When you think of brands like Starbucks or Chipotle, you’ll notice a common theme. Each has a loyal following of customers that trust and love them so much, they’re willing to stick with the brand through all highs and lows. That’s because these brands know how to build strong customer relationships.

Think back to the food sickness incident Chipotle had in 2016. A situation like that would’ve forced a lot of food chains to close their doors, but the relationships Chipotle built with customers over the years keeps them coming back.

Starbucks has also had its fair share of controversy, but the company continues to thrive thanks to its die-hard customers.

You shouldn’t wait until your back is against the wall to build customer relationships. Instead, start earning the trust and confidence of your customers early so any setbacks in the future won’t cause your company to close shop.

One of the best ways to build customer relationships is through social media. Here are eight tips your business can use to get customers to know, like and trust you:

1. Be Human

Nobody wants to deal with the cold heartless corporation that just sees customers as dollar signs. The great thing about social media is it gives you the ability to humanize your brand and showcase your personality.

The tone you use when Tweeting, the images you post to Instagram and how you engage with customers on Facebook all represent your brand’s persona. While every brand doesn’t have to be as casual and humorous as Jimmy John’s, you should have a distinct voice and style.

Even with the development of social media bots, you don’t want to lose that human feel when you engage with customers on social media.

Smart Car does a great job of crafting witty and entertaining replies to mentions of its brand on Twitter.

2. Respond Quickly

Do customers have to wait days before getting a response from your Twitter handle? If so, you’re potentially ruining your customers relationships instead of building them up. Our Q2 2016 Index showed that although customers expect a response from brands on social in under four hours, most companies average a 10 hour response time.

average brand response time on social

Responding quickly not only creates a better experience for your customers, it also leads to more revenue. A study from Twitter found customers were willing to pay nearly $20 more for an airline that responds to customer Tweets in less than six minutes.

twitter response time study

You can use Sprout Social’s Engagement Report to track your engagement rate as well as how long it’s taking your team to respond to incoming messages on social.

sprout social engagement report

You can gamify your efforts a bit with Sprout’s Team Report. This report shows the average response time by team member. Hold contests to see who can get the best response time. It’ll help reduce your overall response time which customers really appreciate.

Southwest Airlines is quick to reply to customer issues on Twitter. Often times customers get a reply within minutes.

3. Exceed Expectations

If you really want to stand out and get a positive reputation for your social customer service, go above and beyond what customers expect.

A classic example of a company going way above and beyond was when JetBlue organized a small welcome party for a customer. The customer jokingly asked for a welcome parade for her flight, and to her surprise, JetBlue’s crew obliged.

When you’re trying to build customer relationships, try to create memorable experiences. Customers may not always remember the time you replied to thank them on Twitter. But I guarantee you Alexa will remember her experience with JetBlue for years to come.

Gestures like this pay off in multiple ways. For one, the customer is happy because of the random act of kindness. But on top of that, you can bet they’ll Tweet about it or share a photo on Instagram. That’ll give you extra exposure and publicity.

People like buying from companies that appreciate them. Even though you may not be able to do something extravagant for every customer, just seeing that you’re making an effort occasionally causes a ripple effect.

4. Be Proactive

When you look at how most businesses interact with their followers or customers on social media, it’s primarily reactive. They wait for someone to tag them or make a complaint before they ever get in touch. But when you’re trying to build customer relationships, you need to get proactive with your engagement.

Reach out to prospects, your top enthusiasts or just random followers every now and then. You could just say hello, share a piece of content that’s relevant to them or Like an Instagram photo.

Quick interactions like this might seem small, but they can have a big impact.

You can get strategic with this approach by monitoring specific non-branded keywords and hashtags related to your industry. Use Sprout’s Smart Inbox to see the latest social media posts that include the keywords you’re monitoring.

sprout smart inbox

Social media allows you to stay in touch with customers and prospects even when they’re not in buying mode. Remember, this is customer relationship building. Like with any other relationship, you don’t want the only time you interact with customers to be when you need something.

Keep those relationships going 365 days of the year and your customers will continue to support you.

5. Reward Your Top Customers

Do you have a few enthusiasts that share all of your content and consistently buy from you? Make them feel appreciated by rewarding and highlighting them.

You could do something as simple as having a “customer of the month” campaign on Instagram. At Sprout, one of the ways we show customer appreciation is through our case studies. Not only do they highlight how businesses use our software, but it gives them extra exposure to people who may not have heard of them.

We also have our Sprout All Stars program that recognizes our power users and biggest brand enthusiasts.

There are countless ways to show customers you appreciate them.

6. Focus on One-To-One Communication

The scalability of social media allows businesses to broadcast their messages to the masses. However, the great thing about social media is it gives you the ability to have a one-to-many conversation as well as a one-to-one. Instead of thinking of social media as a megaphone, use it to build individual relationships.

This tactic is particularly effective when you’re just starting out. Since you don’t have a large audience, taking the time to connect with individuals is a good way to gain initial momentum.

For instance, instead of blasting a Tweet out to everyone, identify a key influencer who may be interested in your content and mention them.

You might think Tweeting people individually is a waste of time, but here’s the deal–if you only have a few hundred followers and Tweet a link to a blog post, there’s a strong chance you won’t get any engagement. Only a small percentage of your followers will actually see it, and an even smaller percentage will take any action on it.

But when you Tweet the post to someone, you’re creating a one-to-one conversation. The person knows you’re Tweeting specifically to them, plus they’ll receive a notification in Twitter which will prompt them to check out your Tweet. If they reply or share your Tweet, you’ll get exposure to their followers as well.

7. Give More Than You Ask For

You should always strive to add value to your customers. The problem is too many brands take a “what can I get from it?” approach to social. Serve your audience the type of content they’re actually looking for, rather than just what you want to show them.

Of course, to do this you’ll need to know your audience. Find out what type of content they share, what they Tweet about and other important details to get a clue into what you should be sharing.

Sprout’s social listening tools are great to help you quickly identify what your target audience is talking about on social media.

twitter listening

You can enter industry keywords and hashtags you want to track, and Sprout will track the conversations going on about those topics.

Once you get a good feel for what your customers want, you can incorporate what you find into your social media posts. Building customer relationships is a lot easier when you’re sharing the type of content they actually want to see.

Always strive to provide your customers more value than you’re asking for in return. It’ll pay off in the long run.

8. Build a Community

You’ll notice a lot of the brands we’ve mentioned have done a great job of creating a community. While you’re building relationships with your customers, you can simultaneously push them toward your own community as well. Your community could live on an online forum, Google+ Community, LinkedIn Group or any other platform where people can gather to communicate.

At Sprout, one of the ways we’ve built a solid community is through #SproutChat. It’s our weekly Twitter chat where customers, influencers and social media marketing enthusiasts gather to talk about relevant topics and challenges that social media and community managers face.

Fashion retailer Nordstrom went a bit outside the box and started a Reddit channel for its community. The company answers customer questions and hosts special events like AMA’s (ask me anything) with different influencers.

nordstron reddit

Having your own community will also help build your brand up as an authority in your industry, which builds trust with future customers. People like to buy from companies they feel are experts or the best at what they do. For instance, Apple is looked at as a forward thinking tech company so consumers look to them for the “next big thing.” New and upcoming brands in Apple’s space would have a near impossible time trying to overtake Apple’s reputation.

Start Building Stronger Relationships

For long term success with social media, or your business in general, you need to build customer relationships. Your loyal customers will eventually turn into advocates that promote your brand for free. The word of mouth advertising and promotion you get from customer reviews and user-generated content is more than worth the time it takes to build relationships.