7 Unbreakable Rules for Building a Loyal Social Following

05/20/2015 01:49 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

The importance of loyalty in social media marketing can't be underestimated. It's relatively easy to attract a bit of initial attention through the use of humorous, entertaining, surprising, or otherwise captivating content, but if you don't hold your followers' attention for the duration of your relationship, you're bound to lose them. The real secret to success is keeping your followers around for longer, giving them more opportunities to bring more people to your brand, more opportunities to engage directly with you, and of course, more opportunities to buy what you're selling.

There are many strategies you can use to foster an environment that retains your followers, but there are seven unbreakable rules you must adhere to if you want to maximize your follower loyalty:

1. Differentiate Yourself. The first crucial rule for building a loyal audience is differentiating yourself from the competition. No matter how big or how small you are, or what type of industry you're in, you're bound to have at least a handful of similar competitors on social media. If you're posting the same kind of things they are, or you're using a similar voice or style, what's to stop them from switching over? If you want to keep your audience, you need to offer something that nobody else in your space offers, whether that's a unique position, a unique series of content, or simply a stronger personality.

2. Post New, but Consistent Material. Every piece of content you circulate on your social channels should be new, yet consistent to your brand. If you line up all your posts, there shouldn't be any that stand out as being uncharacteristic of your brand persona, and there shouldn't be many duplicates. It's okay if a particular piece did well and you want to redistribute it for a bit of extra attention, but don't ever let your followers go more than a day or two without something new to look at. Even if you can't write up a new article every day, you can at least take a new picture or write a new update-style post.

3. Understand Your Platform. Every social media platform is distinct, with a unique functionality and a unique type of demographic that uses it. For example, the average type of person who uses Pinterest is different than the average type of person who uses LinkedIn. Even though there may be some overlap in terms of user preferences, you'll need to customize your posting and interaction styles for each platform you use. Otherwise, you could alienate a portion of your following, and that means lost followers. Get to know what your audience prefers to see on each specific platform, and cater your strategy for those desires.

4. Provide Consistent Value. Building social loyalty is about more than just entertainment and engagement. If you want your followers to keep coming back to you, you'll need to provide them with some kind of measurable value. For some companies, that means offering regular discounts, offers, or other financial incentives. For others, that means providing valuable insider tips or free versions of otherwise pay-only content. However you choose to do it, your followers should stand to measurably benefit from remaining a part of your audience.

5. Listen to Your Followers. Your followers deserve to be heard, and if you don't listen to them, they'll find somebody who will. Whenever someone comments on one of your posts or replies to a comment you made, respond to them. Let them know that you hear what they're saying--especially if that comment is in the form of constructive feedback. If your users ask for a new type of content, give it to them. Demonstrate that you not only hear what they're saying, but that you appreciate their involvement and value what they're saying.

6. Leave No Problem Unresolved. Occasionally, you'll have people complaining to you on social media. This could be due to something you said online, or an action your business took in the real world. Either way, never let a voiced concern on social media go unresolved. Try to work the problem out however you can; even if you can't win back the irate customer, you can at least show that you're willing to do whatever it takes to make the situation right, and that type of demonstration will only earn you more loyalty down the line.

7. Keep Your Followers Involved. The engagement factor is absolutely crucial for building a loyal audience. If you want your audience to grow and stick with you for the long haul, you'll have to create opportunities for your followers to engage with you directly. Ask your followers their opinions on various topics. Use surveys or contests to get them involved. Hold giveaways that reward your most active followers, and call special attention to members of your audience who consistently make their presence known.

These seven rules should form the basis for your social media strategy. Even if you're struggling to attract as many new followers as you wanted, you can take comfort in the fact that the followers you do gain will be here to stay. Plus, the longer you keep your followers around and the stronger they feel about your brand, the more likely they'll be to spread the word about you, making it a well-rounded strategy that will lead you to success in virtually every area of social marketing.