The Importance of Social Media to Customer Loyalty
Originally published on The Institute of Customer Loyalty (site now down) in 2013.
Settle in, this is a long one.
Social media is one of the most important ‘new’ innovations for marketing. The popularity of these websites have soared in the last few years, with a study by Experian Simmons estimating in 2011 that 91% of Americans over the age of 18 who have access to the internet make use of social media on a monthly basis¹. Therefore it cannot be denied that a company’s presence on the two key social sites, Facebook and Twitter, can reach a huge amount of people, giving a great opportunity to improve customer opinion, experience and loyalty. Company social media pages are like virtual meeting places for their customers and staff, giving a whole new forum for companies to boost a customer’s experience and gain their loyalty. For the first time, companies have a ‘mouth’, as it were, a virtual embodiment of themselves that is free to interact with the public. Customers can ask questions, make complaints, give praise or just generally have a chat with the company and on a public platform.
However, it seems that using social media for customer service rather than for driving traffic is low on the priority list for many companies and professionals. The table below shows 71% of a sample of product professionals use social media sites for ‘Thought Leadership’ (including traffic driving), compared to 31% who use these sites for ‘Customer Service’, and only 19% who use them for ‘Requirement Definition’. Not enough businesses and professionals are using these sites to improve customer experience and loyalty or to get to know their customers and their needs.
A reason for this reticence could be the risk of public failure associated with these sites. Companies’ responses to individual customers will be scrutinised by the rest of their online following, and if they put a foot wrong there could be a huge uproar. Because of this, there is still plenty of confusion, trepidation and downright bad usage of these sites. Just this week I have seen a number of articles discussing companies that are still alluded by good social media campaigns. Many companies even choose to avoid social media all together; Costa Coffee, for example, created a Twitter account four years ago and only just began tweeting regularly for the first time earlier this year. Other companies embark on a shaky course of customer interaction in the hope of appearing more approachable, while valiantly pushing their services at any opportunity.
Creating a Clear Personality
Social media marketing need not be so daunting though. It is a great tool for making your business more approachable and more likeable, which in turn creates valuable new levels of customer fondness and loyalty.
One of the best ways to gain customer loyalty and enhance customer experience through social media is by creating a clear, distinct voice. Having a defined personality for your brand is of paramount importance when interacting as a business or organisation on social media sites. If you do not have a personality or a voice, you will not be able to ensure that there is a consistency across your social media accounts and throughout your posts. Creating and sticking to a consistent voice will make it easy for your customers to recognise your company and relate to its interests, almost making it possible for them to ‘get to know’ your business like they would any other person on social media. This way, their loyalty to your business would increase in the same way personal loyalty increases as people get to know one another.
The drinks company Innocent is a good example of a brand with a distinctive personality which is reflected across everything they do, from their packaging to their social media activity. Their quirky, bubbly voice allows them to post about a huge variety of colourful, cute, fruity, healthy and sometimes downright bizarre things. The result is a large following of fans who enjoy seeing and commenting on these posts. When Innocent then post about a promotion or new product, they have a dedicated group of followers who are reached by this information. Some people will even go as far as only buying Innocent products where possible or recommending Innocent to their friends, simply because they like the brand. It’s all down to how Innocent use social media to interact with consumers, rather than just sell to them.
Quirky will not necessarily work for every company of course, but it is a good example of a brand that has chosen its identity and stuck to it, making it the centre of everything they do, and making themselves instantly recognisable. Customers who feel like they ‘know’ the personality of a business can have a lot of loyalty, so creating a recognisable voice is key to promoting customer loyalty and experience on social media. Once you are comfortable with your company’s online identity, it is time to start writing posts that fit in with this identity.
Writing Clear and Relevant Posts
Posting and interacting with customers through social media is a great way to increase customer experience if you do it well. Be relaxed about social media interaction, or at least appear so to your audience, and remember to answer any questions posted on your pages promptly. Post about more than just your new deals or products; customers will occasionally want updates about sales, promotions and new products, but they will tire of a company that talks about nothing but themselves. Instead, post anecdotes from the office, pictures, interesting articles and relevant information, and ask your customers questions to get them talking to you and to one another.
The companies that have achieved the right balance between self promotion and consumer interaction have created an image that is both personable and professional, informative and friendly. It is not about selling and constantly plugging your company; it is about chatting with your customers and making them believe that your company cares about more than just pushing products. Finding this balance will keep your customers interested and informed, and keep their opinions about your company high.
Finding a clear tone that relates to your company, and then using this tone to write interesting and relevant online posts, will bring your company out of itself and make it more approachable for consumers. In turn this will give another forum on which to improve customer opinion, experience and loyalty. Soon enough, companies that fail to create a relevant and friendly presence on social media will be left behind, with customers preferring to interact with those who have become approachable, likeable and established upon the online media platforms they use so frequently.
¹ Source: Report on Experian Simmons Survey at http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/160172/