The Difference Between Social Media and Social Marketing

One of the reasons I’m usually skeptical of social marketing (even though I currently make a living at it) is because, in my heart, I’m not a marketer.  I’m a creator.  And there’s a big difference between the social media practitioners who entered this field from the content creation side first, as opposed to those who came to it from the business and marketing side.

That difference begins with semantics.

“Social media” is a catch-all phrase for all of the media that’s created and transmitted digitally.  Blogs, tweets, photos, videos, graphics, webcomics, music and anything else people make and share online is social media.

But social media is not automatically social marketing.

“Social marketing” is the use of that media, as well as the channels through which that media is distributed — blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flick, LinkedIn, MySpace, Tumblr, etc. — to attract attention for a brand / product / service, and (ideally) convert that attention to brand loyalty, which then leads (whether directly or indirectly) to increased sales.

Making a YouTube video is social media.

Using that YouTube video as part of a campaign intended to raise awareness of a cause or a product?  That’s social marketing.

People who use these terms interchangeably are doing a disservice to both fields, and to themselves.  (And I do it sometimes too, so I’m not perfect.)  This kind of semantic confusion leads to all kinds of problems, like:

  • A marginalization of any use of social media that doesn’t directly create profit.
  • Expecting marketers to know how to create content.
  • Expecting content creators to know how to become self-promoted moguls.
  • Using the same metrics to judge all kinds of content.
  • Ghettoizing an entire medium (or, really, multiple media formats).

In the Beginning…

The only reason I got into this field at all was because I was creating a web sitcom, which forced me to learn (in 2003) how to use the Internet to promote the content I was creating.  I attended the first PodCamp in Boston (September 2006), and then I co-founded PodCamp Pittsburgh two months later.  In those days, profits were a pipe dream for artists and geek experimenters who saw the future of shared media and wondered when the people with the checkbooks would finally notice us.

For us, the hook was in the media, not the marketing.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I actually started getting paid for doing more than just creating videos.  And that was because I’d been an early adopter of Twitter, where — due to my existing connections with other social media content creators like Chris Brogan, C.C. Chapman and Chris Penn, who’d leveraged their content creation skills into new roles as marketers — I’d been able to form a decent-sized following of fellow social media explorers.  Brands see numbers and they want to understand how they can replicate those numbers for themselves.

Voila: a job is born.

So, yes, I understand social marketing, and I know how to apply social marketing principles and tactics to help your business grow.  But I also understand social media, and I love the thrill that comes with creating media which others engage with and react to.  One of those activities is what currently pays my bills, but the other is what I’m actually excited about.

And that’s why I’m so skeptical (to put it mildly) of the people who forsake the entire creative side of social media in favor of drilling strictly for numbers and profits.  You’re certainly welcome (and perhaps even shrewd) to drag every pixel you touch into the realm of marketing.

But please don’t call what you’re doing “social media.”  It makes us all look bad.

Dig this blog? Subscribe and you’ll never miss a word. Got email? Get my newsletter, too.

  • Anonymous

    When someone asks advice, say, what kind of vacuum cleaner to buy, they’re not going to take the word of @VacuumRus who obviously has a script running to @ reply spam anyone talking about Vacuums. I had this happen on Twitter, someone I followed asked advice on what brand vacuum cleaner to purchase, so while everyone else was suggesting Dysons and the like, I told them NOT to purchase a Hoover.u00a0 Years ago, Hoover was a good name in durable appliances, they were made (or at least assembled) in North Canton, Ohio (near where I live). They closed down the factory and moved all the production to China or wherever. I made the mistake of buying one a couple years ago, before this happened, and the thing is utter garbage. It’s a bagless windtunnel model and it MUNCHES belts (for the beater bar). Like, every third time you use the damned thing, it quits picking up stuff because the rotating sweeper at the mouth of the head stops turning because of the broken belt.nnAnyway, they replied back to me with thanks saying that they would definitely NOT be buying a Hoover. They know I’m a real person, I’ve interacted with them before (probably helpfully or humorously) and they probably TRUST my OPINION.nnPeople do not trust bots, people are annoyed by fracking bots. I’m surprised I haven’t seen certain companies making bots on Twitter to automatically spam people talking about Vacuum cleaners recommending their competitors’ products, thus making the people spammed less likely to buy that other brand and more likely to purchase theirs.nnAnyway, (bad) social marketing is pretty much idiots shouting about their products right now. I forget what book I read it in, but there were people paid to go out and hang out with people and recommend certain brands or new products to people in social situations. How long before we see insidious marketing programs where you are offered discounts or free products by getting your social contacts to purchase products? If we don’t have privacy protections in place soon, it will be a simple matter for companies to cross-reference your social media profiles (and contacts therein) with their order records, and reward you for influencing your friends to buy BRAND X. People will feel betrayed if they find out they’ve been duped, and we’ll all start to doubt the other party’s motives in our social interactions. WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO GET ME TO BUY!?

  • Katrina

    This is along the lines of what I was thinking. Some of the best, most brilliant “Social Marketing” is the encouraging/distribution of customer created “Social Media”. I’m thinking of things like customer reviews on amazon, etc.

  • Pacific Vacuum

    Great read.u00a0 Really, tx.

  • Pingback: 5 Values Social Media Should Borrow from Art School / Justin Kownacki

  • Pingback: The Real Problem with the Social Media Bubble / Justin Kownacki

  • peter smith

    nnSocial marketing uses a range of techniques and approaches,ncommonly known as a ‘marketing mix’, to change people’s behaviour in a clearlyndefined and positive way. Its aim is to achieve a particular ‘social good’,nrather than commercial benefits – even though it uses many of the same methodsnas commercial advertising and marketing. I recommend visiting http:// http://www.foutsventures.comu00a0 SocialnMarketing Hopenthis helps.nnn

  • Alina nancy

    u00a0nnOne easy way to learn the best strategies for u00a0Social Marketingu00a0 isnto actually follow in the footsteps of people who are social marketing successnstories. u00a0Fouts Ventures LLC is one guide that lets you in on thensecrets of social marketing and gives you proven techniques to build yournonline social network from the ground up.nnn

  • Joanne Maly

    Justin, I loved this post. — And I cracked up when I read your tags for this post as well. Thanks for taking a complicated, touchy subject and hitting the nail on the head.

  • Justin Kownacki

    Thanks Joanne. Honestly, I don’t think the subject would seem nearlyrnas complicated if people didn’t purposely muddy the waters to beginrnwith, but hey, marketing has never been a field where words mean whatrnthey mean everywhere else. ;)

  • Pingback: Why Bad Blog Traffic Is Good For You / Justin Kownacki

  • Pingback: Why I'm Quitting Social Media / Justin Kownacki

  • Pingback: How Justin Bieber Personally Ruined My Life / Justin Kownacki

  • Pingback: Does Social Marketing Reward the Wrong Behaviors? / Justin Kownacki