Business owners love the idea of making all customers loyal customers. But, in reality, fostering true customer retention is about as easy as Donald Trump giving a soft-spoken speech: You think it's probably within the realm of possibility, but it's unlikely.

The importance of customer retention vs. customer acquisition can't be overstated. Most companies tend to focus on new customer acquisition, when in reality the cost of retaining customers is a mere fifth of that which it costs to obtain new customers. And, increasing customer loyalty by just 5% can yield a whopping 25%-95% increase in profit!

Social listening, also known as social monitoring, has become an essential way for businesses to help create customer loyalty in a whole new way. Social media is the mountaintop from which your consumers shout, whether to praise or vilify. And, if they're talking about your business, you can bet your bottom dollar you don't want to miss it.

The reach of a positive social post gone viral is almost invaluable, and a proper (if necessary) response to a negative social post can be the best marketing you never paid for.

Ever heard of Liberty Bottleworks? Its founder's well-spoken reply to an ugly Facebook post spoke volumes to observers and resulted in the small business's being inundated with support. That's how you keep your head in the game.

Here are four ways you can keep your head in the game and harness the power of social media listening tools to stay at the forefront of your customers' minds.

1. Be more nimble and quick than Jack over the candlestick

We are in the age of lightning-fast technology, and our patience is MIA. By the time someone posts an inquiry on social media, he wants the answer... yesterday.

How impressive, then, for a company that's hip to social monitoring to hop right on and immediately offer an answer to a question, a solution to a problem, or, better yet, a link to everything the questioner ever needed (your website). And don't forget: Others will also see your social responses.

That's how you can acquire and retain customers in one fell swoop. Facebook even notes on business pages how fast (on average) the business owner replies to messages:

Screenshot example of Facebook displaying response speed on a business page

A customer feels valued and confident in your competency if you are quick to communicate. Customers wouldn't hesitate to message The Find Auctions on Facebook upon seeing they'd likely to get a quick response from the company.

2. Use 'bait' to inculcate loyalty

Mention how much you love us on social media? Have some reward points! Give us a raving review online? Have some bonus bucks! Brag about us on your blog? Here's a coupon code!

What some might call bribing, we call giving incentive. Think "checking in" to your store on Facebook for a 10% discount. Another commonly used tactic is prompting fans to share, follow, or like your page on social media in return for a chance to win a contest.

Chaser referral program advertisement

Chaser, a contemporary clothing and fashion-forward apparel brand, provided incentive to site visitors to encourage them to refer the brand to family and friends via social media and email.

3. Emotional engagement is everything

Think about it. The more someone positively engages with you and your personal posts, the more often you think of them and the more highly you regard them. It works the same way with your customers. If they know you're thinking of them, they will most certainly be thinking of you, too.

In only the most genuine ways, emotionally connect with your customers. Like (or "love," or "haha," or "WOW") their photos. If they comment on your post, reply back in a personal way. If you get an item in stock you just know they'll love, reach out and let them know. Be their friend:

Screenshot of the Sister Studio responding to customers on Facebook

The Sister Studio is great about giving genuine, personal replies to every question or comment on its social media posts.

4. Understand your customers well

If you make it a point to listen to your customers on social media, you will have a strong understanding of what they are wanting, needing, feeling, and shying away from. You will become more adept at catering to the current trends in your niche if you are studying your customers from a social perspective.

People tend to speak their mind on social media, and it's an opportunity to meet them where they are. They are sure to remain loyal to a brand that always seems to have their best interest in store. Let them know you're listening. Acknowledge their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions, and make use of those suggestions whenever you can—then tell them that you did!

Pinterest fashion board screenshot

A great place to listen to your customers is Pinterest, where people "pin" their favorites among the latest and greatest trending items.

Use these social media listening tools

Now that you're ready to take your social monitoring game to the next level, make sure you're familiar with the following user-friendly social media listening tools to keep you afloat in the vast ocean of social networks.

Just type in a brand, name, phrase, etc., and these sites will notify you when you need to be informed, keep you aware of your competition's latest moves, or keep you abreast of current market trends.

These are some of the most popular social media listening tools and how they describe themselves; try them to determine which work best for you:

  • Tweetdeck: "The most powerful Twitter tool for real-time tracking, organizing, and engagement. Reach your audiences and discover the best of Twitter."
  • SimilarWeb: "Discover your competitors' website traffic statistics."
  • Keyhole: Track hashtags, keywords, and URLs in real time.
  • Helps to prioritize your social media presence.
  • Google Alerts: "Monitor the Web for interesting new content."
  • Mention: "People are talking. Find them and join the conversation."
  • Followerwonk: "Helps you explore and grow your social graph."
  • Talkwalker: "Find actionable insights using advanced social media monitoring and analytics."

More Resources on Social Media Listening Tools

10 of the Best Social Media Monitoring Tools for Every Business

Five Keyword Types Small Business Owners Need to Track for Social Media and Web Monitoring

Why Brands Use Social Media Listening Tools 

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image of Samir Palnitkar

Samir Palnitkar is the founder of Zinrelo, a technology company that specializes in loyalty rewards programs. He is also the founder of four other successful startups, he holds five technology patents, and he is the author of two technical books.

LinkedIn: Samir Palnitkar

Twitter: @samir_palnitkar