In small business, the name of the game has always been loyalty. To keep our businesses alive and growing, we cultivate loyal customers. While we appreciate the occasional customers and even the once-off customers, it is the loyal customers who truly keep our businesses afloat.
The local coffee shop counts on the regulars and the groups of bridge ladies to come each week. The small clothing boutique counts on a handful of loyal women to stop in each season and purchase updates for their wardrobes. Even canoeing and kayaking outfitters count on the same loyal base of people to return time and time again with groups of people eager to learn the craft.
We need loyalty. We need those individuals who have decided that our business is actually their business.
But in a climate where social media is a necessary and powerful advertising strategy, how do we cultivate that loyalty? When people are eager to bounce from one 140 character message to another, how do we get them to stop and pay attention to us? And more importantly; how do we get them to interact with us time and time again? This question has led many businesses to argue that loyalty isn’t even possible in such a transient space.
But loyalty online is possible, and it can be just as (or even more) powerful as the loyalty we seek to cultivate in face-to-face interactions. We need to be reminded of the core purpose of social media, not just for businesses, but for everyone. That core purpose: to be “social”.
Social media is all about connecting with other people in some fashion. It is about sharing thoughts, ideas, emotions, and information with others. It is about connections. People are social by nature, and social media is now one of the main ways people interact. And while we may not always agree that a status update or post is the best way to interact with people and gain friendships, it is the reason people are on social media.
Online social contacts have the same intention and purpose for the small business as in-person interactions. The local coffee shop gains loyal customers by being kind, attentive, interested, and offering quality products. Those bridge ladies come back from week to week because they feel noticed, cared for, and think the coffee is great. And that same local coffee shop gains loyal customers online by being kind, attentive, interested, and offering quality products. Their online presence will cultivate loyal customers as their social media followers feel noticed, cared for, and appreciate their products.
The same principles are true for the clothing boutique and the outdoor outfitters. The same factors that help them to succeed in a face-to-face interaction are the factors that will allow them to gain loyalty online. Notice people, appreciate them, and offer them a quality product they can feel good about supporting. It really is that basic.
We, as businesses, simply need to figure out how to transfer the qualities we strive for in person onto our online social media platforms. When we learn how to successfully make that transformation, we will succeed in gaining loyal followers.