social media how toDo you want to make personal connections with your customers on social media?

Interested in better ways to address their wants and needs?

The key to engaging with your audience on a more personal level is to focus on the right customer, at the right time and with the right employees.

In this article you’ll find out how to create a social media marketing plan to put customers first and improve engagement.

create a social media marketing plan

Discover how to create a social media marketing plan.

Listen to this article:

Why Focus on Customers?

In social media many companies take customer-focused brand messages and customize them into content for each channel. This process is good and effective, but it puts channels, content and messages first and assumes the target audience’s needs are always the same.

The reality is that your target audience has different communication needs depending on which stage of the buying cycle they’re in. A customer-centric approach flips content creation from brand first to customer first. Start with the customer’s need and then build the social media process, content and resources around the customer. Customizing content to your audience’s changing needs increases engagement.

Here’s how to take a customer-centric approach with your social media marketing.

#1: Understand the Stages of the Buying Cycle

Marketing consultant Tony Zambito believes the buyer’s journey begins before buyers think of themselves as buyers and extends beyond the purchase. The buyer’s goals and behaviors change throughout the purchase cycle, even among the same target market. Zambito has expressed this thinking in terms of B2B, but it applies to social media as well.

sales cycle image from shutterstock 179940200

The steps of the purchase cycle. Image: Shutterstock.

Consumers’ needs and behaviors are different when they’re not in the market to buy, when they become engaged in buying and when they become customers. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to make sure your prepurchase, purchase and postpurchase interactions with the consumer are different.

#2: Get the Right Employees Involved

Rosalia Cefalu of HubSpot believes different employees are best suited for communicating with customers in different stages of the buying cycle. These employees can come from various departments throughout your company.

When you include employees outside the marketing department, one-on-one engagement with your customers becomes more scalable. You can distribute social responsibilities across departments to the most relevant people.

customized social feeds in hubspot

Use a tool like HubSpot to customize social feeds for different departments and teams.

Once you identify departments and employees, establish goals for them and customize social feeds or open new social accounts to connect the right employees to the right customers. Setting up a social care team enables you to generate customer engagement throughout the buying cycle to gain new customers, repeat purchases, loyalty and brand advocates.

#3: Tailor Your Social Messages to Buyer Personas

You can customize your social messages and divide social responses with these three consumer personas.

Prepurchase Persona

In this stage of the buying cycle, you want to find consumers who are in the market to buy, but haven’t purchased from you. The goal is to find and attract prospects.

Here you’re looking for people using the right keywords, such as mentions of your company, competitors, industry or specific products and services. Create social media campaigns to grow fans and followers and monitor conversations to engage with those responding.

If your company has a public relations or corporate communications department, they may play a role looking for larger industry or corporate issues and identifying journalists or bloggers for media outreach.

buyer persona image from shutterstock 263447420

Know how to engage each type of consumer persona. Image: Shutterstock.

Purchase Persona

For this stage, find consumers actively seeking purchase information. Here your marketing team can help these people along with their purchases. However, sales representatives are best suited for more relevant engagement.

If you have a retail business, you might empower the sales team to interact with customers on social media similarly to what has done. Or if you’re a B2B company, you could activate sales representatives to address the needs of leads. Connecting the sales team’s contacts list or CRM makes this easier. The goal here is conversion.

Postpurchase Persona

This stage is where you focus on keeping customers happy, resolving any issues they may have and further assisting them.

customer service image from shutterstock 167369444

Care for your customers. Image: Shutterstock.

Customer service representatives are ideal for providing what they may already do via the phone, email or online chat. The goal is to delight customers, minimize negative comments and promote the positive.

This stage is where customers can become brand advocates. Automation could also play a role such as for scheduling follow-ups in a week or two to find out if customers are still happy.

Five Guys: Customer-Centric Social Media in Action

The gourmet burger chain Five Guys knows customer-centric social media. They’ve been able to boost engagement by connecting directly with individual customers instead of simply talking at their target audience with general brand messages.

The company has over 1 million loyal followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And they plan and monitor their social media efforts with Hootsuite.

five guys facebook image from placeit

Five Guys Facebook Page has over 900k Fans. Image: Placeit.

Here are a few ways Five Guys uses social media to connect with customers.

Empower Employees to Get Involved

Five Guys’ approach to social media begins with service and is driven by a process that empowers employees to connect with the right customers at the right time. Connecting individual customers with front-line employees via social media has enabled Five Guys to be a more customer-centric company, which is a challenge with over 1,200 locations across the globe.

