Considering that Americans spend more time on social media than any other Internet activity (including email!), your company should be active on at least one or two platforms. That being said, you also need to be smart about how you incorporate them into your marketing strategy.

Simply having a presence on Facebook or Twitter is no longer enough, and the chances of seeing results are slim unless you use them to build customer relationships. That means that if you’re like many business owners, and use your social platforms for nothing but promoting products and brand messaging, you really aren’t doing yourself any favors.

In order to effectively use social media as a marketing tool, you need to treat your fans and followers like what they are – people. Keep reading to learn why building relationships with your customers is so important, and how social media can play a role in that process.

Why do customer relationships matter?

handshakeMany business owners and marketers mistakenly believe that every single component of their marketing strategy should have a direct and immediate impact on sales. Unsurprisingly, they do not see success with social media.

This isn’t to say that social can’t drive sales, of course. It certainly can, but its potential for building relationships is much more important. Long-term customers will do much more for your business than the ones who make a single purchase and never return, and if you want those kinds of customers, you need to put time and energy into earning their trust.

So instead of focusing on your follower count, you need to start trying to engage with those followers.  100 engaged fans that love your product are worth much more than 1,000 who barely remember why they liked your page in the first place, and a few genuine comments can be all it takes to ensure that they want to stick around.

As an added bonus, when you build relationships with happy customers, you improve the chances that they’ll speak highly of you to other potential customers. And considering that consumers always trust recommendations from other consumers over brand messaging, those happy customers are practically extensions of your marketing team.

How can you use social media to build relationships?

One common misconception about social media marketing is that it’s only useful for B2C companies that want to speak directly to customers. And while they may have the advantage of marketing to consumers who don’t have to get their purchases approved by an entire team of decision makers, it’s important for B2B marketers to keep in mind that all businesses are made up of individual people.

Because of that, building relationships with social media is feasible for all companies. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Forget about sales

I already touched on this point, but given that this post is about building relationships, I think it’s worth mentioning again.

People know when they’re being sold to, and on social media, they don’t particularly like it. Resist the temptation to treat your Facebook page or Twitter account like a billboard, and avoid any persuasive, salesy language.

One company that does a great job of this is General Electric. They often post purely informational content, like this graphic about the energy saved by wind turbines:


Of course, they don’t actually expect their followers to contact them in the hopes of purchasing a wind turbine. Instead, they use these posts as an opportunity to educate them:


This kind of casual interaction is great for building a loyal and interested following. Those who comment appreciate brands that take the time to answer, and even those who don’t still Iike to know that the company cares about its customers.

Keep this in mind when running your own social accounts. When your followers are ready to make a purchase, they will. And if you’ve already taken the steps to building positive associations with your company, they’ll know exactly who to contact.

Give a voice to your customers

In an age when some people seem to view the Internet as nothing but a vast space to air their grievances, you’re bound to receive some negative feedback on social media sooner or later. If you respond well, however, that negative feedback provides you with a perfect opportunity to let your customer service skills shine.

Let’s take a look at this fairly standard Facebook post from Starbucks:


With just over 6,000 likes, it’s safe to say that there are Starbucks fans who enjoy spinach foldovers and iced tea. However, not all of them fall into that category:


By responding to all customers who provide feedback (even the ones who call their product, “GROSS”), the company shows that they really are listening. Not only that, but suggesting alternative products is a smart way to increase the chances that this particular customer will give the chain another shot.

Provide customer service

If your customers regularly need instructions, troubleshooting, or any form of assistance, there’s a good chance they’ve already tried reaching out to you on social media. This is becoming a common practice, and 52% of consumers who have reached out to companies on social media say they expect a response within 30 minutes.

That being said, responding with a generic, “Please call our customer service line at 1-800-…” is not ideal. Instead, respond to your customers directly and help solve their problem via social media. That might sound impossible if you don’t have a dedicated social team, but companies who do it well often have extremely satisfied customers.

Many Buffer users, for example, know that they can tweet questions and issues directly to the company handle:


They typically respond within minutes, and speaking from personal experience, do an excellent job of quickly resolving problems.

Some companies, like Hootsuite and Comcast, even have separately managed Twitter accounts that are only used to responding to customers. If you’re worried about your Twitter profile turning into a never-ending stream of answers to customer complaints, this is a smart alternative.

Be transparent

In addition to providing information and customer support, social media also gives your brand the opportunity to highlight the individual people behind your logo. Posting photos and statuses about your employees can be a great way to humanize your company.

On our own Facebook page, some of our most popular posts are behind-the-scenes type photos of our team members:

webpagefx facebook

If you host a company event, or even just have something interesting going on around the office, make an effort to snap a few photos and post them to your social accounts. This will only take a minute or two if you have a smartphone, and can go a long way in showing your followers a more fun side of your business.

Always be authentic

Above all else, the key to building relationships with your customers on social media is authenticity. As long as you genuinely care about the feedback of the people who make it possible for your business to be a success, you should have no problem connecting with them on any platform.

Do you have any other tips for building relationships on social media? Do you actively try to do so on your own accounts? Let me know in the comments below!

  • Johnny

    Great article, Rebecca! Thank you for sharing. I try to build relationships as an artist, but I find it difficult to expand beyond my “friend group” to acquire new “fans/customers.” Starbucks has a built in customer base that they can tap into on social channels without having to build that platform much. I’m curious if any of your readers have suggestions on how to acquire NEW customers using social.

  • Becca Stickler

    Thanks, Johnny! Acquiring new customers on social is definitely more challenging than engaging existing fans and followers. Personally, I’d recommend trying out Facebook’s advertising options, and be sure to specify “Art” in the Interests field. Doing this a few times can help you build a follower base, and as those people share your content with their own friends, the page will grow over time.