Social media has affected businesses and corporations around the globe on many different levels. It completely changed the way businesses communicated with their audiences—it’s no longer a one-way conversation. People can now react to corporate messages in real-time and consumers have direct influence on a brand’s reputation. Social media is truly a powerful tool, and now brands can use it to their benefit, specifically by creating customer loyalty.

Earlier this year the Loyalty Marketer’s Association released some statistics that answered the question: In 2011, what had the largest positive impact on your customer loyalty/retention efforts? A respectable 27.87% answered “Social Media,” which made it the highest rating, followed by “Customer Analytics” with 25.41%. Interestingly enough, “Rewards Programs” came in third with 24.59%. These numbers emphasize how much people rely on reviews and recommendations and how much they value rewards programs. In that regard, you can use this knowledge to implement a customer loyalty strategy into your social media marketing strategy.

You can use social media for several purposes and building customer loyalty should definitely be part of a basic strategy. Customer loyalty has numerous advantages, the most obvious being repeat business. Secondly, loyal customers are more likely to become passionate brand advocates. If your brand already engages in social media, it’s time to take it to the next level and start building this valuable benefit. Here’s where to start:

–          Develop Rewards Programs: As you can tell from the percentage mentioned earlier, consumers like to receive rewards for their loyalty. It’s a key driver in building loyalty and should be your priority. You can choose from different models, like offering deals and special offers if a customer buys a certain amount of your products in a specific period of time.

–          Encourage interaction: In order for customers to connect with your brand they have to feel that you’re accessible to them. You can reach this goal by interacting with them on your brand’s social networks. This takes time and commitment, but will result in long-lasting relationships. Interaction isn’t limited to responding to comments; you have to take it a step further than what is on the surface. For example, including calls-to-action and return the favor every now and then when a customer includes a call-to-action. Show that you care and equally important, that you listen.

–          Show appreciation: Showing that you care is one thing, but showing customers that you appreciate them, is another. A simple “thank you” would do in most occasions, but offering a free gift to that “special customer” will certainly get you some extra loyalty points.

–          Provide incentives: Give your audience a perfect reason to buy your products become a loyal customer. Emphasize your qualities without overdoing it. Again, offering interesting deals or coupons can influence a consumer’s perception.

–          Excellent customer services: You should use social media to reinforce your customer services. Always stay polite and professional, be apologetic if the situation requires so, and take them seriously. Don’t let your customers have your brand associated with negative feelings, but rather have them think of the pleasant interactions they’ve experienced with your brand. This could make the difference in changing regular customers into loyal customers.

–          Useful content: It’s true, content is still king. If you’re doing all of the above right, yet neglect to provide useful content for your customers, chances are you will lose credibility on the short-term. Every news update you post should have some sort of value for your customer. Of course, notifying the audience of your current campaigns can be somewhat interesting, but customers will want to know what’s in it for them, Answer this question to their satisfaction and you will have immediately increased the chances of gaining loyal customers.

In short, customer loyalty is paired with the relationship you build with them. If there is no relationship or no connection, people will look at your brand as just another brand, and you don’t want this. Providing the (often subconscious) needs of the consumer is the most effective method to start building relationships.

I hope you found these tips useful and if you have any questions or remarks, feel free to leave a comment!