Building customer relationships with social media: four ideas to get started

Over the next five years, social media as a customer engagement tool is expected to grow by 57%?the second-most used channel for customer engagement; just behind face-to-face interaction. I’m talking better than email, flyers and direct mail. Social media is no longer a ‘should we?’ it’s a must for businesses–of any size.
Here are four ideas to help you get started building customer relationships online through use of social media:
1. Answer a need
Your customers have a problem and they’re looking to you to solve it. Use your social media channels to answer their burning questions and position yourself as an expert in the industry. Have an ‘in’ on the latest trends in tile? Share it with your followers. Do you get the same five questions each time you meet with a new customers? Turn them into a blog post and give your potential customers the answers before they come in.
2. Encourage participation
Ask your audience what they want to hear about. Encourage your customers to leave their feedback, comments, questions and concerns. Demonstrate the personality of your brand by asking poignant questions and responding to answers, comments and other items that appear from your audience on your page. Just as you check email on a routine basis, get into the habit of checking and commenting back on your social media platforms. Use a timer, a tasks reminder or an app on your smartphone to remind you when it’s time to check in with your audience. Social media channels are great tools to support your stellar customer service.
3. Be visual
Visual content across social media platforms is great–visuals are memorable, hard to ignore and your audience will enjoy sharing them with others in their networks. And in an industry where the way a product looks and feels is part of the decision making process, visuals can help showcase the great brands and products you deliver. What’s more? Google loves visuals and they can help you move up the SEO (search engine optimization) rankings.
4. Listen
The key to great communication is listening. Listen to what your audience has to say. Even if you’re not online, I guarantee your customers are–and they are probably talking about you. Audiences are looking for a way to interact with you, not just hear from you. In fact, a recent Oracle study found that people expect a personal response to a Twitter question within two hours and a Facebook question within 24 hours. The best way to address this is by having the person who makes your regular social media posts check each site hourly and respond as needed. A thoughtful, timely response means a lot to customers. In addition, set parameters for tracking and analyzing the conversations happening online about you, your brand and your industry–you could come across some eye-opening ideas.

In order for your business to survive, you must adapt to what your customers want–and that includes using social media and online content to provide relevant, consistent and creative information. Your customers want relationships, they want feedback, they want to feel part of the conversation rather than being sold something. Nurture your relationships online just as you would in person and you’ll have a customer for life. It takes time, energy and strategy, and it’s well worth it!

I invite you to come to my session ‘Social media and business: Creating content to engage, build and grow customer relationships’ at Coverings to learn more about the importance of engaging online with your customers. Register for the show if you haven’t done so already. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more tips on how you can incorporate great content marketing ideas into your flooring company.

Melissa Harrison is the CEO and principal at Allée, a content marketing, branding and creative services company in the Twin Cities. Named a 2012 Mover & Shaker by the Star Tribune, Melissa has more than a decade of experience in content management and strategy, branding, design and social media. Melissa works with small and mid-sized business clients in the service, consulting, retail and nonprofit industries to build strategic social media and online content strategies. Melissa is also a mother of four, a certified fitness instructor and lover of books.