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Social media is one of the best avenues for nurturing customer relationships and increasing brand loyalty. Back in the day, brand loyalty was primarily built through traditional media, such as newspaper, radio, TV, and magazines, and while traditional media still plays an important role in a well-rounded marketing strategy, more and more companies are beginning to realize they need to milk social media for all its worth and put a huge focus on building brand and customer loyalty through it.

The vast majority of your customers are glued to their mobile devices each and every day and within seconds can land on any one of your social media channels in an attempt to better understand your company and ultimately your reputation. What that potential or current customer sees on social media, whether it's a review, negative comments, or just how you are interacting with and treating fans and followers, can make or break their decision to do business with you. With that in mind, here are some ways you can begin using social media today to build and increase your brand loyalty:

Tell Compelling Stories

Your focus on social media shouldn't be entirely on selling. Think about this analogy for a second - if you were watching a TV station and all they had was commercials, would you stick around? Probably not. You would flip to another station that has actual content that is of interest to you. The same outlook applies to social media.

Your focus on social media should be on sharing relevant content that interests your fans and followers. This can range from important industry news (building yourself up as an industry expert) to highlighting your employees to creating compelling stories around your products or services to show how they can actually be used in real life scenarios to getting personal by letting people see your passion for your business and telling stories about how you built and grew it. Being authentic on social media will go a long way with potential and current customers.

Listen To & Engage With Your Customers

Customer service has a tremendous impact on brand loyalty. If your customers feel you actually care about them and value their feedback, they will stick around. A big component of this is responding quickly to your customers. A study from NM Incite shows that 71% of customers will likely recommend your brand to others if you have implemented an effective social care program.

And a study from Edison Research found 42% of people expect a response in under an hour, with 20% expecting a response in under 15 minutes! Lets face it, in the world we live in, people expect immediate answers and social media is by far the best avenue for providing those immediate answers, and gives you the perfect opportunity to turn customers into raving fans by blowing their socks off with your awesome customer service skills. Raving fans not only turn into brand loyalists, but they will bring new customers to your business by singing your praise when talking to friends and family.

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In addition to responding to customers quickly, you need to engage with your customers and take their feedback into consideration. If your customers are commenting on something you posted, join in on the conversation. If customers are giving you feedback, whether it be on the piece of content you posted or your product or service in general, thank them for the feedback by their first name. By listening to what your customers are saying, not only can you use it to improve your product or service, but it can make for great FAQ or Q&A material. If a customer follows you on social media, follow them back. It helps show you care and thus can make them more loyal to your brand.

The feed option provided by Social Report provides you with a universal inbox of sorts, bringing all of your social media channels together in a single location so you can listen and respond to customers without actually having to jump from one social media network to another to keep up with everything going on. This is a significant time saver if your business has a voice on many networks.

Reward Your Loyal Customers

There are many ways you can accomplish this. One way is by offering incentives for leaving reviews. It's a win-win scenario for both you and the customer. Positive reviews can have a tremendous impact on others when deciding whether to do business with you. You could run a monthly prize giveaway for any customers who left a review for that month or even offer a special coupon or discount in return.

Another option is to create a rewards program. You can offer exclusive deals or special discounts specific to those who follow you on social media, or if you're looking to boost your following on a specific network, you can offer Facebook only deals, Twitter only deals, and so on. If you have a promotion or event coming up, consider offering early access to those who follow you on social media. Or you can create unique content your customers value dearly and make it available only to them.

Whatever you end up doing, the end goal is to make your customers on social media feel like you truly value their business, and in return, they'll reward you with loyalty.

Run Periodic Contests

Not only are contests a great way to grow your customer base, but they can also excite your existing customer base at the same time and encourage brand loyalty. You could, for example, have customers share a post of yours with their friends and family, which helps you extend your reach and grow your customer base, and in return, your customers get entered into a drawing with a prize of your choosing.

Get creative with both contest ideas and prizes. Consider asking your customers what kind of contests excite them most, this way they are involved in the complete process. Some other potential ideas for contests include vote contests, photo contests (these have the greatest chances of going viral), photo caption contests, essay contests, and sweepstakes. Prize ideas include discount coupons, free products/services, giveaways of promotional materials (such as t-shirts), and even a shopping spree depending on the type of business you run.

SparkReaction provides a great example of a photo contest Travelocity ran, where all you had to do was send them a tweet with the hashtag #iWannaGo with a photo of a destination you wanted to visit (an example of a submission to this contest is shown on the right), and the winner of the contest was actually sent on a vacation there. While this is a very simple contest to organize, it is also quite effective with a high probability of going viral.