean, we were all pretty clueless back in the day (well, I was anyway, sounds like you were a prodigy), but at least my ignorance wasn’t made quite so public.

  • I think linking online and offline communities in a solid, meaningful way is one of the great marketing challenges. However, as you’ve shown here, some thought, some strategic thinking, and it can be done. Great advice!

  • ClayMorgan I totally agree and “meaningful” is the key word there. It’s hard to do because you have to make it worthwhile and you have to make sure the logistics work (as I discuss in my soon to be released video on this subject….TEASER ALERT- COME BACK FOR THE VIDEO LATER TODAY FOLKS)

  • LauraPetrolino right onnn! A rockin’ social effort or strategy comes from just wanting to go the extra mile. Looking to help, impact, and inspire can only be genuine. Gotta have the right kind of people on the team to do this, and you guys do!

  • makeaner LauraPetrolino martinwaxman That’s a great example Mary Anne. It’s amazing what you can do on the tradeshow floor when you integrate social during the event itself. This same client I mention is great at using Twitter throughout events to do similar things and get people to their booth. 

    Tradeshows are huge and often overwhelming events. How do you make yourself stand out in a meaningful and effective way?

  • LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan Hoping the video has a #DeclarationOfIndependence tie-in! 🙂

  • biggreenpen LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan Twenty bucks says she’s on stilts, dressed up like Uncle Sam.

  • martinwaxman LauraPetrolino We would have thrown every “U” in the book at ’em!! All getting uppity and separating and stuff!!

  • great post LauraPetrolino most businesses aren’t able to do this for various reasons. big and small. Starbucks doesn’t need social media never mind being a social business. They already are because they directly touch customers by the millions each week. My local Subway can’t afford on their own to be more social, their minimum wage workers who hate their jobs surely don’t want to be social for the location and nationally there are too many customers to really impact online via one-one communications and relationship building.
     The number of businesses that fit the description of who would benefit/need to be a more social business (vs the social business every business already is) in my view is a minority vs majority. More because so many workers get paid so little so you have to eliminate their participation and I can’t see the current tools being better than email/SMS/Phone for customer service on a large scale. Plus those 3 are already powerful social business tools.

    Your example is great especially connecting the sales efforts with the shows. And they definitely fit what I would look at as a company that can set itself apart. I see this fitting mostly sales groups within companies as the biggest targets. Teach outside direct sales reps how to integrate their salesforce data bases with social media to reach prospects and customers more often across more platforms for sure.

  • Nice examples Laura. Especially agree w/your point about value. My guess is that most co’s struggle with bridging online and offline because they don’t really know how to have conversations with their audiences/customers. As Clay pointed out in his post on Nordic Track, it’s weird and disingenuous when brands provide different service online v. offline. 
    I think that’s one reason to care about and devote time to training execs to have conversations that matter. How many CEOs and others don’t blog? Or don’t take the time to provide transparency to their employees and customers? The irony is that when they do, it becomes easier to deal with potential problems and to gain customer trust…so they could actually spend less time putting out fires than they usually do.

  • JoeCardillo yes! exactly! In a (kind of rare) moment of frustration the other day, I sent a frustrated tweet to our electric utility when our power went out briefly in the middle of a perfectly sunny day. They then left a phone message (nice) which my husband took down. But the message sender left a phone number of an engineer who (powers of deduction here) I suppose was supposed to help me solve me problem. It’s my fault for venting publicly and I do give them kudos for following up but the engineer really didn’t know why I had been sent to him and I didn’t have any interest in a long convo …. would have been better to talk to the communications guy and then to the engineer if necessary (which it wasn’t). You’d think I would learn about venting on twitter (subject of a post for a different day…)

  • belllindsay martinwaxman LauraPetrolino ALLLLLL THE “U”. And calling us really great rude words! Man, we should have totally written good rude words into the Declaration #bmmer

    But yes Martin you are right. And if you look at the brands which we think of as the strongest right now, almost all of them are able to do just that. 

    (oh and GO AMERICA)

  • Eleanor Pierce Yes, I was a prodigy. 😉

  • belllindsay biggreenpen LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan Man, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this!

  • Matt_Cerms LauraPetrolino This is such a winning comment Matt! Not only did you seamlessly use the word “rockin'” but you made a valid point, and complimented us all in one swoop! Well done!

  • Howie Goldfarb LauraPetrolino Yes, definitely super powerful for sales. Being able to integrate the in person touch point with a social one helps define your message and brand from the crowd. 

    I also agree, a business always needs a “why,” whether that be for being more social or adding a stronger offline presence. Every tactic has to have a firm objective to be worthwhile (and then, as you point out, understand the obstacles to reach that objective)

  • biggreenpen JoeCardillo Joe, nailed it! I feel like sometimes I blog endlessly about having a vision and having it guide everything you do. Communicating that to your team, making it part of your operations, positioning your goals around it. 

    That happens way to rarely.

  • LauraPetrolino biggreenpen JoeCardillo Oh definitely, and particularly in your example Paula – one of the reliefs of providing a model for conversations that matter is that if you build that transparency and openness into your culture you don’t have to worry about having a strict process, or changing that process all the time. It kind of blows my mind sometimes how companies try to reinvent their communications across depts and to customers/prospects, and forget to simply make that a priority.

  • belllindsay biggreenpen LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan Don’t forget the wooden teeth and colonial style wig..

  • LauraPetrolino ClayMorgan It´s about listening to your customer/audience and understanding their needs. Yes, you have to work on logisitcs, but first you have to know what they want and go from there. Companies usually get lost in the process because of the internal bureaucracy and departments competitions (aka fights). Excellent post Laura!

  • Pingback: Are You a Certified Social Media Professional? by @eleanorpie Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: 6 ways your personal story connects you to new clients()

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Great post, LP! In a sense some companies silo online and offline activities. And other companies discard offline activities altogether. The key is how integrated online and offline are and how they work together to drive growth and customer experience.