The Funnel is Still a Valid Model

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Shall we put “Social” in front of it?

In my quest for a term that had not yet been attached to “Social”, I discovered that Google could find only 7 instances of “Social Marketing Funnel”. Next to about 37 million – and growing by the minute – results for “Social Media”, it seems to be a relatively under-explored concept.

While that is true, this is not how I started thinking about the Funnel. Sometimes we need to balance the power of an existing metaphor (like “Files” for digital data or “Funnel” for the process of identifying and nurturing leads into customers) with the need for new models that better represent reality.

The Classical Marketing Funnel pictured above is straightforward: among all potential buyers in the market, a company needs to nurture them from awareness (know it exists) to consideration (think of it as viable supplier) to preference (consider it the most adequate) to action (decision to buy) to loyalty (experience value and remain a long-term customer).

The mission of Marketing is to recruit new leads through marketing actions, and then nurture them and hand them off to Sales.

Others have discussed fundamental changes in the model caused by the transition to social media (most notably, Brian Haven from Forrester Research in 2007) but, with the benefit of 3 years of hindsight, I believe the funnel model is still valid and useful to visualize the marketing/sales process and we can keep the baby from going with the bath water.

But some adaptations are needed. Lets look at the Social Marketing Funnel.

Terminology and Frame of Thought

While the basic model can stay the same, some of marketing terminology needs to change to remain meaningful. Referring to potential customers as “suspects” or having accounts that are “owned” by a sales person is out. Thinking about customers as people rather than a name in a list and treating them as such is in.

People move through the funnel and decide to stay or to get out.

Rules of Engagement

When it comes to execution, in the classical media, the “nurturing” process often ends up consisting of a mix of not-always-welcome broadcasts (e-mail blasts, newsletters, ”educational” white papers, webinars, etc). Because there is not much listening going on, those communications are more or less indiscriminate.

In social media, the funnel is not an opt-in e-mail list but the group of “followers” in the several venues (company web site, online communities, twitter, etc). Companies need to listen first, and then dispense communication that resonates with the audience. Social Media let companies communicate more often without being intrusive because social channels and controlled by recipient-discretion.

If isolating and segmenting customers was the norm before, that is no longer the case. Customers are going to talk to each other whether or not the companies provide the venues, so you better join them in the conversation.

Marketing action focuses on providing a resonance chamber for customer advocacy, rather than only recruit new leads to fill the top of the funnel.

From Loyalty to Advocacy

When Marketing thought of customer life cycle, it aimed for Loyalty among long-term customers as the ultimate goal.

Social Media adds another dimension to the influence of customers: their social graph. Loyal customers do more than provide repeat revenues, they become your main recruiting resource to feed the funnel with other potential customers who value their opinions.

The Social Marketing Funnel goes further and hopes to cultivate Advocacy.

This article was originally written for and posted at

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