We all want to develop loyal customers. It doesn't matter if you're B2C, B2B, nonprofit, or anything in between, everyone is striving to use social media to engage loyal fans. Fans who will go to bat for you in a crisis, recommend your products and services to others, and will help tell your stories. But just as there are different models for engaging loyal customers depending on your goals, there are various degrees of investment among fans within each model.
When considering loyalty models, don't assume that everyone is on the same page. For instance, if the goal is conversation-building, start with an understanding that everyone in the room isn't at the same engagement level. Some have been there a long time, but are still just listening. Some have been conversing for a long time, and want to get others involved. Some are brand new, but are ready to go to bat for you because of one good experience. Some newbies are just looking for answers to questions, or they're curious. Some are there to get to know others in the room that have like beliefs. Some want to find one-on-one conversations, others want to visit with the group. You get the picture? One size doesn't fit all. But there is a common denominator. Everyone there wants to interact and build relationships that will provide information they need.
"If your goal is to build relationships you must issue authentic calls-to-action, and respond with gratitude when those calls are answered. You must also make a commitment to answer your followers' calls-to-action. Your motivation must be to further the conversation to deepen the relationship. The relationship is the benefit that drives loyalty."
When designing a strategy for conversation-building, I encourage people to work backwards. Start with the end product. It's sort of like engineering a persona in reverse. Instead of constructing your prospective customer, you describe the end product-- your most loyal conversation-builder. What do they look like? What kind of online behaviors are they participating in? How often do they engage with you? What is the nature of the interactions? What social media platforms do they use? Are they evangelists, bringing other people on board? Do they actively recommend your product/service to others? What products or services have they bought? How many people are they talking to? Are they conversation starters, or just active participants? What kind of advocacy behaviors do they engage in with you? With others?
When you have built your ideal end-persona, you can start stepping backward and defining the levels of engagement that got them to that point. What are the tiered calls-to-action that got them where they are? How long did it take them to get there? You may want to develop several personas: a fast-track model (someone who is engaged quickly), a normal model, and a guarded, conservative model (they are asking questions and learning, but are moving slow).
After you have defined the path to loyalty from end to beginning, you can start designing specific social media content strategies that match the customer's needs at each of those critical calls to action. Next, you will need to integrate a strategic mix of those strategies in your editorial calendar. For instance, a particular blog entry should have calls to action for people at different levels of engagement. Your Facebook page should contain a variety of content that stimulates conversation for fans at different levels of engagement. Your Twitter feed shouldn't be aimed at one specific level either. Seamlessly fitting all these together happens in the magic of great content creation fueled by a strategic editorial calendar that is built with measurable goals. Everything is designed to move them to the next level.
Along with content strategy, you should be constructing a tracking system, so you can predict and track the progress of your conversation builders. Depending on the level of sophistication you need, you may want to invest in a marketing automation system such asPardot, Net-Results, Hubspot, or others that facilitates this process.
Who have you seen out there that does it well? Maybe you can't pinpoint the exact process, but you know it when you see it. Here are some of my favorite conversation-builders.
American Express Open: This is a forum dedicated to small business owners sponsored by American Express. It has been in existence since 2007 and the bulk of its content is delivered by social media in the form of an informative blog, a large collection of videos that fans can interact with, and an "Open Forum" where people can exchange ideas and get help from other small business owners. Open also exists as a Facebook page that posts content daily with a good mix of the latest news in small business, poll questions, information on AmEx products, videos, and success stories.
Cheese and Burger Society: This is a selfish choice. I love the Cheese and Burger Society all the way from their clever name (It's the fan campaign of the Wisconsin Milk Board) to their awesome recipes. Do they have a product to sell? Yes. Is the conversation directly about their product? No. But they have unleashed the creative juices of their fans by soliciting recipes, running polls, displaying pictures, and encouraging their fans to talk about and share their product stories with others. I love the way they highlight places to eat all over the world, promote a variety of food blogs, and basically solicit a hunger for burgers (and cheese) in any way they can. They promote a lifestyle that highlights their product much like the Man of the House site Procter and Gamble has developed. I've been a fan of the Cheese and Burger Society for a long time. Lots of conversations take place on their Facebook page. If you want a treat, go to their website and take their "Cheeseburgers Across America" tour of the ten greatest burgers in the U.S. accompanied by a David Puddly-like narration. My personal favorite: The Milwaukee. There are social share buttons on each burger so you can share the yumminess with your friends.
The Red Cross: Their main Facebook feed has over 400,000 followers. On that Facebook page, there are calls-to-action that include finding a chapter, donating, volunteering, polls questions about important emergency information, storytelling, event invites, trivia, pictures, requests for information, disaster videos, how-to videos, news items, you name it. There is content for every level of engagement for Red Cross fans. And those fans respond. Most posts contain hundreds of comments. And don't be scared by their size. What they do with 400,000, you can do with 400. But you can't pull it off without a commitment to content that builds conversations.
What kinds of strategies do you use to build conversations with your fans? The comments below are a good place to pass your wisdom along!