ImageThe best startups have a customer loyalty strategy – after all, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to keep happy customers than it is to recruit new ones. Every weapon at your disposal has to be used in the war for brand awareness and customer loyalty. Yet while social media is a revolution in our ability to connect with customers, both one on one and on a bigger scale, successfully improving customer loyalty through social media requires a different approach than standard brick and mortar strategies. Nothing replaces world class products and great customer service. But they’re not enough either.  Here are six strategies to keep in mind that will kick your word of mouth marketing to the next level.

Make it easy to follow you: Social media can provide direct access to your most valued customers. It’s important that you give customers an easy means to connect with you on different networks. Prominently display your social account icons on your website, and install an easy sharing app for all your content. List your accounts on your collateral, in email signatures, newsletters, and anywhere else that your customers are likely to encounter your brand.

Make it easy to find you: Make sure to use your brand name, or as close as possible, on the major networks and list your company name and URL in your social media account descriptions. Sounds simple, but so many businesses miss this step when setting up accounts. Getting the right infrastructure in place goes a long way to helping you build your social following.

Reach out to your existing customers and contacts: Getting connected with as many customers as possible is the first step in using social as an effective loyalty tool. Before you start buying advertising and worrying about tips and tricks for attracting likes and followers, make sure you’re proactively using your existing network to get established.

Offer high value content that shows your expertise, including social media exclusives: Use great content to demonstrate your knowledge, products, and unique value proposition. Social gives you an unusual ability to do that through short bytes, video, images, and more. Diverse content types help you establish a foothold on different networks.

Gear that content directly to your customers: But the most important factor is that your content is targeted specifically at your customers. Don’t write for your industry peers or your colleagues. Conduct market research and find out what problems are urgently facing your market and offer content that helps educate, inform, and inspire them. The more valuable your content is, the more it will help deepen your relationships over time. It will also help create the context to convert customers into brand advocates, encouraging them to share your content with their friends, family, and colleagues.

Actively engage with your customers: Many companies talk about the importance of doing social media. The key to powerful business-to-customer social relations is that you need to change your mindset from “doing social” to actually “being social.” Don’t just constantly push content out to your users, no matter how valuable. Take the time to really have a conversation. Are you responding to comments that are left for you? Thanking people for retweets and sharing other people’s content is good social etiquette. By being social, you create the kind of persona that goes “beyond a brand” and allows people to make a genuine connection.

Quickly address customer service concerns: We’re now in an age where one of the fastest ways to get customer service concerns addressed is through public complaining. Any number of businesses can tell you about the potential impact of dissatisfied customers taking to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube with their complaints. Use customer concerns to build loyalty, with that customer and with the audience that’s watching.

Embrace a transparent approach: Acknowledge every complaint and work to address it quickly. Adhere to your policies, but do your best to find a resolution that satisfies everyone. Don’t be afraid to approach problems in a spirit of transparency, and instead focus on your commitment to resolving issues when they do arise.

Develop special promotions and contests: Customers have a choice to engage with you through a number of channels. Social presents a unique opportunity to “meet your customers where they already are.” You never want your social media activities to feel like an interruption; instead, you want to capture people’s attention and get them to engage. Exclusive promotions and contests are a great way to do that in a format that’s optimized for social. Country Outfitters’ ongoing Facebook promotion is a great example: each week, they present a new panel of cowboy boots. Followers are asked to like and share the boots; everyone who does is entered for a weekly drawing and someone wins a pair. At last count, they were up to over 5 million followers.

Know your metrics: Is social media really contributing to your customer loyalty efforts? The only way to know is to measure it. Initially, this can feel difficult to quantify, but it’s all about identifying the right metrics. Hootesuite developed a particularly useful white paper on this issue. Specific customer metrics can include looking at the following on a per customer basis: brand mentions, web visits, referrals, and time on site. If these are increasing on the average, that’s a good sign your social efforts are yielding results. You can also look at specific processes to evaluate the impact of social, including customer recruitment, resolving service concerns, and cancellations. If the time and money spent and customers lost are decreasing, you’re on the right track.

Smart entrepreneurs approach social interactions with a customer oriented, value creation mindset and look for opportunities to create genuine engagement. If you follow these tips, not only will you be improving your brand’s image with your customers but you’ll be miles ahead of your competition. What techniques are you successfully using to build your customer loyalty?  Let us know in the comments below!