How people find brands and become loyal to them has evolved. For years, you’ve probably been using the linear buyer’s journey model to move your audience toward a sale. It was the gold standard in the marketing world…until recently. Now, consumers are digging through an endless amount of content, growing their knowledge base and continually changing their relationships with brands.

The lifecycle marketing model is a better way to describe and predict where your audience is at any given moment, which is why many marketers are curious about how the model works. At its core, lifecycle marketing has one big advantage over the traditional sales funnel: it creates more opportunities to engage with your audience in a meaningful way — especially when it comes to social media.

In the past, social media’s primary marketing goal was gaining brand awareness. Marketers focused on building a following and then letting the rest of their content move people further down the sales funnel. But that seriously underestimates the power of social media. When used correctly, social media can speak to your audience whether they’re just now learning about your brand or already a loyal advocate.

Here are four ways to make the most of social media when practicing lifecycle marketing:

1. Use social media polls to find out what followers want to know

The sales funnel model assumes that consumers are always moving forward; at each stage, they get the next piece of the puzzle they need to decide to make a purchase. The lifecycle model, however, accepts that all buyers have holes in their knowledge. Even if they’ve been a customer for decades, there are still facts about your product and brand that they don’t know. Finding these topics is key to keeping your content interesting and relevant.

Social media polls allow you to see what your audience is curious about in the moment. They can also pique their interest in topics they didn’t realize would resonate with them.

When you start creating social media polls, begin with general topics. For instance, if your brand sells coffee, make a poll that asks your audience if they prefer simple coffee, espresso drinks, or whatever the latest caffeine craze is. Then break it down further given that information. Are they interested in how coffee beans are grown and harvested? Do they want to know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?

Be careful to word the polls so they don’t seem like you’re mining your audience for content ideas. Make them fun and engaging. In the previous coffee example, let people know that whichever drink wins the poll will be 20 percent off that day.

Once you have more in-depth insights about what your audience is curious about, turn them into content. But act quick. Buyers can change where they are in the lifecycle model several times a day. If you wait to put these ideas on next month’s content calendar, you’ll have missed your moment.

2. Make time for customized communications

I hear it all the time, ‘It takes too much time to engage with followers on social media.’ Yes, it can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth the investment. Followers don’t want to think that their comments and questions are being thrown into a black hole when they reach out on social media. If you ignore what they’re saying, they’ll eventually lose interest in your brand.

Consider each meaningful engagement be it a comment on your post or your brand mention in a user post as a momentary insight into where the follower is in their buyer lifecycle. If they ask a question, you know they are interested but need more information. If they’re resharing one of your blog posts, they’re advocating for the brand.

Make sure that your response is customized to the individual and works to deepen the relationship with your followers. For example, if a new follower reshares a piece of content, don’t just thank them. Also, comment back with a link to an article that will help build their knowledge base.

3. Constantly plan toward the next actions

For many brands, social media is a huge website traffic driver. A follower cruising around social media finds one of your posts, goes to your website, and then the goal is some conversion. The problem, most companies don’t think about the conversion when they’re writing social media posts. There’s a disconnect between getting a like or click and the next step of conversion.

With the lifecycle model, you have to look at the big picture of what the ideal path would be for a consumer. If a new follower clicks on a link to a blog post, what do you want them to do next? Maybe you want them to sign up for your newsletter. If so, there should be a clear ask at the end of the blog piece.

However, remember that a consumer’s path can frequently change with the lifecycle model. This means always updating the calls-to-action in the content you’re sharing on social media. If you consistently share evergreen content (and you should), the original CTA won’t be as compelling six months later.

Also, use consumers’ actions on your page to help inform your content and social media ad strategy. For example, when you’re looking at your Google Analytics data, see what the most common pages people from Facebook look at. Where do they typically end up? This will help you design ads and content that get them to that conversion point more quickly and efficiently.

4. Show that you value your ambassadors

Over time, when done right, you’ll begin to see certain followers who are reliable advocates. Have them take on some of the engagement responsibilities. Take note of what their interests are and what they like about your brand (Are they a fan of how easy your product is to use? Do they love that your company is environmentally friendly?).

Then give them a bank of content they can use to engage with others. When they see others on social media who could become loyal followers, they can reach out to answer their questions or educate them on relevant topics.

Just be sure to offer these brand advocates something in return. Customize your appreciation so it means something to the individual. Some of your advocates will be elated with discounts or free samples. Others are trying to become influencers in the industry and would prefer you helping to extend their social reach. If you’re not sure how to show your appreciation to a particular brand advocate, ask them.

Whenever appropriate, also thank advocates publicly on social media. Not only does it show you value their efforts, but it also lets other followers know being loyal to your brand pays off.

Inna Semenyuk is a marketing strategist and the founder of San Francisco-based InnavationLabs, a full-service marketing consultancy. You can follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Lifecycle marketing stock photo by Mathias Rosenthal/Shutterstock