It’s amazing how many small businesses (and even some of their customers) still cling on to old-fashioned, dusty, musty loyalty programs that fail to increase revenues and customer loyalty. Being weened from those cardboard punch cards and plastic loyalty cards takes some serious re-wiring.



This flies in the face of the fact that most customer loyalty programs these days fall flat precisely because the methods used are out of touch with today’s consumer habits. There’s none of the engagement that many consumers are so used to now.

Tying a traditional loyalty program to social and location-based check-ins can change that. But, just keep in mind, what most social media-niks and gurus won’t tell you is that in order to capitalize on all these “free” platforms you will need to invest a great deal of time and resources. Don’t expect the revenues to increase overnight, either.

Once you are open to changing the way you reward repeat customers and your “brand advocates,” and you are willing and able to set aside enough time and effort to initiate these changes, then consider the following five tips:

1. Understand social networking. Sounds simple. Yet many business owners plunge into various types of social media marketing without having ever used any of the services they are targeting. Each social network has its own flavor, its own population of users, and its own use. To fully understand the unique characteristics of any social media platform, you need to use it- and not as a business owner, but as an individual. Only then will you really understand how to use the platform in ways that will generate customer interest and reward your loyal patrons.

2. Decide which networks to focus on. In addition to the “marquee” networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, there are many, many social media platforms out there that small business owners could use to vamp up their loyalty programs. Some examples include: social recommendations sites, such as Gowalla and Yelp; social check-in sites, dominated by Foursquare; daily deals sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, and smaller, new kids on the block, such as Belly. If you are just starting out, pick two or three networks for your business where you will invest some time and money.

3. Deciding what actions to reward. The next big decision to make is determining which of your customers’ actions you would like to reward, and how you will reward them. Again, there are many directions that you can take, so it really depends on your specific business and the makeup of your target market. Some examples include: “checking-in” to your business at a specific time, tweeting a message about your business or leaving a review, coming into your business several days in a row or several times in one week.

4. Take a look at tools to help reward brand loyal customers. As you go about developing your new loyalty program, keep in mind that there are numerous tools and services out there specifically designed to help you with the process. This article offers a nice list of six such options.

5. Monitor analytics. Regardless of what platforms you are focusing on, your customer loyalty program is only as good as your monitoring of it. Why? Because often the information you can glean from monitoring the success of the program as well as how your customers are responding, who is responding, and when, can give you vital marketing clues. Your data has value because you can use it to make profitable business decisions. If, for example, you see that certain customers tend to check-in at specific times, then you can create specials geared towards them. Many social media platforms, such as Facebook and Foursquare have their own analytics systems. Others, such as Twitter, may require a third party app.

In short, to run a successful loyalty program these days you need to foster engagement- the kind of engagement that can only come about via social networks. Learn how to tap into this wave, and you’ll be in the best position to create a loyal customer following who will keep coming back for more (with their friends.)

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