Recently we had a client consider ending their social media retainer with the agency. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often, but their reason, “We haven’t seen any sales come from our Facebook page,” was a wake-up call that we may have done a less-than-stellar job of explaining brand building—and the role of social media—to them. And so, in a nutshell (because, apparently, it warrants repeating), here is my take on how and why a brand needs a strong social media effort …

Step back and think of your own life. When the chips are down, you know exactly whom you can count on. You know who—among your family, friends and coworkers—will be there for you and help you through the bad times. What makes you trust your relationships with these select people over others? It all boils down to trust. Over time they have consistently earned your trust and allegiance.

It’s the same way with a brand. The relationship between a brand and consumers is based on trust. Over time—through consistent performance—a successful brand earns the trust and allegiance of its loyal customers. They will purchase that brand over all others, even if it costs more. They will tell others about the brand and extol its virtues. They become the proverbial (at least in marketing circles) brand ambassadors. Even in tough times—such as recessions, changing trends or bouts of bad publicity—brand ambassadors remain loyal to their brand.

Building this relationship based on trust is a brand’s most important task. And a smart brand will take every opportunity to strengthen that relationship. It should go without saying that product performance is the best way to do this. But so are other avenues: offering a consistent marketing message, strategic sponsorships, thoughtful loyalty programs … and the list goes on. Today, outside of performance, one of the most powerful ways to improve this relationship is through social media. Social media offers a unique opportunity to connect one on one with your loyal customers, strengthening the relationship so it lasts through good times and bad. It’s a powerful avenue to provide additional value, information and entertainment that will help you earn the trust and allegiance of your customers.

So, while it’s not often you can directly attribute sales to your social media efforts alone, a smart brand will realize the benefits go far beyond that simple measure and put their commitment to fostering long-term customer relationships above a quick sale.