Employee involvement in social media has also made Five Guys’ content more personal, sincere and local.

Communicate Locally With Franchise Accounts

Individual Five Guys locations in the United States and around the world have their own social media accounts to communicate locally on promotions, new flavors or products and events that resonate with the community.

five guys employees

Five Guys’ employees interact on social locally through franchise location accounts.

Five Guys consumer-centric approach enables individual locations to uncover customer feedback, respond directly and make changes that improve the customer experience. Monitoring this type of feedback on a local level is much more efficient, making one-on-one engagement more scalable.

Generate Consumer Content With Social Campaigns

Customer-centric social media produces satisfied customers who often become brand ambassadors, generating buzz and sharable content. With Five Guys’ #SayCheeseSweeps campaign, customers hashtagged photos of themselves with Five Guys cheeseburgers for a chance to win prizes. It resulted in more than 1,000 mentions on Twitter and Instagram. The consumer-generated content was shared across all of Five Guys’ social networks.

This campaign was such a success that they launched a second campaign using the hashtag #ShareYourShake.

five guys employees

Five Guys’ consumer-centric approach pays off with plenty of user-generated brand content.


If your social media marketing is using a customer-focused (but still brand-first) model, it may be time to consider a customer-centric approach.

Before you do anything, start by listening. Identify which buying cycle categories your target audience goes through and which people in your organization are best suited to engage with each consumer persona. Then set up a process and training to connect the right customers with the right people at the right time to scale your engagement and improve your social media marketing results.

What do you think? Have you tried a customer-centric approach in your social media marketing? What tactics do you use to make personal connections with your customers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Sales cycle photoPersona photo and Customer service photo from Shutterstock.
Five Guys Facebook Page image created with Placeit.
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  • Shannon Janco

    So important to get the right person doing the right job. Always, always, always look at the skillset and match them to the job. Just because they’re excellent at one thing does NOT mean they will be great at ALL things.

  • Thanks for the comment and insight Shannon. I totally agree. I think sometimes one person, team or department is so busy trying to own social media that they don’t realize sharing the opportunity and responsibility would improve results for everyone – including the customer.

  • I agree. You need the right people in the right positions to help you execute your social media marketing plan. You can’t have employees go rogue and do what they think is best. You need a plan and strategy. You also need to test, test, test your plan and strategy.

  • Awesome insight. Never really thought of a buying cycle and how to use it. Thank you Keith

  • Hi. Yes, a plan, policy, system and training is key. You can’t just unleash everyone on the brand account, but excluding them is not the answer either.

  • Thanks. I actually started down the road of personas, but realized we all have different “personas” based on what stage of the buying cycle we are in. I don’t pay any attention to local car dealer ads until I am ready to buy a car. Then I look for them!

  • You may not want to exclude everyone, but there better be a plan in place that clearly outlines what is and what is not acceptable for the company/brand.

    CEOs (think Lululemon) of companies get into trouble for posting questionable material on social media. Before you know it, someone has to clean up the mess. But then again, there’s no such thing as bad PR, right?

  • I think there is a gap in training. I was reading an HR blog that cited research about employee misuse of social media saying, “Having a policy is good, but training employees on good social media behaviors is even better.” You can also put in parameters such as permissions and approvals

  • It will be very helpful for a good marketing plan. Through analyzing these, one can effective result of his marketing.

  • I completely agree with this Keith. Good job. All of the points you’ve raised are really good. I definitely believe in #2. Here’s my two cents for that part: There are people that are great in communicating in person, but not online, and vice versa.

  • Thank you!

  • Hi. Thanks for the comment. Good point about getting the right people. From what I have studied and heard the best way to do this is to recruit people from with various departments who are already interested in social media and express an interest.

  • This is seriously helpful info. Thank you.

  • Hello Keith, I have to agree with you. It is really important to get the right employees who are responsible for a certain job. And also customer’s feedback is very important for every business. As a marketer, you do everything to get the attention of your customer. Our customers are the best people who can let us know how we can be better.

  • Thank you for the comment!

  • Hi. Yes, listening in social media gives us great insights. It can be a great real-time supplement to expensive and slower traditional marketing research.

  • Abdul Hafeez

    I just read out your article, its fantastic but Sir my question is that How can we seach right people on social media but we dont about the buyer persona…practically we can engagement our audience and can create need among target audience, but i could not understand the right people logic particularly on social media?

  • Thank you!

  • Welile S Vilane

    great info, very useful!

  • Thank you very much!

