The Internet gives us ultimate choice. We can become whomever we want to be and associate with millions of different people, brands and ideas. Some have said that this means that anything we do on the Internet is valueless as it could so easily be a lie.
However, it turns out that the things we choose to do in virtual space are a pretty clear reflection of how we are living our real lives out here in meatspace. When we become a fan of something on Facebook or follow a business on Twitter, we actually do more business with those favored companies.
Fans Buy More
Recent research by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate shows that people who are willing to publicly support your product on Facebook actually do purchase more from you. Even if they never directly recommend you to a friend, when they become a fan of your business' Page, a news item is inserted into all their friends' feeds. With even moderate users having at least a hundred friends, that's a significant advertisement from a highly trusted source.
More important, studies have shown that people do recommend those brands they bother to follow. Some follow others and become fans because they want to learn more about the brand or identify strongly with the brand philosophy. The most compelling reason for this type of engagement, however, is to receive special offers or discounts from their favorite brands.
Fans vs. Groups
There are many Facebook groups out there promising that if you join the group, you will receive a significant reward. Only the most naive will join, as they are aware that fan Pages or official tweets are a more reliable source of promotional information. Those Facebook users who become your fans are giving you special status because they can only become fans of 50 Pages in total.
Once you have made it onto a customer's follow list or fan Page, capitalize on this relationship by rewarding their loyalty with real value discounts or hot-off-the-press releases that they will get first. Having this elite status, simply by choosing it, will get your followers and fans out there working for you and spreading the word. Retweets and comments help your special offers go viral, so be prepared!