3 Ways to Turn Online Networks into Offline Interaction

Online Networks
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Couples used to meet for the first time at places like bars or clubs. If they were luckier, they would get introduced by a mutual friend. But these days, it's not at all surprising to meet couples who met through Facebook, a dating site, a blog. It's conceivable (even likely?) that couples who meet through online social networks will one day out-number couples who meet offline.

There's often a misperception that people are using social media as a way of escaping or ignoring the real world. That might have been true a generation ago, when the image of a 30 year-old computer geek living in his mother's basement and experiencing most of his social interactions through the Internet was still a stereotype that had some grounding in reality. But with almost everyone using social media these days, most people are using social networks to augment their "real-world" experiences, not to replace them. Social media marketers who understand the increasing overlap between what's "online" and what's "offline" will use that to their advantage in 2014. Here are three examples of ways you can use online social media campaigns to build offline interaction.

1. Take your cues from the nursing home that produces dance videos.

HCF Management is a company that manages nursing homes in Ohio and Pennsylvania. When they got into social media a couple of years ago, they had no idea what they were doing. With the help of a local marketing firm and trial-and-error, they discovered that social media was a great tool for building a sense of community and mutual support for the families that used their services. In one particularly unusual but hugely successful light-hearted example, the nursing homes filmed a series of Harlem Shake YouTube videos at a number of their facilities, with elderly residents shaking their money makers and waving pom-poms to the best of their ability.

In a more traditional series YouTube videos, HCF conducted virtual tours of their facilities and interviews with family members who had placed loved ones in their nursing homes. Likewise, regular photos of residents engaged in group activities helped family members feel connected to what's happening at their loved one's facility. Repeated anecdotal evidence suggests that these videos and Facebook pages are having the effect of swaying the decision-makers who are researching where to place mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa, and improving the decision-makers' overall sense of satisfaction with the nursing homes.

2. People want to get together.

It's no secret that our hectic modern lifestyles have made us more isolated from one another than ever before. In places where block parties and neighborhood barbecues used to be common, it's now considered fortunate if you even know your neighbors. That doesn't mean that we don't want to form communities and get to know each other, though; people still have the same basic human needs for friendship, community, and interaction that they have always had.

The two New York City founders of Meetup.com talk about how it was the September 11 attacks that inspired them to create Meetup. After the attacks, they say, New Yorkers actually started to talk to each other again, at least for a short while. They wanted to keep neighbors interacting with each other, so they founded an online network specifically designed to help people make offline friends.

Social media marketers don't necessarily have to launch a Meetup group, but they need to learn the lesson that the Meetup founders understood: People want to get together. They want to eat together, they want to meet people with similar interests, they want to hike together, they want to read books together. Do you want to boost brand engagement? Do you want people to treat your social media channels like a home away from home? Find creative ways to use your online networks to create offline get-togethers.

3. Remember that you're a part of their community, too.

Your business might be working hard to turn online interactions into offline relationships, but do your efforts go both ways? For example, maybe your social media marketers do decide to host a Meetup for customers; that's great, but are their any representatives from your company going to your customers' Meetups and Facebook events?

Social media or no, businesses are still about relationships, and as the old adage goes, people still buy from people, not companies. Therefore, turning online networks into offline networks depends upon reciprocation. It can't be all one-way, with you expecting them to come to your events but never showing up to theirs.

Sign up for the email lists of your customers. Join their Facebook pages. Follow them on Twitter. And the next time they have an event, send out a representative or two from your company to show them that you care about what they're up to. This point is especially important for B2B companies, but it still applies to B2C companies, too. Find a way to support your online fans in what they're doing offline.

Give Us More Ideas

These three ideas are just the beginning of how marketers can turn social media marketing into real-world interactions with customers. Do you have your own ideas or your own case studies of examples for bringing the online into the offline? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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