The Social Funnel: What You Lose When You Ignore It

I’ve written often about the dangers of ignoring social media in SEO (and vice versa), but I’m here today to write about another danger: ignoring social benefits in the traditional sales funnel. It’s frustrating that people continue to treat social media as an individual entity, a separate department, instead of a versatile tool. We shutter […]

Chat with SearchBot

I’ve written often about the dangers of ignoring social media in SEO (and vice versa), but I’m here today to write about another danger: ignoring social benefits in the traditional sales funnel.

It’s frustrating that people continue to treat social media as an individual entity, a separate department, instead of a versatile tool.

We shutter up our Social Media teams in their own rooms and leave them to their tweets and Instagram photos while the marketing pros hunker down on the big guns: conversions. Landing Pages. Leads, Costs, ROI.

Sure, most pros acknowledge the power of social media in terms of brand awareness — it’s the flypaper that holds the customer still long enough for us to shove them down the sales funnel, where we cash them in profit.

But we often forget that social media is part of the sales funnel, a crucial element that often clinches the sale or conversion. It’s time to take off our blinders and stop focusing on the short-term conversions that occur “in-house” on our sites.

Conversion is a long-term process, and if you’re ignoring all the long-term factors that lead up to a sale, you’re failing your customers…and you’re failing your business.

The World Does Not Begin & End With Google Analytics

There’s no denying the power of analyzing your traffic patterns and conversion rates, but it’s not enough to cast your business’s net in only the small percentage of the population that lands on your site.

Social Media

You have Twitter followers that have never visited your website. You have people who’ve visited your Facebook page twice without clicking “like.”

You have people out there that are interested in your industry, but they’re too busy checking out your competitors to take a look at your offerings. And finally, you have those potential customers  out there who don’t even know you exist.

It’s time to start casting your nets into bigger waters.

Fact: Sales Happen Slowly

We tend to oversimplify our sales process: I sell shoes. A customer needs shoes. They come to my site, browse my products and buy shoes.

Or more complicated:

I sell shoes. A customer finds my site and learns I sell shoes. They might not buy my shoes today, but they’re definitely interested. I’ll keep targeting them until they come back and buy my shoes.

But in truth, the sales process begins long before that initial visit — and even after that visit, sales are a long-term process with more opportunities to miss a sale than to close one. A customer may find your site and spend thirty minutes browsing your shoes…but two months later, he’s forgotten your site ever existed. He visits hundreds of sites each month. Why should he remember yours?

Or maybe a customer was killing time and wound up on eight shoe sites that day. Why should she remember your site over your competitors?

We often shop without a real intent to buy. We may be interested in a product in a general way, but without a clear reason (a sale, an upcoming event, a coupon), we’re not going to commit.

And if we don’t commit on that initial visit, we have no reason to commit to a sale in the future — unless you give us a reason to commit. And few places offer more reasons or opportunities than social media.

Let’s take a look at an example of a typical successful long-term social search funnel:

Informational Search > Social Q&A Site > Social Evergreen Resource/Linkbait Referral  > Retargeted Ad Click > Facebook Page Like > Facebook Discount Offer  > Ending Purchase on Your Site

1.  Informational Search

A customer types in “vegan shoes” in Google. This starts the research phase of the buying cycle.

2.  Social: Q & A Site

The customer finds a Yahoo! Answers thread about vegan shoes.

3. Social Referral

Within the thread, a vegan shoe company links to an article on how to identify vegan shoes. The article is an evergreen linkbait article created by the company a long time ago. The user clicks the link and reads the article.

4.  Search Retargeting

The company retargets the user through an AdWords Remarketing. The next day, the user sees a retargeted ad banner that leads to the company’s Facebook page.

5. Social: Facebook Page Like

The customer clicks the banner and likes the company’s Facebook page. The user now sees regular updates from that company on their Facebook news feed.

6. Social: Facebook Discount Post

Later that month, the user sees a post about an one-day sale the shoe company is having; the post offers a special discount code for Facebook friends.

7.  Social Referral via Facebook

The user clicks the link and browses through the sale offering. They find a pair they like, but they’re at work. The user writes down the discount code for later.

