Social Media, Social (Media) Marketing and Where the Difference Lies…

Social Media, Social (Media) Marketing and Where the Difference Lies…

I’ve finally put my finger on what it is that’s been chaffing my britches about the new found popularity of Social Media; that is most people are using the wrong term.  They’re not talking about Social Media, they’re talking about  Social Media Marketing.

I’m sure a lot of you are saying the same thing right now: “What the heck gives this bozo the right to define what is and what is not Social Media?” Let me answer that for you.

I’ve been building online communities, doing user generated content, and generally fostering what you all like to call “the conversation” since 1995. That’s before most of you had Internet connections, and certainly before most of you ever thought about blogging, commenting, or the like. If you don’t like my opinion on what is and what isn’t Social Media, talk to Dave Winer, or Doc Searls, or some of the other folks who have been around since the early days.

So here are the defininitions I believe would be more correct:

  • Social Networking – anything having to do with the major sharing and online networking sites and applications.  Think about LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious, etc. here.  Generally these are communication based sites.  Wikipedia does a good job of defining:

    “A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services. “

  • Social Media – development of and operation of content driven websites in which user generated content, comments, and discussion forums play a large part.  Wikipedia offers a definition, but I believe it is overly broad, although it does hint at the consumer generated content aspects:

    “Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).”

  • Social Media Marketing (I’ve edited the post here due to concernes that the lack of the word media here was confusing – using either Social Media sites or Social Networking to sell, advertise, promote or develop “the buzz” for a product, brand, website or person.  Wikipedia prefers the term Social Media Marketing, which I don’t utterly hate, however their definition is somewhat mealy mouthed, so I won’t republish here.
  • Social Media Marketing Consulting (edited to add ‘media’) – telling other people, generally via Twitter, or at expensive conferences in out of the way place, that they should be doing Social Marketing.  If you’re telling people to “join the conversation”, you are probably a Social  Media Marketing Consultant.

My case in point is this: there is a fellow offering certification  in Social Media, yet when you read the prospectus, it’s obvious he’s pushing Social Media Marketing.  It’s more about how to game the system, than how to build the system, a rather fundemental difference in my mind.  

To recap:

  • Social Networking:  a communications service
  • Social Media : the consumer generated content aspects of content driven websites
  • Social Media Marketing(edited to add the word “Media” to avoid confusion): selling or promoting products, brands, people or things via Social Networking services or Social Media sites.

So please, if you’re going to consult on Social Media,  or Social Media Marketing, at least get your terms straight.

8 thoughts on “Social Media, Social (Media) Marketing and Where the Difference Lies…

  1. Hey Mark – good post. Worth noting that back in the dark days before web 2.0/social media, “social marketing” meant marketing for the public good, ie cause marketing, which has further morphed into terms like “corporate social responsibility”. It’s all about the word play.

  2. With all due respect, neither the folks you refer to in your first paragraph, nor you, are properly defining social marketing! Social marketing is the strategic approach to planned behavior change, based on commercial marketing principles, that improves the well-being of individuals and society. It was first conceived by Philip Kotler–who has been called the father of modern marketing–and Robert Zaltman, at Northwestern University in 1971.

    For a great comparison of social marketing and social media, see !

    Social marketing has been used around the globe by government and non-profit organizations to impact issues of societal well-being as diverse as breastfeeding, recycling and encouraging savings account. Not a flash in the pan phenomenon, there are numerous college curricula; six-plus textbooks; an international listserve with over 1,000 members; a dedicated journal; three major US or international conferences; at least six major US firms; social marketing centers in Scotland, Canada, Poland and Australia; governmental centers in the UK and the US; a national excellence collaborative in the US, all dealing with social marketing.

    For more information you can visit the following web sites, among others:;;

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment!

  3. Social marketing is (Wikipedia): “Social marketing is the systematic application of marketing along with other concepts and techniques to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. Social marketing can be applied to promote, for example, merit goods, make the society avoid demerit goods and thus to promote that considers society’s well being as a whole. This may include asking people not to smoke in public areas, for example, ask them to use seat belts, prompting to make them follow speed limits.”

    It does NOT have anything to do with social media or social media marketing.

  4. Social marketing is an entire communications practice of its own – completely independent of social media, or social media marketing. People in the social media field, nor those in social marketing, conflate the two. I suggest revising your blog post.

  5. I suggest you all re-read. My premise is that the term “Social Media” is being mis-used throughout the marketing industry. I agree, on reflection, that the term should be Social Media Marketing, but the core premise of my post stands.

    I’ll add “socal media marketing” via an edit, but the rest of the post stands.

    1. Mark, I appreciate your seriously reflecting on the posts of several of us about the misuse of the term “social marketing,” and editing your original post! (If I may, please take a look at the use of “social marketing” in paragraphs one and three, and in the last bullet point in paragraph four.)

      I do not disagree with your original premise that the term “Social Media” is being misused. However, in a parallel way, the term “Social Marketing” is being misused as well.

      Thanks for your willingness to shed some clarifying light on the terms! All best wishes.

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