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Lessons in Loyalty from the World’s Top Social Brands

November 17, 2014

By Caitlin Whitehurst

How Oreo, Starbucks and 20th Century Fox engage their loyal customers online and what other companies can take away.

If customer loyalty had a Facebook profile, it would have many Fortune 500 followers.

This is where their customers are flocking. About 74% of online adults use social networking sites, according to a 2014 Pew Research Internet Project report. And nearly half of all online users will refer to social media when making a purchasing decision, according to a 2012 Nielsen study.

“Today, being on social media is essential for a brand,” said Simon Uwins, former Tesco chief marketing officer and customer loyalty expert. “It’s not new anymore, but there are some companies doing innovative things on it.”

With so many customers online and on social networks, some of the world’s best-known brands, including Oreo, 20th Century Fox and Starbucks, are making the most of their social media channels and targeting their loyal customers in unique ways. Other companies take note: these efforts can pay off big.

Oreo slam-dunks social media engagement

Oreo may not have a formal rewards program, but it is generating loyal activity through its social media efforts. The cream-filled snack routinely ranks on the analytics company Socialbakers’ list of top 10 brands on Facebook.

“Oreo is heavily focused on visuals and multimedia, which today’s audience craves,” said Stacey Miller, a social media expert at OutMarket. “No one is going to read about a cookie.”

Oreo recently created a video series to correspond with the Halloween season. The animated series, set in the Oreo Laboratorium, featured Oreo “nomsters” coming to life in a 32-by-64 inch set. Fans were asked to name the “nomsters” on social media and Oreo selected its favorite names and announced the winners on its Facebook page. Winners received bragging rights and recognition among Oreo’s more than 38 million Facebook followers.

Oreo’s social success is thanks in part to this use of multimedia and fan engagement, Miller said. Its relevance and real-time partnerships also contribute to its large and engaged brand following.

20th Century Fox debuts social-based loyalty program

Earlier this year, 20th Century Fox Film took a different approach to social media. It launched the Fox Rewards Program, which thanks moviegoers for watching and sharing movie trailers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

A person can earn five points for sharing the “Gone Girl” trailer on Facebook and an additional five points for sharing it on Twitter, for instance. Points can then be redeemed for movie tickets, popcorn and drinks.

“Every week, movies are a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook," Joseph Morin, co-founder and CEO of Social Rewards, told the Los Angeles Times. "We want to go where the eyeballs already are and turn loyalty programs into a revenue generator."

Social Rewards powers the Fox Rewards Program and works with local theaters to pair moviegoers’ ticket purchases with their trailer-viewing history and social media accounts, according to the Los Angeles Times. The company can tap into the friend lists, related email addresses and biographical data of those who participate in the program.

Starbucks hosts #redcupcontest to treat customers

It would be a tall order to talk social media success and customer loyalty without mentioning Starbucks. The coffee connoisseur caters to more than 7 million consumers who are active in its My Starbucks Rewards program. Its Facebook following is nearly 38 million strong, and its Twitter account has attracted almost 7 million followers.

Starbucks treats its loyal social fans with exclusive offers, striking images and contests. Its recent #redcupcontest urged customers to post and tag artful photos of its seasonal red cups on Instagram. The five people who posted the “most beautiful and creative red cup moment” received a newly released Sterling Silver Starbucks Card, valued at $200 and billed as being “for the ultimate Starbucks fan.”

“Starbucks is creating an experience – online and offline – and that translates well into a virtual community,” said Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tMedia Strategies, a media consulting firm.

“The people online are connected in the same silent way they are connected offline by being a customer of the brand, a member of the club,” Miklusak said. “There is a good degree of trust that exists amongst users (customers) and they are able to directly connect with the brand and ‘see’ each other in the social sphere.”

4 tips to winning social loyalty

A company doesn't need to be Starbucks, 20th Century Fox or Oreo to use social media to engage its loyal customers effectively. Customer loyalty expert Uwins has four simple tips for companies looking to make the most of their channels.

  1. Give people a place to connect with one another.
    Too often companies use social media like traditional media, promoting their own content while ignoring the conversations around them. “Brands need to put the social back in social media,” Uwins said.

  2. Provide useful content. Companies can create value by giving people things they actually want on social media. A great example is when a supermarket like Tesco shares recipes across its channels. “Share things that are helpful versus things that are too self-promotional,” Uwins said.

  3. Enable brand ambassadors. Brands can give their best customers a platform in which to share their opinions and reviews. COLLOQUY’s 2013 word-of-mouth research showed a 4% increase in social media brand recommendations from 2011. “As this connected world is developing, having your customers say nice things about you is more important than ever before,” Uwins said.

  4. Create customer service communities. Companies can take a cue from Apple when it comes to enrolling customer into the service experience. The company has created Apple Support Communities, a collaboration through which Apple users respond to other customers' queries. It’s crowdsourcing at on a global scale.

Caitlin Whitehurst is a freelance writer for COLLOQUY.

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