Kind words, friendly greetings, cheerful smiles…. In this big world of ours, it's often the little things that mean the most. Small businesses recognize the power in small gestures, thus cultivating customer loyalty and strengthening relationships by focusing on customers on an individualized basis. And now, as social media makes its mark, small businesses are using this emerging channel to listen to their customers and develop these relationships further.

As Victor Ho, co-founder and CEO of FiveStars, says, small businesses carry a more personalized feel that larger companies can't quite recreate. While large companies have the ability to employ a full social team, their efforts often appear generic. Small businesses, however, are able to bridge the gap between online and offline feedback by converting social chatter into real-life relationship-building improvements.

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But, as Jason Kocina, president of Checkerboard Strategic Web Development, notes, many small businesses know social is an invaluable tool, and they know what they hope to get from implementing such tools, yet they are unsure how to structure their strategy and measure their success effectively.

"You'll see a lot of Facebook pages that have much activity, but they are there," Kocina says. "Work to build out. With every person you touch, make sure they stay connected and engaged. Don't be afraid of social. You have to be out there, because whether you're out there or not customers have the capabilities to share their experiences, so take care of them."

Yet, while many businesses, large and small, struggle to establish their social media strategy, numerous small businesses have implemented programs that allow them to extend their customer relationships. These small businesses lead by example, for social media works as their extra set of eyes and ears, allowing them to evolve alongside customer wants and needs:

Bonobos Fosters Customer Relationship Growth

For the online retailer, time makes all the difference. While the men's clothing and accessory shop was unsure about how Facebook and Twitter would fit with its overall strategy just a few short years ago, Bonobos now uses these channels to engage customers and build relationships that may have otherwise remained stagnant.

"Some of the people we were talking to through social media were customers who already had a relationship with us," says John Rote, vice president of experience at Bonobos. "A lot of our customers were already established, but they really had no relationship with us. They had never talked to us over the phone, they had never sent us an email, but they liked using social media. And now that we're talking to them via social media, they are willing to interact with our brand."

Social media usage also allows Bonobos to connect with prospective customers via brand advocacy. Whether through current customer recommendations, or public issue resolution conducted through tweets and Facebook comments, these potential patrons come to know the Bonobos brand through social, meaning first impression is everything.

"Because of the nature of social media, it's a much more open, fluid conversation," Rote says. "It appears that customers are more willing to bring other people into that conversation. People can read pretty quickly. They can tell if you're being genuine and authentic, or if you're using Twitter and Facebook as just another channel to send them an ad or promotion."

Pahl's Market Looks to Expand Its Customer Base

When it comes to social media, older generations have yet to assimilate this technology into their everyday life. However, millennials are both praised and chastised for growing up in step with the Web's evolution, as the younger generation also holds the future of small business in their hands. Pahl's Market uses Facebook and Twitter to boost younger customer engagement and capture their attention via the most popular social mediums available.

"There're so many younger people out there who use social and I think, in our business, what we're really trying to get a hold of is that younger generation," says Jason Himmelwright, Pahl's landscape supervisor. "This is a great way to get them involved with gardening. Get it right in their face—go where they are. This really helps a reach a different customer base—one that we really need more of."

Social serves to further Pahl's business, ushering the garden and landscape business into its next phase. With a primary focus on Facebook, Pahl's Market consistently updates its page with tidbits about the store so everyone can stay in the loop. While many companies create social media profiles in an attempt to engage customers, Himmelwright notes that many then neglect their presence, thus forfeiting the opportunity to create awareness and cultivate community.

"If you're going to create a page for your business, you have to be all in," Himmelwright says. "I think the biggest problem is that these businesses that do it expect a return immediately, but when they don't get the fans, they just leave the page up and put nothing on it. I think that can hurt you more than it can do good. I think you just need to start out there and get the word out. Make it more personal and educational instead of like you're trying to get their money. That will make them happy and business will come."

Pike Place Chowder Caters to Locals, Not Tourists

Communication requires give and take, so when Pike Place Chowder customers give feedback, the restaurant takes time to listen and respond accordingly. Such social chatter allows Jeremiah Otto, director of operations and the general manager of the Pacific Place branch, to understand exactly what changes must be made.

"We can be more responsive to our customers. Social allows us to build a relationship more than just sell a product," Otto says. "Our customer communications are based around that premise. We want our customers to know that we're listening to what they have to say because there're plenty of places to choose from when they go out to eat, but sometimes that relationship makes them choose us."

This Seattle-based restaurant offers customers two locations. While one outfit resides in busy downtown Seattle, the Pacific Place location provides locals with an escape from the frenzy that comes along with tourist season. By listening to customer wants and needs, Pike Place Chowder has since been able to apply such feedback in its effort to improve the customer experience.

"Experience is completely linked to the whole dining scene. You can't separate one from the other. Customer service and developing those relationships is just as important as the food is," Otto says. "When you know you are going to see these people multiple times, it is very important that you are conscious of their experience because one bad experience can definitely tip the scales in the other direction."