Many companies think of social media as a top-of-the-funnel channel, using it primarily to drive brand awareness and attract leads. If you’re not treating social media as a sales nurturing tool, you’re probably not attributing revenue directly to social – and you may be more hesitant to devote more marketing resources to social media as a result.
But those who limit social media to top-of-funnel activities are missing out on opportunities to nurture prospects through every stage of the sales funnel. In fact, social media can play a crucial role in the customer experience through every stage of the buyer’s journey and beyond.
The Key Phases in the Consumer Decision Journey
The truth is, the sales funnel isn’t really a “funnel” anymore. Given the growing channels and touchpoints that consumers experience along the path to purchase, the consumer decision journey, as McKinsey & Company calls it, now looks a lot more like a circle, with four key phases:
- Initial Consideration: Consumers consider several brands based on recent experiences and perceptions.
- Active Evaluation: Consumers actively evaluate what they’re looking for, dropping brands from the running and adding other brands to consider.
- Closure: The point of purchase when the consumer selects a brand.
- Post-Purchase: The consumer develops expectations for their next decision journey based on their experience.
Here’s how social media can play a role in each of these key phases to help you attract more leads, generate more leads, convert more prospects to customers, and deliver an exceptional post-purchase experience.
Initial Consideration Phase
The initial consideration phase is the top of the sales funnel in the traditional funnel model, in which consumers are first becoming aware of a need and considering what brands are capable of meeting those needs. In this phase, a strong social media presence will help you build brand recognition. Your brand should be top-of-mind for consumers who first recognize that they have a need for a particular product or solution, giving you a clear advantage over brands that aren’t easily recognized or associated with those needs. If consumers have to research for hours to identify your product or service as a potential solution, you’re doing it wrong.
To build this type of awareness, you need to engage in tactics designed to attract attention on social media. Running social media contests can get your brand in front of new consumers to expand your audience, whether it’s a simple giveaway with a random winner, a contest that allows your followers to vote to choose a winner from contestants, or a more complex contest involving user-generated content, such as captions, photos, or videos. Any of these types of contests can generate brand recognition and grow your audience when executed well.
Contests aren’t the only way to generate interest among consumers who are new to exploring options in your industry, and they should never be your only tactic. Videos are highly engaging, particularly on Facebook, where video posts get more engagement than other types of posts by a significant margin.
Video is the most-preferred type of branded content on social media among consumers, according to Animoto’s 2018 State of Social Video: Consumer Trends report. But not all branded videos are created equal. According to Animoto, consumers like the following types of branded videos most:
- How-to videos
- Videos about sales and promotions
- Top 5 lists
While videos are obviously king on Facebook (and YouTube, of course), video posts also perform well on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. That said, while you should embrace the power of video, be careful not to neglect other content formats like infographics, GIFs, and high-quality photos and custom images. Paid ads and influencer marketing campaigns can also be effective during the initial consideration phase.
Active Evaluation Phase
During the active evaluation phase, consumers tend to engage in activities like reading online reviews and seeking word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, according to McKinsey. To capitalize on the effects of social proof and word-of-mouth marketing, encourage customers to leave positive reviews of your products or services. Ask for testimonials and highlight them on your website and across your social media profiles.
Make it easy for your readers and followers to share your content from your website by installing social media share buttons. Consumers tend to trust branded content more when it’s shared by family and friends, giving it a bit of built-in social proof.
Give away your expertise for free in the form of AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions, blog posts, and e-books or guides. Not only does this establish goodwill with your audience, but it also positions your company as a trusted expert in your niche. Continue to capitalize on the engagement power of video by creating video content such as:
- Addressing common pain points consumers are typically trying to solve during this phase of the buying journey
- Overcoming common objections that arise during the sales process
- Providing a behind-the-scenes look at your company
- Product demonstrations
- Consumer-generated video content, such as testimonials or unboxing videos
Remarketing ads are the next step in your paid social media advertising campaign, which will target consumers in the active evaluation phase who have already been exposed to your brand. You can also continue to build on influencer marketing efforts in this phase, and you should also consider other paid tactics such as sponsored posts featuring customer reviews.
The closure phase is the conversion phase, where consumers either choose your brand or a competitor. There are plenty of tactics you can employ to improve your conversions on social media. For instance, you can generate email signups on your social media channels and send targeted offers to subscribers, giving your campaign the cross-platform cohesiveness consumers love.
In terms of paid advertising, ads targeting consumers in the closure phase should create a sense of urgency. Tactics such as timed offers or coupons, as well as offers limited to the first 10 or 100 people to signup achieve this goal.
Including clear calls-to-action (CTAs) in your social media posts is important to convert consumers in the closure phase, but be careful not to alienate followers in the earlier stages of the sales funnel by including CTAs in every post. Instead, use a healthy mix of branded content with incentives and CTAs, posts that share third-party content, and informative or educational posts with no sales hook to keep consumers in all stages of the funnel engaged.
You can also take advantage of platform-specific features that enable consumers to shop from their favorite social media networks, such as Instagram’s shopping experience and Pinterest’s Shoppable pins, or Facebook’s call-to-action buttons, which can encourage several actions, including:
- Sign Up
- Shop Now
- Book Now
- Contact Us
- Watch Video
- Play Game
- Use App
Facebook also offers native call-to-action buttons for individual posts, including call-to-action ads and call-to-action video ads, allowing you to use a variety of CTAs across different posts to target consumers in other stages of the sales funnel.
The post-purchase phase is where you need to focus on delivering exceptional customer service. Creating amazing post-purchase experiences is crucial whether your business relies on repeat buyers or not. Even one-off purchases benefit from the power of brand loyalty, as those loyal customers become the word-of-mouth sources for other prospects who are in the active evaluation phase. And for repeat-purchase businesses, obviously, you want to keep the customers you worked so hard to earn in the first place.
More consumers are turning to social media for customer support than ever before. In fact, according to a J.D. Power survey, 67% of consumers have used social media to seek customer service. And that means providing an amazing post-purchase experience is promptly responding to customer support requests, not only on your help chat or customer call center but also through social media.
Continue sharing your expertise by giving your customers valuable information they can use for free. A software company, for instance, might share in-depth guides or tutorial videos on how to use the advanced features of the software.
Use retargeting ads to attract repeat buyers with coupons for a percentage off the next purchase for loyal customers or ads promoting exclusive ‘friends and family’ sales or events. Some companies build loyalty with post-purchase customers by running exclusive, customer-only groups on Facebook or LinkedIn where customers can share tips and tricks.
Social media contests are useful for keeping post-purchase consumers engaged, and contests that require followers to share photos or videos of themselves using your products provide valuable social proof for consumers in the earlier stages of the sales funnel.
When you understand how to use various social media tactics to target consumers in every stage of the sales funnel, it’s easy to see how the consumer decision journey is much more circular than it is triangular these days. When you plan a careful, cohesive social media strategy, you can build on your efforts throughout the buyer’s journey while simultaneously generating valuable social proof and user-generated content to fuel your efforts.
Author Bio: Cynthia Lopez is a frequent contributor at Cornerstone Content. She’s been writing on a variety of tech and marketing-focused topics and trends since 2014.