One of the best opportunities social media can give a business is building stronger relationships with its customer base.

For local shops which already place an emphasis on being a part of the wider community, this benefit can be magnified even further.

1 Get the right friends

Your regular customers will undoubtedly use social media to connect with neighbours, friends and family – most likely Facebook and Twitter. Try to make ‘friends’ or followers of them. Your community support officer, councillor or MP can also be great e-friends to know.

2 Read up on what’s trending

It could be a successful youth football club or an event for a local charity, but there will definitely be things going on in your community which are being discussed online. Use this knowledge to get your business focused on the interests of the neighbourhoods you’re in and to frame your online activity – it will help spark interest in your business as a whole.

3 Don’t be self-centred

Linked to this is award-winning retailer Christine Hope’s advice. While it can be tempting to tweet, blog or give status updates on every element of your store, she advises that this can limit the conversations you can have and switch people off. She has a rule that a third of her activity is shop-related, with the rest concentrating on things going on in her area.

Action for experts

Having built up strong ties with his community, retailer Andrew Howell uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate with particular community groups such as a quilt-making club to provide tailor-made messages about niche magazine titles that can cement loyalty and drive sales. What could you do?

Click on the next page to see how 3 great independent retailers use social media in their business