Connect online to connect offline (and vice-versa!)

Social media is not, by itself, the answer to any communication problems your company may have – people have been and always will be that answer.

This statement may seem obvious, but the fact is that there are a lot of companies out there making Facebook fan pages, twitter accounts blasting information and deals, and getting themselves in a lot of other services with little or no success. And yet the key to online success is deceptively simple: connect users online so they can connect offline, instead of just using the social platforms to spread information – which, when used like most companies do, will become nothing but noise, annoying and alienating users instead of bringing them closer.

Online relationships, unsurprisingly, follow offline relationships quite closely: while most people can have hundreds or thousands of acquaintances, it’s probable that they only have a handful of what they would call close friends, the ones in which they really trust and whose conversations and opinions would be interesting and potentially altitude changing for them. Online the scenario is the same: while people can have well over a thousand “friends” on Facebook or even more followers on Twitter, the circle of direct influence is still quite small, mimicking real life relationships. So when a brand decides to create a Facebook page and amass as many likes as possible, while it is creating a large network of “acquaintances”, it’s not creating anything in terms of long-term commitment and brand loyalty.

What brands should be doing is using the online space to foster offline relationships, to bring people close around the same principles and activities, to create true communities on the real world, as that is what will, eventually, reflect into brand loyalty and long-term relationships between the brand and its clients. By being present on the offline world through community activities, by acknowledging its clients as real persons more than simple numbers on a screen, by giving real and attractive reasons for clients to care and participate in the real world, brands will in turn motivate them to join them in the online space as well.

Another important point is that, while offline contact has mostly been about the same things for a long time (and that is not going to change in the foreseeable future), the online landscape is constantly changing, with new services coming and going according to public demand. So if a company creates a strong movement and community on the offline space, it can expect that to be of a more permanent and durable nature than any kind of online movement, even if just because of the most persistent nature of the medium itself. We can find multiple examples of this by looking at the social networking eco-system: if a brand had a huge following five years ago on, let’s say, MySpace, odds are that it doesn’t anymore, just because MySpace is, from a user install base perspective, essentially dead. And MySpace is just one case: on the internet services and platforms come and go quickly, and groups and communities form and dissolve rapidly, with little chance for any continued effort.

Try to connect people on real life (using, of course, any online services that will appeal to them and make the connection easier), because that is the way to really create something real and useful. If all your efforts are put forward to create an online space, without any connection to the real world, they won’t have any impact in the long run, and people will just not care.

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