The War of Online vs Offline

Originally posted in my series at Huffington Post

People love controversy. And people love conflict. It’s often X vs Y. David vs Goliath. Cowboys vs Redskins.

I see this often in the new media space as well. Print is dead. Online is king. Traditional in-person meetings are out. Online communities are the future.

Well, guess what? The truth is: you need both.

As the founder of the largest social network for government, people are often surprised when I mention the importance of offline activities to spur increased online activities.

Last month, we launched our nationwide GovUps (think Meetups for Government Innovators). We are traveling across the country from California to NYC to DC to Alabama, bringing together government innovators to meet in person and learn from each other.

These in-person meetings are important as online friends are meeting face-to-face (often for the first time), shaking hands, breaking bread, and furthering the relationship. I believe these in-person meetings only strengthen online activities as people want to engage more with the people they meet.

You can see this trend as well in the broader social media space. That’s why there are in-person TweetUps (for Twitter users) and Foursquare day (for lovers of checking-in).

Government agencies looking to build both online community and offline community can look to NASA as a shining light. NASA has built a robust online community via Twitter with their NASA Buzzroom as a home base for the astronauts engaged online. In addition, they have hosted multiple Tweetups during shuttle launches where they give their top Twitter followers the opportunity to tour the center, view the shuttle launch and speak with NASA managers, astronauts, shuttle technicians and engineers.

By using both online and offline activities, NASA is building a broad, highly engaged community that identifies with the NASA mission and activities. This is hugely important for an agency that relies on the interest and imagination of the American public to remind their representatives to appropriate significant dollars to the space mission.

In the end, it’s really about building community, whether you are a government agency, non-profit, or private company. And you have to use all the mechanisms available (both online and offline) to build true engagement.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Great post! In education, we are finding that the best model for teaching and learning is the blended model where you have both online activities paired with classroom activities. I don’t know why some persist in this false dilemma of online versus face-to-face when there is greater benefit in the combination.

Christina Morrison

Great point Steve – when it comes down to it, all forms of community engagement have the same goals of driving citizens to action and inspiring agencies to improve. The online communities we join and the meetings we attend accomplish these goals in different ways, but both are incredibly valuable. Also, both methods make it easier to engage in the opposite setting: it is comforting to engage with someone in person you’ve had conversations with online, and it is very convenient to continue communication with those you’ve met in person through online communities