Written by Kim Lachance Shandrow for Entrepreneur.com

Some small businesses are getting creative and earning their social media followers’ trust — and their dollars — by ditching the one-way hard sell that’s all too common on Facebook and Twitter.

They understand that social-media platforms are fertile ground for potentially lucrative two-way conversations with their target customers. To these companies, there’s much more to social marketing than peddling their brand story as bait for hollow likes, re-pins and re-tweets.

Here’s a look at three such businesses using inventive and effective social-media strategies to boost brand awareness, build relationships with customers and drive sales:

1. Warby Parker
Social strategy: Encouraging user-generated content that drives brand awareness.

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Warby Parker, a New York City-based online seller of vintage-inspired eyeglasses and sunglasses, is using social media to reinvent how people shop for and purchase eyewear. It does this by shipping customers five pairs of frames that they select from Warby Parker’s website in packaging that encourages them to take pictures of themselves wearing the glasses and then post the shots on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Customers can take five full days to test the glasses before shipping them back and, the company hopes, placing an order.

The strategy behind the Home Try-On campaign is for shoppers to get feedback from their social-media friends and contacts on which pair fits them best, while generating a positive, social buzz around Warby Parker’s brand “in a natural, organic way,” says co-founder and co-CEO David Gilboa. Customers who post photos of themselves in frames are buying at twice the rate as those who don’t, he says.

Shoppers seeking opinions outside of their own social-media circles can submit pictures to Warby Parker’s Facebook page for additional feedback. Home Try-On participants have posted some 25,000 images on the company’s Facebook Timeline and more than 40,000 on Instagram since the promotion was started in February 2010.

“Don’t view social media as just another way to push your marketing messaging,” Gilboa advises. “Think of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as critical customer service gateways and take the time to respond to each and every customer who reaches out to you there. Each comment, photo and tweet gives you an opening to directly communicate with them on a meaningful, personalized basis that encourages brand loyalty.”

Learn about the unique successful media strategy from 2 more companies here

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