Traditionally, lead nurturing has been seen as a process between a salesman and a prospect. It has been an ongoing process of phone calls and direct mail pieces. Over time, lead nurturing became exclusively connected to email-driven campaigns. Today however, the landscape has shifted and email, phone calls and direct mail are no longer the only opportunities that exist for lead nurturing.

Today, consumers are turning to social media for product recommendations, feedback, reviews and brand connections. As the general public becomes more reliant on social media to build loyal connections with people and brands alike, businesses need to integrate lead nurturing and social media to build stronger relationships with potential customers.

According to a ATYM Market Research study, of the 2,000 internet users in the US surveyed, 85% are on Facebook and 49% have a Twitter account with most of them visiting these sites on a daily basis. This research also revealed that social media and purchase decisions are closely linked – with prospects being 71% more likely to purchase a product if they’ve been referred directly through social media.

So how can you build stronger relationships with your leads through social media? Here are three ways you can make that happen:

Be human, have conversations
When a brand is nurturing their relationship with a lead through social media it becomes important to remember that the person on the other side of the computer is a human not a number or twitter handle. Your customers, followers, and the lead you’re pursuing need to be approached like you would want to be approached online. Thus, it’s important to approach these relationships as if you are connecting face-to-face and put time and effort into developing a human connection.

Don’t focus on yourself; focus on what’s important to them. Don’t be afraid to avoid talking about your product and instead discuss personal interests. Avoid corporate speak and spark conversations by humanizing your brand and presenting a personality. But be sincere and steer away from trying to sell them. This will help build trust and relationships that can be leveraged into sales.

Connect on other social networks
It’s easier than ever to find online information about someone than ever before. Once you have identified a lead, connect with them across a variety of social networks to allow your brand to stay top of mind and nurture your relationship. Most people have a presence on more than one social platform such as a Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, Facebook, Quora and Google+ accounts.

Building a lasting relationship with a potential lead requires you to also have a presence across various social networks. The key to engaging potential leads is to reach them with the same and/or similar messages in the many online spaces where they regularly interact.

While you’re there, engage! Mention people in your blog, re-tweet them, comment on their blog postings, “like” and “share” their content. And if you want to understand them, go hang out where they do, such as in LinkedIn Groups and Quora.

Efforts like these are more challenging for businesses that operate in high volume, low margin industries but for those in low volume, high margin industries; these efforts and knowledge can provide you with a real competitive advantage.

Share the Right Content With the Right People
With 30 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook per month and another 60 million tweets posted daily, now more than ever people are bombarded with content online. It’s important that your business recognizes the role content plays in the customer context and ensure that the content you’re developing and delivering is content that they will find valuable.

Their various streams of news and updates are consistently populated with ideas, opinions and messages. As a result, consumers are filtering out everything that isn’t relevant to them. If your content is not relevant it will be ignored.

Relevant content is the muscle behind lead nurturing success.

Identifying the right content isn’t difficult. Start by listening – is there a problem or concern that you can solve? What is the sentiment of the conversation? Is there a need that you can satisfy? From there, create content that fills this pain point.

Once you have an understanding of the situation, deliver content that has value and is relevant to the specific lead. But remember, what’s valuable to one potential customer may not be to another. Ensure that your messages are specific to the need of each lead and treat each relationship uniquely.