Originally published on iMediaConnection by Carlos Dunlap-Beard.

Creating customer loyalty is usually the result of two things:

  1. Forming emotional bonds with customers and
  2. Catering to their needs.

Brands that can do both of these things have a rock-solid foundation to develop customer relationships. But gaining initial customer loyalty is only half the battle. To build lasting relationships with customers, nurturing these connections is just as important as creating them in the first place – and doing so requires more than sending out the occasional personalised email or special promotions. It requires regular interactions. Sometimes it even requires putting customers to work on your behalf.

Brands have long turned to social media as a way to continue conversations and build greater brand affinity, yet they often fall flat when using social media to build and nurture loyalty. That’s because many focus primarily on gaining likes and follows from fans. Others use social media to troubleshoot issues or respond to customer requests. But only one-fifth of chief marketing officers say they use social networks to actually engage with customers.

Considering that consumers who interact with brands through social media demonstrate a deeper emotional commitment to those companies, as well as spend between 20 percent to 40 percent more than other customers on branded products and services, companies and brands can actually benefit from putting customers “to work” on social media by creating different opportunities for interaction. Below are five real-life brand examples that demonstrate how organisations can do exactly that.

Motivate social sharing with points

There’s nothing like having your products shared across social media. That’s akin to a product endorsement from some of your biggest fans. Word-of-mouth should be a key part of your social strategy, including initiatives that give customers the proper motivation. The Tea Spot, an online purveyor of loose tea and teaware products, spurs loyalty program members to share its products on social media by awarding points for that activity. This strategy lets customers share their affinity for the brand’s products, as well as doubles as an acquisition tool to drive purchases from new customers. When prompting participants to use a branded hashtag, companies should leave the actual content of those tweets and photos up to fans — allowing for more genuine advocacy.

Offer 15 minutes of fame with social shout-outs

Users of social media love to broadcast their opinions, their wins, and their affections. Social media, after all, is the ideal platform for that activity. What better way to recognize customers publicly and reinforce loyalty than to use the very channel that they hold dear? Clothing brand Levi’s, for example, has been known to recognise fans with social media shout-outs for being loyal customers. The gesture of a simple mention on the world’s biggest platform offers a priceless reward for being a loyal customer and motivates fans to remain with the brand.

Get visual with videos

Some consumers are visual beings, so it’s important to leverage a medium that appeals to this mindset. For example, in September 2015, more than 194 million Americans watched online video, according to comScore. By offering video content on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, brands can give customers another way to engage and learn more about their products and services while deepening loyalty. Omaha Steaks uses videos as an educational tool to enhance its food products. Members of the Steaklover Rewards loyalty program earn points for watching videos, including learning how to cook a fish and easy dinner ideas. This approach gives brands a way to expose their products and services to consumers and entertains members with educational content. Additionally, it offers viewers a strong call-to-action to share the video, helping spread the word across social channels.

Give consumers (temporary) control of your social media

Maintaining brand messaging is crucial when it comes to social media. But sometimes, it can be just as important to let consumers takeover the reigns (on a temporary basis) to give a company an edge. Organizations are taking to Instagram to host takeovers — online events hosted by digital influencers and loyal customers on a company Instagram account. The Boston Red Sox, for example, ran a contest in which fans vied for a chance to win tickets to a home game and takeover the Red Sox Instagram account by posting photos from the game. This strategy gives fans the power to show their love of a company and lets businesses have fun with their best customers to propel continued loyalty.

Develop a social community

Remember, there are ways to drive social engagement within a brand’s owned channels. The beauty of social media is that it brings people together who share a common passion or affinity. Creating social communities offers a portal for community members to learn more about companies and advocate for them, building greater loyalty. Fabric softener brand Snuggle, for example, offers an online community to drive customer engagement and sales. Snuggle assigns members various missions to earn virtual points and badges — including sharing their missions and branded hashtags on social media and participating in surveys. Earned points allow members to qualify for future missions and earn special offers, deepening their ties and loyalty to the brand.

These are just some examples of how companies are using social media engagement to fuel loyalty outside of the traditional transactional environment. The common theme among all of them is the use of social media as a place to create interactions, rather than transactions.