As brands continue to learn the dos and don’ts of social media marketing, a new study has us thinking about an important event in online brand-customer relationships: “The Social Break-Up.” The new research from ExactTarget (a Bazaarvoice partner) and CoTweet examines the reasons why many social media users have dumped brands on social networks.

Most users surveyed have dumped at least one brand by unsubscribing from an email list (91%) or un-following a company on Twitter (41%) or Facebook (55%). Customers are also getting more picky about which brands they jump into bed with, stating they’ve become more cautious about giving brands their email addresses (77%) and liking brands on Facebook (71%) in the last year.

Social media marketing is a different ballgame than traditional online marketing (even opt-in) because the environment is social, not commercial. Add in the ability of consumers to follow and unfollow at will, and it’s all the more important for brands to have something meaningful and useful to say. Managing relationships with customers on Facebook and Twitter is like flirting – you have to keep the other party interested if you want to keep their eyes (and minds) from wandering. Here are some tips for courting customers on social networks.

  • Don’t make getting digits your end goal. If you leave a bar with 20 phone numbers but don’t get any dates, were you successful? Too many brands focus on driving their fan count, but getting a Like or Follow is like getting a number – it’s just the first step toward a relationship.
  • Be interesting. Many consumers have abandoned at least one brand on Facebook (38%), email (49%), or Twitter (52%) because of irrelevant or boring marketing messages.
  • Let your wingmen talk you up. Let your customers do the selling for you by encouraging them to post pictures and share their feedback on social media.
  • Don’t talk too much. 54% of email subscribers say they unsubscribe when emails come too frequently, as do 44% of Facebook fans and 39% of Twitter followers.
  • Be a good listener. If your Twitter stream or Facebook page is all posts from your brand about your brand, there’s a problem. Social media is a conversation – listen to what your customers are saying, and respond.
  • Don’t be too needy. “We are smothering our very best customers with an invitation avalanche,” wrote Jay Baer in response to the study. “[We’re] asking them to hang out with us in every digital clubhouse we can devise. And the reality is, they just aren’t that into us.”
  • Show them you care. Recognize your most active fans and followers to keep them contributing and create aspiration in others. You can also reward customers who interact with your brand on social networks with occasional perks, like discount codes.

The underlying theme in the study is that customers hold the power to end your relationship with them on social media, at any time. You can’t just work to win their Like or Follow – you have to work to keep it. Provide interesting, useful updates that benefit your social media followers to charm your way into their hearts – and their wallets.

New report: CMOs share top insights on the bottom line of social

We surveyed top CMOs to get the real story about how they use social media. 90% of CMOs participate in three or more social media marketing activities. Here’s your chance to see what’s most important — and most impactful.