There is no doubt that online communities have become robust, sophisticated, and customizable to a degree never seen before. Aside from many off-the-shelf and well known social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, there are white label options from Ning, Kickapps and Mzinga (a Community 2.0 sponsor), to name a few.
And with every new development available technologically – applications, widgets and other virtual marvels – there’s still a very basic ingredient from which community managers can benefit. And while it’s going to seem like heresy here because it’s so “1.0,” it’s an essential component to building relationships with customers and community members. It’s simply human nature.
Yes, there is an unheralded opportunity to connect with others online and to get feedback through a variety of methods. But somehow, there’s nothing like sitting down with a customer, colleague or online friend and getting to know them in a much more personal and intimate way.
Conferences (and unconferences, for that matter) are great ways to connect, but it doesn’t have to be that formal. When I’m traveling, I like to arrange “Tweetups” in cities I’ll be in by activating my Twitter network. And I like to get out to lunch at least once a week with colleagues in the new media space. Exchanging ideas, picking brains, challenging assumptions, sharing the latest developments – it’s all fair game in such situations. And I find that there’s nothing as refreshing and invigorating as having that real-life interaction.
I’m aware that there have been opportunities for face-to-face meetings for members of some online communities from Communispace (a Community 2.0 sponsor). These were individuals who knew each other online for years who decided to meet when one of them was diagnosed with cancer. It was as if it was a family or long-lost friends were getting together again. Like a reunion without the benefit of ever having met before (a preunion?). It was powerful and it completely solidified the existing relationships.
So while it’s utterly fascinating to ponder the possibilities of online communities, there are some offline components that are worth considering. After all, sitting with your laptop won’t sustain long term relationships. You have to take the time to sit with people too.