Marketing folk already know that building a community in today’s world typically refers to building an online community. Online communities are an essential piece of any good marketing strategy, and many companies use social media to accomplish this.

However, I still believe that an online community is only one piece of the overall marketing puzzle. Moreso (and I can already see the skeptical eyebrows raising), I believe that a company’s online community is just another piece of its offline community.

Allow me to explain…

Different Communities, Different Approaches

No matter how large your online community is, it’s important to remember that each “user” online represents a REAL person on this side of cyberspace. I’ve had a lot of experience building communities, and each one is really different.

The Awesome Mitten

My Michigan-based website, The Awesome Mitten, is a 100% online community driven by a love of a physical place. While the community thrives online, it very much has a physical presence IRL.

When building The Awesome Mitten’s offline community, we first reach people online, then activate them to take offline actions. (This is more like a traditional business’s approach: build a base online, then activate them to make an physical decision, like visit a store.)

For example, we’ve run large campaigns to activate people to take actions in the physical space (offline). For example, last summer, we ran the #MIAwesomeList campaign. Think of this campaign as the ultimate “Top 10 Things to Love About Michigan” list… on steroids.

The Awesome Mitten team reported on a curated list of “50 things we think everyone should experience in Michigan this summer.” We covered everything: picnicking at Pyramid Point, cycling down the scenic Little Traverse Wheelway, catching a movie at a modern drive-in theater, seeing the sites at the Michigan state capitol, even getting a taste of Michigan’s own Short’s Brewing Company.

We were able to motivate people to go outside and explore the awesome places around Michigan, and then return to talk about the experience online. This campaign also managed to get the support of local Michigan-based companies. With customer and company support, the entire campaign was able to build an offline community that ultimately spilled back into the online community.

Especially with regards to tourism and the best state ever (#SorryNotSorry), folks like to share their IRL positive experiences online. The numbers of social media reflected the offline influence with 1,634 total hashtag entries and an average of 2,508 engagements per post on Instagram.

OfficeNinjas

With OfficeNinjas, a San Francisco-based community of executive assistants, office managers, and admins, we worked to augment their robust online community with large-scale events like Admin Bash and IRL events, as well as smaller, local meetups like Adminglings.

Both types of offline events work to do the same thing the OfficeNinjas brand does online: connect ninjas, educate, and reward! These events are infused with crazy energy, a little bit of sass, great vendors, innovative speakers, and AWESOME swag bags (with swag admins will actually use).

As opposed to the fairly linear approach to community building for The Awesome Mitten, for OfficeNinjas, building the community both online and offline is cyclical:

  • People discover us through our events and then join the community online, or…
  • People join the community online and then attend one of our events

As you can see, different organizations with different audiences and goals require naturally different methods for building their offline communities.

Why is Building an Offline Community Crucial?

If you’ve made it to this point, I imaging that the skeptical eyebrows going back down.

Short answer:

It’s because your customers are IRL people! They’re not digital people. You (and the business you’re building a community for) want IRL conversions to reach your IRL ROI’s.

Long answer:

  • Digital is only a piece of the marketing pie. A good marketing strategy should contain many pieces, with your digital presence only being one piece of it.
  • Customers and community members WANT to engage IRL. They want deeper, more meaningful engagements with their brands (especially those Millennials).
  • Offline communities make a brand seem more human. Your brand will get better feedback, more committed customers, and more opportunities to connect with your audience.
  • Customers/community members are more likely to convert to brand advocates if they have has multiple touch points. You want brand advocates to get more positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Offline communities are a key piece for building brand awareness and increasing conversions in the long run. For more community building and marketing tips, subscribe to my newsletter!

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