Social media does not just take place online


Return to Washington Square Park, Aug 2009 - 69
Image by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

One of the biggest dangers with social media is to assume that it is only exists online. We see this in the way some brands approach social media - developing a social media strategy that is focused on the tools they are going to use rather than the business aims they are going to contribute to. We also see this in the way some brands allocate budgets for their social media work - associating it with their ecommerce or digital spend can mean that they need to work harder to make sure that social media efforts integrate with what is happening offline.

This is a real shame because really social media is not about online at all. It’s about the same human interactions and collaborations that we have enjoyed offline for many many years. In fact for as long as human beings have been social animals. Technology just lets us do more of these things, in different ways and, perhaps critically, with people we don’t know, that we are not near and at different times to them. Social media just lets us do things we have always done offline in bigger and better ways. So it should be natural that we consider it as having offline implications as well as online ones. But too often we don’t.

This is a real shame. The best examples of social media, especially when looking at the ways it is used by brands, have an offline element to them. You might have an offline event where members of your online community can get together to meet and continue to share the thoughts and discussions they have online. You might get people to do things such as test a product or experience an experience offline and then talk about it in their online communities (as we saw with Virgin America). You might us content created online at an offline location. You might reward people offline for what they do in online communities online.

The options are endless and do not necessarily have to be just traditional integrated marketing campaigns. Its about things that people do and things they care about. And about letting them do these offline and online. The rise of social media for marketing is less about technology and more about brands realising the benefits of closer engagement with customers and others. Social media tools provide a great way to do this but always remember to think how you can get this engagement offline too.


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  1. Omar Alam:

    This is one of the first pieces I have seen mentioning the “offline talk” of social media communication. I think a lot of people are still blind to what is going on with social media and even their own personal daily interaction. A lot of folks just put up a post or two on a FB page, maybe comment on a blog of interest, and then that’s it. Fast forward 2 or 6 months and they have likely been active and engaged with social media on a large scale.

    Just hang around your local cafe or even at any popular eatery with business professionals and listen to the conversations. I am willing to bet that at least 50% of the time you will hear FB, Twitter, Blog, LinkedIn, Yelp, and YouTube. And you meet even here “Meetup” as well.

    Every person involved with social media in any way becomes a default content producer and broadcaster.

    Good post.

  2. Andrew Davison:

    Recent years have seen people and brands attempting to move everything they do to a completely online world. People organise their social life through Facebook, celebrities split up on Twitter, politicians have campaign offices on Second Life, the list goes on.

    For a while this was great and I think it came with the massive developments we’ve seen in all areas of the digital industry, people simply wanted to see what was possible.

    What I’ve observed in the last 12 months is people regressing back the real world, or more accurately taking a step back from a purely online world and instead finding ways that digital technology can enhance or expand their experience in the real world.

    Twitter lets people tap into commentary that takes place at conferences and contribute to ideas and discussion that form among delegates - this makes conferences collaborative community efforts where before they were top down talks.

    Meetup, Foursquare etc they all help us build online communities that are formed around events and places in the real world and give people a collaborative power they didn’t have before.

    When augmented reality really breaks we should she some more interesting trends develop.

    Follow me:

  3. Ann Holman:

    What a refreshing post delivered with some fabulous common sense, thanks. You’re post is absolutely right, online just enables offline connections and vice versa. I have just recently met up, offline, with my top 30 Twitter followers in my region. Its been fascinating, enlightening and enriching. Of course, the conversations we had have just continued online afterwards! An exercise, I’ll continue to expand upon.

  4. Jo Dodds:

    Excellent post. Many business owners worry about not being able to ‘do social media’ when they already have the skills and experience offline gained from networking. All they need to learn is the technology, which isn’t really hard, and off they go!

    What I’ve found interesting in taking the online networking offline is how it has opened up another group of local business people for me to meet. There is some crossover but not loads.

  5. Matt Rhodes:

    Omar - thanks for your comment. Your right that social media itself becomes a significant talking point and is a great stimulus for conversations offline. One thing that we see a lot with the online communities we work with is that when people meet in real life they continue the conversations they started online.

  6. Matt Rhodes:

    Andrew - I agree that we’ve seen a set of important developments over the last year in terms of tools that directly combine an offline and an online experience. These are, for me, really changing the way people use social media and the way in which they behave. Of course offline integration is common with even some more long-standing social media tools. Many people I know use Facebook primarily to organise events offline and then to document them (through status updates and photos). This online-offline integration has been the norm for some time and with tools dedicated to combining to two the sort of natural behaviours we would expect are just being made more easy.

  7. Matt Rhodes:

    Hi Ann - thanks for your comment and glad you appreciate the common sense. Your Twitter experience sounds really interesting. As somebody who follows a lot of people on Twitter I’m trying to make an effort to meet more of them offline as well as chatting to them and getting to know them online.

  8. Matt Rhodes:

    Jo - you’re right social media is, in many respects, just an extension of the skills and experience that traditional marketers and communications professionals have grown up with. Thinking about things more holistically is of more use for brands (and usually for consumers…!)

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  14. karima-Catherine:

    This post is so relevant. Last time I included an offline component to my social media strategy, I got second-guessed by an client who could not comprehend.

    social media is all about integration, offline and online, it is about integrating all parts of your business vision and strategy.



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    Jo’s right in that social media is but one tool with which businesses big and small can communicate with their target audiences. As the basic tools are free, the barriers to entry are low, how ever, like most things the guidance of a professional is always useful, otherwise business managers are liable to spend all their time re inventing the wheel.

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