  • No disrespect to your article.. I enjoyed it.. But you make 2 references to Five Guys being ‘across the globe’ and ‘around the world’… The last time I looked at the Five Guys website they were in the USA and 6 Canadian provinces… It might be a big stretch of the imagination to call that ‘across the globe’ and around the world’… It’s a little like the World Series of Baseball you guys play every year…… There is a much much bigger world beyond the USA if you take a peak outside one day #justsayin

  • Hi Peter,
    Thank you for checking up on my claims. I appreciate the feedback. Yes, looking back now “around the world” and “globe” were not the most accurate words to use when describing Five Guys. I apologize if I portrayed their organization to be more expansive than in reality. To my defense, I had a section in the original article that was edited out: “When Five Guys opened their first location in the U.K., they monitored discussions within a specific mile radius of London. They were able to connect with prospective customers letting them know the restaurant was coming. This was a message that purchase and post-purchase customers in the U.S. did not need to hear.” I do agree that locations in the US, Canada and the UK does not deserve a label of “across the globe.” I would edit them out if I could. I do believe however that the strategy Five Guys is using to customize social content and delivery locally will serve them well as they expand further into other countries and similar social strategies have worked for other truly global organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.


  • No disrespect Keith! Its just a pet observation of mine. There’s a big world down here in the Southern Hemisphere too! Great article!

  • Hi Peter,
    None taken, but a point well made. I have a book coming out in the Fall – Social Media Strategy: A Roadmap for for Marketing and Advertising in The Consumer Revolution. For the case studies included in the book I intentionally tried to include as many international examples as I could. Thanks for keeping me honest!

  • Great if you have employees – what about small home-based businesses. We do the lot – we market to every persona.

  • Hi Keely. I applaud you for doing it all! Leveraging employees is partly about sharing workload but also about tapping the people with the right knowledge. As a small business owner you do have to wear many hats. The key is changing hats to talk to customers and potential customers in the right way depending on their buying journey. Hopefully you can benefit from thinking about how to craft different messages based on the consumer’s perspective in the stages of the buying cycle. Automation tools such as Sproutsocial, Hootsuite, Buffer, etc. can help multiply your time, but I know it is not easy being a small business or a startup.

  • Getting the right person for the right for position is very important, but also tricky in a bit. You’ll have to really listen closely to your employees habits and skills in order to be completely sure how to organize them properly.

  • Great points! Yes, social media policies and training are key and within departments or groups you will have certain employees with the skill, interest and enthusiasm for social. Then you must continue to listen and monitor to ensure consistency and effectiveness.

  • Shubham Anand

    My opinion would be to invlove (in a b2b scenario) industry advocates at first to establish the first connect with the very niche set of prospects >> later nurture this relation of engagement between the two >> and then in a very subtle way bring in your company’s capabilities into the play and gauge prospects interests >> invite this qualified (now acquainted) set to be a part of a further activity >> then bring in your sales rep/ part of this activity into the play and carry the conversation further together (advocate and seller in a box model) till it matures into a purchase.

  • Nice additional thoughts. Yes, the B2B scenario works nicely. The buyer journey, personas, and employees differ, but the idea of communicating different social messages to different people in each stage with the right people applies. It is still about employing a more consumer-centric approach for a business prospect. Thanks for sharing this B2B example.

  • csmingus

    After reading this page twice and listening to the recording twice I still feel that those of us who run everything social media marketing/development for a company, and generally with no support, are being left out. I’m just coming across this page now so this information may be old since it’s 10-months from the posting date, but why would the little guy be left out and the information be obviously catered to companies with enough people and a strong budget to make these analytical metric driven marketing campaigns a reality? Or am I just missing something?

    If anyone at SME actually reads the comments from their old posts, it would be nice to hear back about this topic and be pointed in a direction where the little guy is helped more. Thanks.

  • LisaDJenkins

    Hi there! We absolutely read the comments 🙂

    We strive to publish articles that help marketers and businesses of all sizes. Sometimes our articles are written by contributors who write from a large business perspective, sometimes they are written by contributors who write from a small to medium size business perspective. I’m including some links that may be more relevant to your needs, and hope you find value in them.

    Launching on Social Media: A Timeline for Business Owners

    How to Get Started on the Most Popular Social Media Networks

    How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog Posts: A Game Plan for the Top Social Networks

    You’ll also find some good resources on our Getting Started page

    Best of luck to you –

  • csmingus

    Thank you Lisa for taking the time to respond and list some helpful links. Best. Craig (NYC)