Nate Elliott[Posted by Nate Elliott. Follow me on twitter.]

According to all the data I've collected in the past few years — no matter what age group or country you study, and no matter how actively people use social media — the huge majority of users influence each other face to face rather than through social online channels like blogs and social networks. And a huge body of research — most recently including Razorfish's Fluent study — has proven that recommendations from offline friends are more influential than recommendations from online friends. So I decided to have a closer look at how interactive marketers can create offline influence in my new report The Analog Groundswell: Using Social Media To Create And Amplify Offline Influence.

I found marketers using a range of strategies to create offline influence, but there are two in particular that are most promising:

  1. Events. If you want to create a big splash for a new product or service, tweet-ups and house parties are a great strategy for reaching a lot of people quickly. For instance, the NHL worked with fans to run a series of 23 simulatenous tweet-ups to celebrate the opening of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs — and attracted more than a thousand attendees, generated a potential Twitter reach of more than 200,000, and garnered press coverage that reached millions. And right now, Microsoft is working with a company called House Party to plan in-home launch parties for its new Windows 7 operating system.
  2. Ambassador programs. If you want to build long-term relationships and ongoing influence, ambassador programs might be the right strategy for you. For instance, scissor maker Fiskars found a great way to turn members of its legendary Fisk-a-teers online community into offline ambassadors: they gave each member a special pair of scissors engraved with their member number. When the Fisk-a-teers go to crafting parties and pull out their special scissors, it invariably creates a conversation about the brand. Vendors like BzzAgent can drive offline sampling and evangelism for marketers. And even Facebook has used ambassador programs in some markets where it's been slow to grow.

Clients can learn more — including lots more examples, and our best practices for offline influence programs — by reading the full research report. And I'll also be speaking on this topic at both Forrester's 2009 Consumer Forum (in Chicago, October 27 and 28) and our 2009 EMEA Marketing Forum (in London, November 17 and 18).  I just finished writing a case study on the NHL's tweet-ups as well.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you: what are you favorite examples of brands driving offline word of mouth? Have you ever run an offline influence program – and if so, what vendors did you use and how did it work? Let me know in the comments below.