8.  Navigational Search

The user doesn’t know the exact URL, so they type in the brand name of the shoe company as a navigational search. The user finds the shoes, uses the discount code, and completes the purchase.

So what about that long path caused the sale? Most companies would focus on the navigational search. Looking at the path, others might argue that it was the Facebook promotional discount or the initial linkbait.

But that’s the wrong way of looking at it. Every piece of this process — from the first informational search to the final purchase — worked together to clinch this sale.

Harnessing The Power Of The Social Funnel

The higher in the funnel your customers are, the less aggressive you should be in your sales tactics. Social media marketing should never be salesy; rather, it’s about accruing a following, engaging your community, and influencing their actions.

So how does that all lead to a sale? You’re reaching a customer early in the sales process, meaning that you’ve likely reached them before your competitors. The earlier you reach them, the more history they’ll have with you when it’s time to make a purchasing decision.

We make purchases based on trust. The more you engage with your fans and followers, the more they “get to know” you and your brand, which breeds trust. You also become infinitely more memorable to your customers, since they now see you as a presence, not a product.

Through engagement, you show you’re invested in them — and in turn, they become more invested in you.

Finally, social media allows you to stay present in your customer’s minds. A post about a shoe sale may remind a customer that she has a wedding coming up and needs a pair of heels; a recent blog post may make a customer think of you when he remembers his brother’s birthday is right around the corner.

Quick Tips To Remember When  Crafting A Social Funnel

  • It should be ridiculously easy to convert at any time. Don’t make your customers search for a URL that’s buried in your Facebook About page. Utilize banners, frequent links, even a Facebook store tab, if applicable. Make it impossibly easy for your customers to convert if the mood strikes.
  • On the other hand, don’t bombard them with ads and banners. You are not pushing anything and you are not selling. You are offering — make sure your customers feel the same way.
  • Social Q&A sites are amazing ways for your customers to find out about you in a “neutral” setting (i.e., not your site). Too many companies ignore them because they don’t see an easy return on results (unlike precise “subscription” or “following” numbers they see on social media). Don’t count them out — they work wonders in pointing future customers in your direction.
  • Keep track of dips and spikes in your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Every time you lose a follower, you’ve let someone slip out of your sales funnel. Try to pinpoint what type of social content loses or gains followers.
  • Do not post the same content on all your various social sites. You want people to have as many different points of contact with you as possible, so give people a reason to follow you on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ etc. by making your presences unique on each site.
  • Offer as many opportunities for soft conversions as you can (mailing lists, newsletters, RSS feeds, likes, follows, etc.) to keep your brand as present as possible.

Social media followers can always play a huge part in your funnel, even if that subscriber never makes a purchase.

They can:

  • Recommend you to friends, family, or colleagues,
  • Share your posts/tweets/content with others,
  • Buy your content or know-how (books, eBooks, etc.),
  • Cause your company to show up in their friend’s search results through Google Social Search,
  • Stay alert of ALL your brand offerings/sister sites/etc.,
  • If nothing else, give you a number on your follower/friend count to encourage others of your authority.

Finally (& Most Importantly), Figuring Out Your Social Funnel Is YOUR Responsibility

I can’t write you a one-size-fits-all how-to post on your social funnel. No one could. Your business and your customers are wholly unique, and it’s up to you and you alone to figure out what helps to clinch the sale.

As a business, it is your job to try to figure out each and every single touchpoint a user might follow on a query– and you’ve got to make sure you’re present and active in each touchpoint. You’ve got to experiment, to test, to analyze and reconfigure. Because ultimately, every crack in your funnel is a chance for a lost sale – and a lost customer. And for every lost customer, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Jordan Kasteler
Jordan Kasteler is the SEO Director of Hennessey Consulting. His work experience ranges from co-founding BlueGlass Interactive, in-house SEO at, marketing strategy at PETA, and agency-level SEO & marketing. Jordan is also an international conference speaker, columnist, and book author of A to Z: Social Media Marketing.

Get the must-read newsletter for search marketers.