You can hardly discuss the prospect of business promotions these days without including the many ways in which online considerations factor into the equation. Thanks to the growth of possibilities for communication and information dissemination provided by the internet, even businesses that don’t necessarily operate in the online arena are finding ways to capitalize on the creation of an online presence. And the social media landscape has further expanded the ability to connect with customers, network with colleagues and potential business partners, and virtually grow a brand. In truth, the internet has had a huge impact on the business world at every conceivable level. But for those that have yet to understand how social media can be utilized to enhance customer loyalty programs, there is still much to learn.

Customer loyalty programs can offer an excellent opportunity for business to show their appreciation to patrons that return over and over and bring in new clientele through trusted recommendations. But they only really work if customers are aware of them and if they’re willing to participate in order to earn rewards. So while you should probably start by comparing similar programs, setting up a package, and then doing some kind of focus testing to ensure that you’ve created a program that provides consumers with incentive to make purchases (and a feeling of satisfaction when they do), eventually you’re going to have to spread the word if you want to use your program as a marketing tool. This is where social media comes in.

As a means of reaching a vast network of people, social media outlets take the cake. Just look at Facebook, which had over 900 million users at last count (and that was back in May – they may have hit the 1 billion mark by now), or Twitter, which boast more than half a billion users communicating in 140 characters or less. While these social networks may be the most popular and well known, they certainly aren’t the only ones out there. And the platform they provide for increased communications is a tool you simply cannot pass up.

It’s not difficult to think of ways in which these outlets may facilitate social interaction, but how can they work with your customer loyalty program? For one thing, you can use them to let consumers know that you offer rewards to those that support your business. But even beyond that you can use the mobile access provided by social networks to add a handy points-tracker for the program, along with easy-access information on how to get and use points. You might even have QR codes on product packaging or advertising materials, along with a scanner function for smartphones and tablets that allows users to instantly add to their points via social media channels.

Or you could create features that let members redeem their points through your social networking accounts. You might even offer incentives for customers to visit your profiles by providing points for “likes”. It’s all part of a social media marketing strategy. If you’re not using the plethora of social platforms out there to promote your business and make the most of your customer loyalty program, now is the time to get the ball rolling.

Evan Fischer is a contributing writer for 522 Digital, a digital marketing agency that helps companies reach their target audience.