Social media has emerged as an extremely important forum for business-customer relations, particularly for smaller, local, service-oriented businesses. Nowadays, social media serves as an important extension of your primary website, providing a place for direct and unfiltered interaction with customers. Its reach is powerful, and harnessing its potential to the fullest can have a major impact on the fortunes of your business.

Taking advantage of social media demands much more than simply accruing “likes” and posting tweets. It requires a concerted and carefully implemented strategy, which is built on proven, fundamental principles that turn prospects into new customers, and established patrons into loyal returnees.

Enhance Your Social Media Connections with Customers

One underutilized strategy is to be proactive about building an audience. Use your existing social media connections to seek out users who have expressed an interest in the kinds of products or services your business offers. Sites like Pinterest and Twitter allow you to search for users by specific keywords, and those tools offer effective channels for growing your audience.

You can apply this strategy over and over, reaching more and more people as your social media networks grow. As time passes, some of those social media connections will turn into customers — perhaps even loyal ones.

One of the best things about social media is that it is an extremely cost-effective way to spread the word about your business. It only demands a modest time investment and has the potential to generate massive returns. There’s no better bang for your digital marketing buck.

After you’ve built an audience, you need to continually find new ways to engage them. That means you need to do more than simply self-promote on social media. While there’s nothing wrong with advertising an upcoming sale, hyping products or selling your followers on your unique value proposition, the majority of your posts should offer something more. The less you seem to be advertising, the more effective your approach will be.

Digital marketing strategists point to the importance of delivering value to your online followers. In other words, if all you do is promote yourself, you’ll find your audience dwindling rather than growing because the entire value proposition of the online relationship favors you, not them. Users know you’re there, and they know what you offer. You need to find another way to stay fresh and visible.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Offer facts and tips to customers which are related to your products and services without directly promoting them
  • Encourage meaningful dialogues and discussion about issues related to the industry in which you operate
  • Create a visible, public customer support network through your social media presence
  • Give your followers promotion codes and access to special discounts on merchandise or services
  • Use your social media accounts to respond directly to customer questions and concerns

Given that consumers are placing unprecedented value of¬†individualized relationships with businesses, it’s also good practice to respond to customer posts as frequently as possible. When customers post on your social media pages, take the opportunity to engage with them. This builds relationships, which in turn builds loyalty…and loyalty leads to repeat business and higher referral rates.

Finally, be as active as possible on social media. If you’re not regularly offering fresh, updated content, you risk losing the audience you’ve worked so hard to build. You don’t have to commit massive amounts of time and energy to your social media posts; in most cases, spending 10 or 15 minutes two to three times a week will be enough to keep the momentum moving in the right direction. Your posts don’t have to be long; they just have to add value to the end user’s experience.

Social media is a powerful and affordable way to reach customers, regardless of their demographic characteristics. The more you think of it as an essential extension of your company website and a cost-effective means of pursuing your branding objectives, the better your results will be. Use it to connect with your customers on a level that speaks to their core values, and think of it as a way to promote dialogue and interaction rather than strictly as a marketing platform. Good results will follow.