He Said, She Said – Confusion on Social Media vs Social Marketing

I’ve learned a lot about social media over the last several years but one thing that really sticks out for me now is the confusion between social media and social marketing. Part of this problem stems from the multitude of people using social media that equate it to the ability to use social media effectively in marketing. This confusion may be one of the biggest misnomers in business today. Your ability to chat on Twitter, create a video or “friend” all the most influential bloggers does not mean you’re good at social marketing.

Part of the problem is that suddenly, just about everyone claims to know social media – or more specifically, how to do execute social media in marketing. A lot of “one hit wonders” – someone who struck gold with a video that went viral, or a firm that had early success with one client (usually, a major brand name) – are claiming to be the “gurus” but aren’t necessarily delivering consistent and whole strategies for a variety of clients or businesses. Take, for example, Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz’s wedding video – aka, “The wedding dance video.”

I’ve read plenty of blog posts where people are touting this as “a great example of marketers taking advantage of video and social media.” But that’s not wholly accurate. No marketers planned this as a campaign – it happened to be a video of a couple at their wedding that was incredibly entertaining, accumulating more than 10 million views on YouTube in less than one week. Then the marketers took notice, as written about by Google: “The rights holders for the song in the video – “Forever” by Chris Brown – used these tools to claim and monetize the song, as well as to start running Click-to-Buy links over the video, giving viewers the opportunity to purchase the music track on Amazon and iTunes. As a result, the rights holders were able to capitalize on the massive wave of popularity generated by “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.'” And that’s fantastic. But the truth is, it was happenstance – and yes, the marketers caught on in time, in order to increase sales. But I wouldn’t say that they “used the video for promotion,” rather, it happened organically. It wasn’t a planned “viral video” (because you don’t create “viral videos” – you create great video that you can plan a viral marketing campaign around) by brilliant marketers. And this video doesn’t make Jill and Kevin, Chris Brown or the rights owners brilliant marketers.

The truth is, while social media isn’t as radical as some may claim it to be, it has presented an entirely new way of thinking and interacting – especially for businesses – and for the most part, we’re all on a pretty level playing field. What will shake out in the next year or so is the “social media expert” moniker – we’ll see who is really developing ongoing and persistently smart and effective social marketing strategies, vs those one hit wonders or “I can set up a Facebook fan page for you” consultants.

It’s been interesting watching the explosive growth of social media’s popularity, especially for marketers. When we first introduced Twitter to clients over two years ago – suggesting its use as part of marketing, PR, customer service and sales strategies – we were one of the first PR firms that had established a corporate entity on the now-explosive microblogging service. In fact, we were part of the early discussions around whether or not corporations should be on Twitter at all (and maybe a little too ahead of our time, but that’s another blog post). Luckily, our stance was yes. What’s really interesting in that post, by the way, is reading the comments and comparing the attitudes then to now.

Today, what we’re finding is that our counsel isn’t needed to convince clients that social media is important. Rather, it’s to help clients understand the definition of social marketing vs the “social media” buzz-worthy moniker. I’ve been interviewed several times over the last couple of months about social media for business. In almost every interview the question arises: “What’s the first thing a company should do when thinking about social media for business?” My answer is always – “Know your business goals. Be clear on what you are trying to accomplish first.” It’s surprising how many businesses just want to jump in feet first now that social media for business is all the rage. But the bottom line is, whatever you do with social marketing should tie back to your business goals – whether it’s increased awareness, definitive thought leadership, sales, better customer service, leads, business development, partnerships, etc.

Know your business goals. Recognize the difference between social media and social marketing and beware of “social media experts” that don’t bother to ask about your business goals. If they don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish as a business, all the greatest videos, Tweets or Facebook fan numbers will be a moot point.

6 thoughts on “He Said, She Said – Confusion on Social Media vs Social Marketing

  1. Thanks for the perspective Christine. I think one of the most important points you make is about clarifying the definition of social marketing with clients (vs convincing them it is important). The ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of social media is far more important than the ‘what’ and the ‘where’. Like any other communication outreach tactic, social media needs to have sound strategy and outstanding execution.


  2. Hi Christine,

    Great post! I agree with you wholeheartedly that having an active Twitter account is not a vaild reason to dub oneself a “social media expert,” whether you’re a client, or an agency. If everyone is an expert, then no one is…and you’re left culling through a lot of nonsense in order to find the really qualified people. I also agree with your point that some companies are jumping on the social media bandwagon, strictly because their competition is, with no real goals in mind. Not a smart move – social media isn’t for everyone, and more people (especially marketers!) should know that’s OK.

    Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking piece.


  3. Great post. I *hate* the term “social media expert.” Although I have a few social marketing success stories to my name, and can be counted on to discuss the strategy behind those campaigns with clients, I would cringe to self-identify as an expert. It seems as stupid as calling oneself a “driving expert” on the basis of having had a license for a while and successfully avoiding accidents… so you’re a demonstrated good driver – that doesn’t make you an “expert”!

    The problem is that the range of understanding of social media is still so wide and so unevenly distributed, with thousands of people on the “what is this and how does it work?” end of the spectrum, and only a handful on the “I’ve written books and spoken at conferences about this” end. It makes everyone who is familiar with basic principles of SM seem (to themselves and those lower than them in expertise) like some sort of guru.

    I predict that as the group of professionals who are wholly unaware of/uncomfortable with social media shrinks, self-proclaimed experts will start to look sillier and sillier. Thankfully, it seems like this is already starting to happen!

  4. Social media can be thought of as the framework of a home. You need it to hang components and to act as a conduit for other items. Social marketing is the style or the method you bring to the design of the house. Good social marketer, and marketers of all types, know what is in their toolbox, what their constraints are and how they can meet their objectives.

  5. The “social” in social media reflects to media that promote people’s interaction with each other.

    The “social” in social marketing reflects the fact that the marketing goal being pursued has a benefit for society.

    Social media is about tools. Social marketing is about a process.

    If I am marketing a product I may choose to use the social media tool. Some people then call that social media marketing. It is not, however, social marketing unless the purpose for the marketing is the benefit society.

    I might have a social marketing campaign to increase the number of people voting and I could use social media in that campaign.

    However, the fact that I use social media in a marketing campaign for GM does not make it a social marketing campaign. It is not about a benefit to society. It is about a benefit to stockholders. (A little blurred right now.)

    When you think of social marketing, think of wearing seat belts, using car seats, putting babies to sleep on their backs…etc.

    When you think of social media think of Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.

    You’re getting the difference… I can see it.

  6. Thanks for making the distinction as I’m still amazed at the blank looks I get when I ask this:

    “What are your company’s goals?

    You think it’s an easy question to answer, but for many, it’s not.

    Do you just want to sell more (old school, economics-book example) widgets? Do you want to provide value to the community? Do both, in an ideal world?

Leave a Reply