Love Your Followers: Creating Customer Intimacy in the Age of Social Media

In an issue of the Harvard Business Review, marketing consultants Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema talked about the value of having competitive marketing strategies. By delivering superior value to customers, a brand can gain significant advantage over its competitors and become a leader in its category.

One of the most important value disciplines they've identified is customer intimacy, where a business takes a closer look at its market, identifies its audience by segments, and tailors its products or services to cater to customer needs. That concept is more than a decade old, and yet an enduring practice, especially today in the age of social media. This is a crucial strategy to embody, especially as interacting in social networks involve not just obtaining information about the people you follow and who follow you, but making personal connections that would eventually blossom into potential revenue in the future.

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Platforms like Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) started out as a way for people to connect with their friends and family. Eventually though, as more internet-savvy consumers integrate tweeting and posting status messages in their daily lives – talking about the places they visit, the food they eat, the items they've bought at certain stores – businesses began to realize how beneficial it would be to be more visible on the same network. These days you would find that just about every business has a Twitter handle or a Facebook fan page. It is customer intimacy at work in several stages.

Peter Shankman, a social media specialist, further elaborates: "The first thing to understand is that customers have an overwhelming, burning desire to be loyal. But in order to be loyal, customers need to be loved first – they need a reason to be loyal." Social media goes a long way towards building this kind of loyalty, and provides a more open and easier avenue for businesses to make customers feel that they are special.

For instance, MobioINsider is another social network used by celebrities and their large audience. It has found popularity because of the intimate feel of the site – fans can make requests and ask questions, and actors can answer them directly, without interference and noise from various feeds or streams. There is only the page, the influencer, and the audience.

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Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has used this to his advantage by connecting with sports fans all over the globe – he gets asked just about anything, from his favorite pregame meal to the experience of being a professional athlete. He even gets life-pondering questions such as "If you could relive one moment in your career, what would it be?" Each time he acknowledges someone from Ecuador or Japan, the world gets smaller, and everyone feels more connected.

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Over at Twitter, writer Jessica Gross wonders about going onboard the Amtrak and using the long, uninterrupted travel time (throughout all the routes) for writing. It wasn't long after that before the official @Amtrak got in touch to say that they loved the idea. And then the rest was history: a writers residency program was born out of this simple interaction, which a lot of people coveted and talked about for a long time.

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Sephora, meanwhile, asked its Facebook fans to contribute images of their nail art using the company's products, which will then be posted on the page. The response was positive – not only did it make customers feel that they are part of something exceptional, it also showcased the creativity of the community.

The internet is vast, true, and every day we are on the receiving end of more content and information than ever before. It is a challenge to deliver customer intimacy, especially in the age of social media, where everybody is here and has something to say. However, it is precisely this environment that makes consumers long for a more personal relationship. If you want to keep your business or your brand relevant, you must find ways to provide a tailored experience to your audience, before your competition does.

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