6 Ways to Build Lasting Customer Relationships Through Social Media

By Features PCmag

Social media is an ideal place for brands to win over new customers, make direct sales, and promote new products. But the medium also presents an incredible opportunity to build enduring relationships that live longer than any one-off discount or retweet could. By taking advantage of social listening to interpret, respond to, and study customer conversations, you'll be able to deliver interactions that are more valuable and meaningful to your followers.

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I spoke with Andrew Caravella, Vice President of Marketing at Sprout Social, our Editors' Choice-winning tool for social listening, about the ways in which brands can turn their social platforms into communications and relationship-building vehicles. Caravella said social listening is traditionally thought of as brands listening minute by minute to determine how best to interact with customers. Caravella thinks the real opportunity lies in a more acute approach to social listening that can help businesses make better long-term decisions about their brand and products.

1. Short- and Long-Term Decision Making
If you think about the minute-by-minute approach to social media, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn give you a real-time overview of how people are responding to your brand. You can determine whether or not they like your most recent post, your latest product, or your newest promotion. Conversely, you can also use the tools to learn whether customer sentiment is more favorable toward your brand or your competitor's, or to get an early warning about what offensive image your politically incorrect CEO just posted.

More importantly, these tools give you an immediate opportunity to jump in and resolve a situation before it spirals out of control. If you can turn negative interactions into neutral or even into positive ones, then you'll live to see another day with your loyal customers. However, if you're not actively monitoring and responding to feedback, then you might be waiting too long to take action.

There is also a longer, more complex conversation happening around your brand. No one tweet or post will give you this comprehensive, long-term overview; you'll need to continually monitor, gather, and interpret customer conversations to make better decisions about your social marketing, your products, and even your business as a whole. For example, is your brand hip enough? Do you post too much content? Does your advertising miss the mark? Are your products malfunctioning? Taking a more long-term approach to social listening will help you become a more informed and strategic brand.

2. Organic and Authentic Responses
"Brands should listen for direct mentions," said Caravella. "But, similarly, if you think about listening in a way that doesn't include the direct mention, a brand can surprise and delight its customers." For example, Caravella said, if someone doesn't tag "@Sprite" when they say they're enjoying a Sprite beverage, then Sprite can still find that tweet and leverage the opportunity to make an offer, say thank you, or send a gift to that fan. How much more rewarding would a direct tweet from one of your favorite brands be than seeing a promoted tweet or a spam email?

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This kind of one-to-one interaction is more likely to be natural and enjoyable for your customer than any other form of push messaging. "Brands spend a lot of time on outbound content," Caravella said. "Listening lets you jump in and inject yourself authentically into conversations that matter."

3. Data and Analytics
Social data and analytics let you build a benchmark over the course of weeks, months, and quarters to identify trends and perceptions around your company and products. But don't get bogged down in things such as social "likes" and number of followers; those numbers tend to tell one side of a very complex story. What you should be interested in are more action-oriented metrics such as social shares and engagements. Analyzing those metrics can help you create better content or make better business-level decisions, such as telling your product team to think about more innovative design.

Caravella said he encourages people to look at rates rather than raw numbers. "Too often my customers are thinking about actual numbers instead of the rate at which they're progressing. Instead of wanting to get from 1,000 to 10,000 followers this year, [ask yourself] how many followers did you gain this week?"

4. Community Building
There's no better way to make customers want to stick around your social pages than by introducing them to like-minded people. Building and controlling communities lets marketers serve as a conduit for the conversations that are happening between customers. This helps give your brand credibility as the expert in your field and make your site or platform the lead destination for those seeking information. You'll be in charge of determining the conversations so it's important to think about what you can do to facilitate conversations that perpetuate the themes you want to promote.

But perhaps more importantly, these communities give your brand evangelists the opportunity to correct disgruntled customers who've had issues with your products. By letting customers correct and help other customers, you empower your long-time followers, satisfy new followers, and avoid bogging down your help desk reps.

5. Long-Form Reviews
Amazon, eBay, Yelp, and even PCMag are valuable spaces that let consumers learn about products before they buy them; these platforms provide in-depth reviews that customers can use to make more informed buying decisions. Reviews don't always have to be housed on a third-party site. You can use your social platforms to encourage users to share honest feedback about their experience with your product. Sure, there will be negative reviews and there will be customers who insult your product just to troll your brand. But there will also be a group of brand loyalists who come to these pages to sing your praises.

"There is definitely a place for and benefit for ratings and reviews," said Caravella. "What's interesting about the social space is that you get a large volume of feedback. You often get a groundswell or confirmations of ideas via retweets and shares. [So if you run a business that would benefit from long-form reviews], it's an area you should cultivate."

6. Educational Material
Share content that offers statistics or data that helps customers make more informed, educated decisions. Is there market research produced by a media outlet (or even a competitor) that touches on themes you endorse? Does the research provide your customers with information they might not already have? Don't be afraid to use your platforms to share that content. "If you can get more than 50 percent of your content to not be about you but about other things that relate to you, that's a huge benefit to your customers," said Caravella.

The keys here are to stay on message, share content that benefits your business (even if only indirectly), and then turn these shares into conversations that happen on your watch. This way, you'll be able to use this chatter to provide even more value for your long-term customers.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.