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.