Building Customer Loyalty With Social Media

It’s unfortunate that the most common term that follows “social media” in business discussions is too often “marketing.” Not there is anything wrong with social media marketing – it certainly has its place. Rather, it’s just too limiting: In business, marketing is really just the beginning of what social media is all about.

To be sure, most marketers now employ social media in their advertising and marketing programs: whether it’s the use of a Facebook business Page for targeted advertising or the placement of sponsored posts on Twitter, there is real value in building a presence around your social handles while also marketing to those who’ve opted to follow you (or those who you wish would). Building targeted campaigns against the pre-built member base of large mainstream social networks — or participating in highly focused specialty networks like Spiceworks – a highly-valued community of tech professionals — is a solid component of a strong advertising and awareness program.

But there is more that you can do, and good reason to do it. For starters, consider the development of customer loyalty. Various models — and in particular the loyalty loop as an extension of the classic purchase funnel — make clear that loyalty is earned and re-earned at each and every interaction (aka, a touch point) with your customers. Mechanically, the end-objective of building loyalty is the development of resistance — resistance to change. More specifically, resistance to consider changing at the next upsell or re-purchase opportunity. Loyal customers don’t simply “buy more, and more often.” Loyal customers very often buy without considering alternatives.

This is not to say that loyal customers are complacent: in fact they rarely are. Rather, they have answered the question as to what they will do next with “this, unless something causes me to re-evaluate.” At each interaction, they are looking for the same sense of satisfaction as they experienced in the last interaction, and so as long you don’t give them a reason to re-think (aka, mess up), your customers will continue to self-reinforce loyalty.

Customers are therefore actively involved and paying attention at each interaction. Because the social Web is a primary venue for conversation, your use of social media is enhanced when you move from telling and sharing to meaningfully interacting and supporting on social channels. Simply put, it means being present not only as a traditional marketer – focused on creating demand – but also as a contemporary marketer – looking for opportunities to embrace, assist, help, support – so your customers perceive each experience as…wonderful. Not only does that contribute to loyalty, it creates very favorable reference points in public, a leading driver of recommendations. And recommendations mean business.

But there’s another big reason to develop social media beyond marketing: the power of the interruption has crested. Consider that nearly every impression an advertiser makes is made possible by the simple fact that the “target” (your customer) is paying attention to a media stream on which the advertiser has purchased the ability to insert an interruptive message. And that ability is changing. In my prior column I noted the launch of Ello, a blended freemium and “for-fee” network that operates in manner similar to a smartphone: members get (free) a basic social networking tool, then pay for specific apps and services that they use to configure and enable Ello meet their needs. Ello is ad-free. Google is experimenting with a paid YouTube subscription: it, too, is ad free. HBO is unbundling its longstanding ad-free (paid) content from the big channel packages. Each of these means marketers are losing the ability to reach potential customers through interruptive advertising. There is every reason to believe that this trend will continue, first with consumers who have the economic freedom to make this (paid) choice, and then to others as interruptive advertising becomes more expensive (as ads must support a shrinking audience with essentially fixed production and distribution costs, the costs per eyeball reached either goes up, or ad revenue goes down) and or less likely to reach the customer you really want to reach (because they have shifted to pay/no-ad content options).

So, how do you build loyalty capability into your social media program? The most direct — though far from easy — method is to step beyond traditional marketing and move your attention to operations – to customer care, to pre-sales, and support. As a marketer, you are uniquely skilled in understanding what makes customers tick, and what they respond to. Take that knowledge to customer care, for example, and create social customer experiences that make customers say “Wow!” Sure, you can do that with your products and services, but sooner or later something will go wrong, or your current customer will outgrow a past purchase. What then? It’s super important that the very next experience — recovery from failure, exploration of an upsell option, etc. — be equally “wow.” As ads give way to recommendations, start building your capability to generate favorable recommendations.

As you develop your social media marketing program, think beyond the box. Stretch “marketing” to include customer experience everywhere, and stretch social media to encompass social technology and all of the points where your customers are using these new digital tools to interact, to experience your product or service, and create and share stories about that experience with others. Not only will you be ready for the shift away from interruptive ads, you’ll be building customer loyalty and real business.

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