Follow these rules and watch your customer base and brand loyalty grow.

Social Media & Customer Loyalty

It’s easier to keep customers than to find new ones. And while this doesn’t mean your business should abandon developing new prospects, understanding how to manage customer loyalty in the age of social media should now be a priority.

Americans spend one of every six minutes online using a social network, up from one of every 12 minutes in 2007, according to the research firm com Score. This means your clients, as well as your competition, is already out there sharing information.

Be a part of that conversation or your business is sure to suffer.

Listen to the Conversation

The first step is setting up the right tools to help filter all that chatter on the internet. Try, a social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user generated content into a single stream of information.

The process takes time but the ROI is always worth the effort.

It allows you to monitor more than 100 social media properties and determines relevant metrics such as strength, sentiment, passion and overall reach of mention among many others. If they’re out there talking about you on Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you’ll know what they are saying

You’ll quickly get a baseline understanding of what people think about you.

Engage Your Audience

A social media presence helps your online reputation management by creating positive, company controlled content.  However, you can’t use social media as a broadcast platform for your services. Consumers will quickly tune you out. The point is to keep them engaged in a conversation with you and to continually build trust and ultimately loyalty through transparency and honesty.

You’ve had patience and cultivated followers on Facebook, Twitter and dozens of popular platforms and now have a direct link between you and your desired audience. Talk to them! Engage in useful and relevant dialogue about subjects that matter to them. If consumers feel they are just a lone voice in the forest, you’ll never forge the type on relationship that will have them coming back for more.

It’s also helpful to have a “home base” such as a blog to post relevant content so that users have a place to routinely check for the latest information. The process takes time but the ROI is always worth the effort.

Identify influencers

In any community there are always those who speak the most and the loudest. Find them and make them a friend. If you are paying attention, these people will pop off the digital page. Once you’ve identified these key influencers and made them an ally, they’ll deliver the message for you.

However, if you feel you the need for additional tools try deploying a search engine for blogs that measures the frequency of postings.

A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that recovering only five percent of abandoning customers could increase profitability by 30 to 85 percent. Use these influencers to bring that five percent back into the fold.

Offer Inside Information

Now that you grabbed the attention of key players in the community, give them something to talk about. Provide insider information like your latest product demos, or access to early releases, or even share information about products the general public is not aware of yet.  If you work hard to get these key influencers on your side, you’ll have a powerful ally that will work on your social media efforts for free.

And don’t forget to use social media platforms to offer coupons and discounts that can be shared with others to further increase brand loyalty. A fantastic benefit to the social media approach is allowing your followers to share these offers with friends and family. Follow these rules and watch your customer base and brand loyalty grow.

Social media provides the perfect platform from which to truly understand and engage your target audience. However, remember that it’s not about smoke and mirrors. The goal isn’t to trick anyone through some fancy new medium into buying your product or services. Managing customer loyalty through social media is all about mutual understanding, honesty, transparency and engagement.