Debate: Are offline connections important for online communities?

Topic: Offline connections are crucial to online communities

 

Karla BunneyKarla Bunney
Project manager
Limelight Sports

Agree – Online communities are invaluable. It is when brands create offline opportunities for these communities that they maximise the depth of engagement and generate long-term ROI.

Online, brands are constantly attempting to cut through the clutter, chasing any level of interaction. Content is shared, but the way in which it is interpreted is unique to the individual and any number of factors. Through events and activations brands have the opportunity to invite the consumer into their world. They can create memorable experiences where they control how it looks, how it sounds, what their consumers touch and trial, who they experience as the face of the brand – basically everything. An event or activation concept can support each piece of content that has been pushed out to the community, showing the brand is serious about everything they have ‘told’ this community that they care about and stand for.

To illustrate, ‘Nike She Runs 10km’, a Nike-created concept, delivered a memorable running experience for the Nike She Runs online community. The result: 6000 brand ambassadors associating this experience and a 10km running achievement with the Nike brand, and shouting out about it to social networks. While trainers were sold along with entry, the real win for Nike could be measured in the brand loyalty established with these women – something which would have not been achieved without this offline experience.

People may remember what you tell them, they may remember what you show them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. And there is no better way to make them feel than to invite them into your world, not just virtually, but also literally.

 

Nicola SwankieNicola Swankie
Social media director
Leo Burnett Sydney

Agree – It really depends on the brand, but generally, yes, they are. We are at the point where you can’t separate online and offline because for the majority of people it’s all just life. They just don’t think about online life versus offline life.

I like buying a certain brand of shoes or drinking my favourite alcohol brand in real life, which is why I join online forums to discuss them, but for me it’s all simply being interested in those shoes or that drink and sharing with like-minded people.

Our social networks are a key representation of the fact that offline connections are vital to online communities. We are generally friends with people in real life as well as being connected to them online, or if we do meet like- minded people online we generally end up meeting with them in real life at some point.

As humans, I think it’s important for us to have face-to- face time with true connections.

It worries me to think that people are making less time to meet for coffee, dinner or just a chat as they feel like they are up-to-date on friends’ and family members’ lives through interactions online or simply by checking out Facebook status updates.

The only exception to this rule around the importance of offline to online, is where the interest factor lives entirely online. An example of this is a gaming community where the members participate in the activity as well as discuss the activity in the community, all online.

Offline connections are crucial to online communities, and let’s hope we all continue to value those offline connections as much as we do the number of Twitter followers we have.

 

Alison MichalkAlison Michalk
CEO
Quiip

Disagree – In the context of social networks offline connections are crucial. In fact the premise of platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus – is about connecting with people you already know. But the question remains, did they get it right?

In some cases, yes, however, the internet has long served to introduce us to and build relationships with once-strangers. At the core of any successful community are people with a shared common interest, and by that I mean a true passion, not a shared ‘like’ for an FMCG brand.

The largest and most successful online communities are forum-based communities, which, by and large, are pseudonymous, full of ‘strangers,’ but every bit real communities.

And the network giants have realised the value in connecting around interests, where it’s not about who you know but about what you like.

Facebook eventually recognised the value in connecting like-minded people and attempted to pivot the platform and encourage people to add pages to ‘interest lists.’ While Facebook groups can act as a community and connect strangers, ‘real identity’ is likely to hinder some people from connecting. A problem you don’t face in a pseudonymous environment.

So are offline connections crucial to online communities? No.

We’ll see an increasing amount of people connect online around strong common interests. These newfound friendships will often transition offline (especially as the boundaries are now so blurred) but the interest will be the common bond that drives strangers to meet, not an existing ‘offline’ relationship.

 

Glen CondieGlen Condie
Founder, creative director
Wonder

Agree – Let’s keep this simple. Social media is a whole bunch of people talking about things. Human beings most often talk about things that happen in real life.

Online communities need things to talk about. The more interesting the things we do, the more there is to talk about. Simple. Let’s think for a moment specifically about the relationship between social media and experiential marketing (and let’s define experiential marketing as anything paid for by a brand that happens in real life).

Before digital the only way you would find out about an event (you were not at) was either being told by someone or press coverage. Word of mouth and press coverage were critical for marketers to generate the scale required to create a return for their bucks. Get lots and have terrific success; get none, dismal failure.

Then digital and social media came along. Social media is simply a group of people reporting on any subject they care to. And they need stuff to talk about. Social media is perfect for offline happenings – it has the ability to make spending time and money in this area worthwhile, particularly when combining well with publicity and branded content.

Brands now have the tools, including their own communities, to ensure there is a good chance of lots of people engaging with what they do. Great. However that’s not the main game.

It’s this: tell great stories. It’s that simple. Be audacious, like Red Bull. Be funny, like Carlton Draught. Be genuine, like Chipotle. For God’s sake be memorable. Think of something great, be unexpected, try different things.

No new thing, no wizardry can ever make up for a shitty idea and a boring story. So don’t be boring.