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Employees and even executives sometimes start to think about their customers with an "us vs. them" mentality, particularly in times of stress—during, say, the busy holiday season or when a customer has a complaint. That's a dangerous mindset, especially if it becomes habitual.

Competitive advantage these days demands customer-centricity. The more customers your organizations can engage meaningfully—especially those who care enough to tell you how to do things better—the better off you'll be.

Social media, where you can see eye to eye and develop interactive relationships, is a terrific venue for doing that. And if you use it not just to engage but also to empower, you'll transform a customer from someone who likes your product to someone who feels like a part of your product.

That's an important shift, because the latter customer is the one who is far more likely to find every opportunity to tell people, online and off, why they think what you do is so great.

An example: Dell has a social feature called IdeaStorm, where customers can submit ideas to improve the company's products or services and vote on the ideas of others. The best ideas get implemented. A user named "Jervis961" was a prolific contributor over the years. As he wrote in his user profile, "I am a tech-aholic who spends way too much time online drooling over new tech while also complaining about how it could be improved." By 2011, he had become the top contributor on the site, and the company hired him to run it.

Here are my six best tips to empower customers and cultivate brand ambassadors:

1. Have real and personalized conversations

People are on social media to express themselves, make friends, and get attention. You can cover all three by just talking with and listening to your customers. But you need real, trained moderators, not automated systems. People don't like being managed by algorithms. They want to express themselves to you, make friends with you, get attention from you. Simple conversations that acknowledge people and address them the same way you would in-person are what build relationships—and, in turn, loyalty and sales.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Peter Friedman

Peter Friedman is the founder, chairman, and CEO of LiveWorld, a trusted social media partner to some of the world's largest brands. He is the author of The CMO's Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World.

Twitter: @PeterFriedman

LinkedIn: Peter Friedman