Is offline engagement dead? At last week’s School of WOM in Chicago, I approached one of the speakers after a session to thank him for an interesting presentation. When we shook hands, he said: “Thanks for the eye contact. For more than 40 minutes I only saw the tops of heads!” While we both had a good laugh, the exchange made me wonder – can social media professionals ever go off-line? How do you engage people when they are engaged elsewhere?

Being an engagement geek at heart, I decided to do a little experiment. In my next session I observed the audience and their engagement with the speakers. (Yes, I get the irony of my not paying attention to study others not paying attention). More than half of the 33 people in the room were regularly using laptop and their phones or pad devices during most of the session. ( I know – some of them were taking notes) And one guy I sat next to – who really outdid himself – had a computer (Facebook), his phone (tweeting) and an iPad (gotta keep up on email)! And, I had to laugh when he asked me at the end of the session, “so, what was your big take-away?”

What does this mean? Are we so tied to the tools and devices that facilitate online engagement that we disengage with what’s happening in the here and now of our lives? Or have we become so skilled at double- and triple tasking that we can tweet, answer email and learn at the same time? Or is attending a conference like getting my Clash concert t-shirt – saying you were there is enough?

The real issue is – does it matter? My response would be a texted, tweeted and liked yes! While online tools can help spark conversation, share knowledge and even motivate action, not everything can be accomplished in the cloud. Someone still has to take those great customer ideas and make them into a product. Someone still has to buy that product after trying that cool app. And people still need live and interactive exchanges to solve problems and spark innovation. When we act as if our “real” lives exist only online, we all lose.

OK – I’ll get off my soapbox now – and make room for you. Let me know what you think. Can we find the right balance where today’s tools facilitate and allow us to appreciate both on and offline interaction? Share your thoughts and we’ll recap what we learn in a future blog. (If you’d like to talk offline, my number is 847-322-9429). Until then,” thanks for the eye contact.”

Colleen Nolan
Colleen Nolan

Colleen is an advocate at heart who believes that with the right message and motivation anything is possible. A strategic campaign designer and communicator, she is skilled at defining and analyzing a desired result, and then developing the marketing and communications pathway to achieve success. Colleen quickly makes an intellectual and emotional connection with key audiences and uses these skills to craft communications programs that have strong resonance and dramatic impact.

Colleen has 20+ years experience in engagement, issue management, community building and mobilization.