Master Class: How do you best incorporate offline experiences into social media strategy?

This month's panel looks at the value of offline experience in social media strategy

PANEL

Todd Defren
Principal, Shift Communications
email: tdefren@shiftcomm.com

Robert Harles
VP of social and branded communities, Sears Holdings
email: robert.harles@searshc.com

Jennifer Houston
SVP and global lead WE Studio D, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
email: jhouston@waggeneredstrom.com

Chad Latz
President, global digital and social media practice, Cohn & Wolfe
email: chad.latz@cohnwolfe.com

Toby Srebnik
Social media manager, Tilson Communications
email: tsrebnik@tilsonpr.com

The social part of social media is too often forgotten in PR pros' rush to log how many tweets their latest campaigns receive. Providing reasons for like-minded people to gather in support of their overall brand experience is not only invaluable, but it's fun to boot.

Integration is key. The experience offline should be part of the holistic strategy - it must be a piece, not piecemeal. 

Naturally, if you are going to drive people that are online to the offline event, you need to ensure the offline event is of value. You need to offer participants something offline that is exclusive and pays off their willingness to trek to your event. It can't be just another giveaway. It must be unique, such as an opportunity to socialize one-on- one with a special guest or a once-in-a- lifetime wine tasting.

The key component is to motivate these offline participants to go online themselves afterward to share their experiences. They need a legitimate reason, too, beyond the rush of the experience itself. Can you offer them an online coupon to share with friends? A sneak peek of a hot new product that they can videotape or blog about? 

Empowered with exciting content and provided with simple guidelines ("Use this hashtag," "Send people to this URL," "Give out this coupon code"), you'll find many on- line evangelists are eager to take it offline.

Todd Defren, principal, Shift Communications

It's best to think about these sorts of questions in reverse; essentially what can we do that is in the interests of our customers? Can we help them find something, have a better shopping experience, or make them aware of something that is going to help them manage their lives better? In that way we make sure we bring the appropriate digital tools into that experience. That's what makes it engaging - a relevant, valuable experience.

So in tying offline experiences to social media, the best strategy is to treat it as a unified whole, positioning social as a way to modify those experiences or provide feedback that is going to change, enhance, improve, or make the experience come alive in a personal way.

All too often, companies find it difficult to get out of their own customers' way. Customers like to feel they have some input and are in many ways stars of the show. Hosting an offline event and using social media to support it plays right into that. It brings the focus more on the customers themselves - what they liked, their thoughts, what they experienced - and demonstrates how they were central to that day or experience. In addition, it helps other customers connect when they read/view those experiences online. It makes it more authentic and, in turn, generates more interest the next time around.

The overarching idea is to focus on the value proposition for the customer and to build the social experiences around it to support that aim.

Robert Harles, VP of social and branded communities, Sears Holdings

The dirty little secret of social media is that no one looks like their avatars. Our digital personas are only half the story. Studies have shown that offline relationships are stronger than purely digital ones, but relationships with online and offline components are stronger than either by itself. This is equally true of individuals and brands.

The key is integrating these experiences together. The first step is understanding your audience. Audiences today wear their hearts on their sleeves - they're telling us what they care about. Once defined, you can determine the most effective way to reach them. The sweet spot is crafting the right story that is deeply integrated in the approach in which the audience is invited, wherever they are. 

Our recent work with Half the Sky, an initiative that seeks to end major abuses against women, provides an example of an orchestrated online and offline engagement effort. Timed with the release of the book by the same name, Waggener Edstrom created HalftheSkyMovement.org and implemented a comprehensive digital strategy to help carry the movement and its agenda forward online.

A combination of the Web site, blog, and Twitter conversations increased buzz, which drove interest and an appearance on Oprah, furthering book sales, as well as both the off-line and online movement. The approach:

Audience first, influence platform second - surround them where they are;

Build the most powerful experience for the outcome you want to drive;

Harness the story as the connector between online and offline;

It's not worth doing if you can't measure it.

Jennifer Houston, SVP, global lead WE Studio D, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

In today's digital society, some suggest there is no such thing as being offline, but let's suppose offline means real-life activities that are not technology-dependent. As marketers, it's incumbent upon us to think about the relationship between online and offline as a virtuous cycle, each with the opportunity to drive behavior in the other.

Location-based social media platforms allow offline experiences and events to stream powerful user-generated content that can feed brand and community engagement online.

PepsiCo provided us with a wonderful example at South by Southwest (SXSW) with pepsicozeitgeist.com, aggregating content from eventgoers, including check-ins from FourSquare, Flickr images, and tweets tagged with SXSW. This provided the benefit of an online social experience for people who could not attend, while at the same time enhancing the off- line experience by letting people know the details of the who, what, and where of the event. This resulted in additional offline engagement.

Applications like FourSquare provide social currency by awarding badges based on check-ins at offline locations. Offline behavior generates online social status. This month, we've seen an innovative take on social commerce with the Starbucks and FourSquare partnership, combining loyalty rewards with check-ins at retail.

Expect mobile augmented reality apps to grow in popularity, fusing online and offline experiences by overlaying useful social and branded data on street-view images. Opt-in branded or user-contributed content based on GPS location offers limitless possibilities for brands to play in the integration of our online and offline lives.

Brands must take into account what makes social truly social, both online and offline, and use these insights to create complete experiences for consumers that amplify value for the audience and enhance the marketing objectives.

Chad Latz, president, global digital and social media practice, Cohn & Wolfe

Taking the camaraderie a consumer or user feels with a product or location and transferring it into the realm of social media can be tricky at times. However, being able to transfer this loyalty has worked well for many brands. Companies that give their followers and fans a true feeling of community are the ones that continue to succeed with social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Whether it's encouraging people to share tweets about their customer service experience with your company, like @comcastcares, or creating a "YeDDi of the Week" contest where a customer posts a picture of themselves along with their iced coffee on Dunkin' Donuts Facebook wall, many companies are finding creative ways to encourage engagement.

People typically like to share personal brand experience with friends, and companies are starting to go straight to the source.

Lion Country Safari, Florida's only drive-through safari and walk-through amusement park, recently partnered with Chevrolet to invite several mommy and lifestyle bloggers to test-drive hybrid vehicles during a park visit while using #ChevyROAR for their tweets and their blogs to memorialize their experiences.

In addition, NASA, realizing how many people love to visit space shuttle liftoffs, staged a successful Atlantis liftoff tweetup last November where people who share a passion for the space program were able to meet each other in person and tweet about the launch as it was happening.

Companies that recognize consumers as being among their best advertisers will be the most successful in social media.

Toby Srebnik, social media manager, Tilson Communications

The Takeaway

Motivate your offline participants to go online after an event, either through surveys or contests. Such offerings create social media chatter for your brand

Incentives such as Internet coupons and giveaways can integrate online and offline

Opt-in branded or user-contributed content based on GPS location offers myriad marketing possibilities

Consumers are among the best advertisers a brand could want. Companies that recognize this often are the most successful in their social media efforts

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