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Community Management: For Online Communities Only?

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I’m paying attention to conversations about “Community Management” – boy are there a ton to pay attention to. The curious thing about these conversations is that the discussions center almost exclusively on managing ONLINE communities. If offline/IRL communities are brought into the mix, it’s mostly in a “oh by the way, don’t forget” kind of way.

There is no doubt that the web and social media in particular have opened up an incredible opportunity to build connection and relationships with customers and prospects in a virtual way. Using online strategies, community managers can reach an untold number of people and, if done well, rally them around their business, head off pr disasters, mitigate customer complaints and create a marketing army.  These are amazing things indeed.

However, limiting the focus of these efforts to online only (or to a secondary position at best) is overlooking one of the greatest loyalty building strategies available – in real life communities. People crave connecting face to face with other people who share common interests, if doing so is compelling to them. Chances are they aren’t going to organize such connections themselves (hey – we are all overworked and over-scheduled), so it is up to the company to facilitate that.

Harley-Davidson

As a case and point, let’s look at Harley Davidson. I cited them in an earlier article, 4 Thriving Communities to Learn From, because they have mastered the art of the offline community. Go to their community page here and you see online connection points pushed to the margins. Front and center you see five, count them FIVE, distinct, in real life connection points, each designed for a specific kind of customer (or end user) who has very distinct community wants and needs.

Why would Harley Davidson invest resources into organizing and facilitating offline communities that are run by enthusiastic and loyal customers?

Hmmm…..do you think these customers ever bring non-Harley owners along for a ride?! Do you think being a part of a group of shared enthusiasts drives deeper customer loyalty? Do you think when it’s time for a new bike, community members would even think of purchasing anything other than a Harley?

And just in case you think Harley Davidson is primarily focused on these IRL communities, think again. They have nearly three MILLION wildly active fans in their Facebook community. But again, these online efforts run parallel to and in support of offline connections, not as a substitute.

So, what do you think? Should company “Community Managers” broaden their attention to include more of an offline focus? Or should there be a different person who handles offline community building? Or am I overrating the business asset of offline communities?

As always, I’m wildly curious about what you think?!

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