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Over the past 10 years, the social media revolution brought the majority of our relationships and interactions online. Brands flocked to create social accounts, build their followings, and engage their customers. It was logical, attention was moving online, and companies went to where their audiences lived.

Now, consumer behavior has changed again. We’ve hit “peak social” as Alexis Ohanian recently put it. People are growing exhausted by social media, deleting social apps in droves, and seeking more intimate solutions to their sense of loneliness.

The new frontier is looking more and more like it’s offline. In-person is in. People are craving more depth in their connections, more intimacy, more reality.

As a result, companies are looking offline for opportunities to bring together customers and prospects in real life. There’s no stronger interaction than face-to-face connection. By bringing people together offline, organizations are creating more meaningful connections between the members of their community, and between the community and their brand.

A great example of this trend is Duolingo, the language learning app that has grown to over 300 million users and 80+ language courses. Now, the online platform is also focusing on offline, hosting over 2,000 gatherings around the world every month where members can practice their languages together.

Programs like this might sound familiar. Field marketing has been around for a long time. Companies organizing “activations” where they can gather people, give our swag, promote the brand, and gather leads. But these programs are different. They are led by community teams, powered by volunteers, and function at a tiny fraction of the cost.

C2C Programs: The Field Marketing of Dreams

The 2,000 events that Duolingo runs is a program led by two full-time staff. How is this possible? If it were a traditional field marketing campaign, it wouldn’t be. You’d have to pay thousands of event organizers to run that many events. Field marketing generally hosts fewer events per year and optimizes for attracting as many people as possible to their events to get the best bang for their buck.

No, this is a C2C (customer-to-customer) program, an in-person, community-driven campaign to deepen customer engagement. The Duolingo C2C program is led by a small community team, but the events are hosted by members of the community themselves. These “chapter leaders” are often vetted, and approved, then provided with a platform to host their events, event guidelines and a range of resources to help them succeed.

The Power of Community-Run

Because it’s community-run, the potential scale of these programs are incredible. The Salesforce Trailblazer program boasts over 1,000 chapters around the world, some of which bring together thousands of attendees. The Salesforce community team has been able to attribute increased revenue and retention as a result of the engagement from these events.

The events can also be smaller and more intimate because the costs are so low. You don’t have to get as many people as possible to each event. Even just 10 people, if they’re the right people and the right format, can be highly impactful for the members and for a business.

This is the ultimate value and opportunity of community programs. By giving control (within guide rails), you can scale meaningful engagement with, and between, your customers. You can do this in a way that would be cost and time prohibitive using traditional marketing.

Beyond that, you’re providing real value for your customers by giving them spaces to connect and support each other. And you’re giving your brand advocates an opportunity to become leaders by starting their chapters, organizing events, and connecting their local networks.

C2C Software is a New Frontier

Another key difference between field marketing programs and community-driven C2C programs is the software used to run them. There are hundreds of event platforms available to marketing teams to host their conference, or meetup. These tools can handle all of your event management needs, like ticketing, check-in, and analytics for each individual event.

A C2C program has a different set of requirements however, that traditional event tools cannot support. Imagine running 2,000 events per month on a traditional event tool, with hundreds of chapter leaders around the world all self-organizing events with their own pages. It breaks pretty quickly.

C2C software providers are built for scaling in-person community programs. Ideally, they will centralize everything on one platform for your HQ team, while giving permissions to local chapter leaders to run their own pages, email communications and events. With these programs, it’s important to control the branding and design of all the chapter pages so that they stay consistent across all your events.

You’ll also want to look for tools that can track all the data, analytics, and email list, in one place so that all the data doesn’t live in 2,000 different event pages and instances.

A Growing Field, From C 2 Shining C

We expect to see programs like this grow in popularity over the next 5-10 years. According to our research, 58% of companies that are investing in community have both online and in-person community programs. And respondents said that in-person community is more impactful for driving customer retention, and has a bigger impact on business objectives than online communities.

The research also said that people believe online community programs are more scalable and require less budget. This aligns with the misconception that events are expensive and don’t scale, but examples like Duolingo and Salesforce, show otherwise. When taking a traditional marketing approach, events are prohibitively expensive. When you take a community approach, the sky’s the limit.

In the many conversations I’ve had, companies that get C2C programs rolling love the results. Not only is it driving business value, but it’s much easier to see and feel the power of community when it’s happening in real life, face-to-face VS. online in forums and message threads.

We even started our own in-person community program called CMX Connect, which is connecting community professionals in dozens of cities around the world, and growing every month.

Looking forward…

I don’t think you should replace online with offline. Online provides a great deal of unique value that you won’t find in an in-person program. Support communities are better hosted online. Online is better for developing knowledge bases, and it’s a resource that’s available to your members 24/7.

I would highly recommend taking a hybrid approach; Allow your customers to connect deeply offline and support each other day-to-day online. The best-in-class companies are doing both.

In-person is in. People are craving more intimate, real connection. Empower your community advocates with the right tools to gather people offline and you’ll accomplish a level of engagement that full-time field marketing teams dream of.

Watch David’s talk, The State of the Community Industry at CMX Summit 2019!

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