Why cultivating a fan following makes good business sense

Social media seems like an easy way to connect with customers and update them about your business, doesn’t it?

Brands and businesses need to cultivate a loyal community of followers if they’re to have any real impact on social media. This means thinking about what social media is and, above all, being social.

It’s a conversation

Social media isn’t a one-way broadcast. Customers aren’t interested in simply hanging around to lap up your product updates. They want to interact with you, not merely listen to you. Exploit this. Seek their views, poll them and run competitions to get them to tell you why they like your services in 25 words. Get them to post their own photos of how they’re using your products and services.

It requires content

Not just any content – good content. Engaging, sticky material that your customers enjoy and want to share with their own networks. Content is expensive and time-consuming to do well, but people can tell when you’re not making an effort and will quickly lose interest. Offering something of yourself, rather than sharing a cat video they saw a dozen times last week, is key. You could offer five insider tips about your industry, a favourite secret recipe, a behind-the-scenes video or exclusive photos of upcoming products.

It’s about contributing

It’s not that people want something for nothing – they want something to reward their loyalty to you for sticking around. So get creative with giveaways. Vouchers and discounts are always popular, but also consider ways to get your customers to do your marketing for you. Some companies offer referral codes for customers’ friends to take up an offer, rewarding that customer when they do so. Consider loyalty nights, exclusive parties and unique deals. Offer your fans the first chance to try something.

It needs to break away from the norm

There are thousands of other companies out there trying to do exactly what you’re doing. Be original. Have a voice. Be controversial, if you can. Be the café that bans battery eggs and then shout about it on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Be the bank that cuts fees and then use it to win support. Use fan feedback to shape and evolve who you are. As you get closer to your customers, become more customer oriented.

It involves criticism

Social media is a key channel for customers to complain openly. Be transparent and responsive to their criticism. It may be unfair or unjustified, but stay polite and let them know that you hear them. Fixing people’s problems out in the open is gold – you can win new customers if they see you resolving issues and offering compensation where appropriate. A refund, a meal voucher, a discount off their next order – the choices are endless. Try to take an approach of curation rather than censorship as criticism can be very valuable. You’re often getting for free what you’d pay big money to squeeze out of a focus group.

Your aim is to get fans, not mere followers. Followers are relatively easy to acquire – you have them ‘like’ your Facebook page to enter a competition or get a voucher. It’s a no-brainer. The harder, smarter work is keeping them there so they become fans. Those are the people who like your updates, retweet your tweets and become not only loyal, long-term customers, but free viral marketers for your business.

 

Originally published on ThinkFWD

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