The Differences Between Social Marketing & Social Media Marketing

People often confuse social marketing with social media marketing, but what is the difference between the two?


  • Social marketing – First, understanding the audience, then building a campaign specifically around them.
  • Social media marketing – Introducing a new or existing audience to a product or idea.


  • Social marketing – alter or maintain how people behave.
  • Social media marketing – increase awareness, clickthroughs or perceptions.


  • Social marketing – very focused, often niche.
  • Social media marketing – Broader, e.g. males aged 44-65 in the UK.


  • Social marketing – measure the impact and outcome of individuals
  • Social media marketing – analytical data, eg how many views, clickthroughs, etc

Social marketing campaigns can take a lot longer than a standard social media marketing campaign. Time is taken to understand an audience before the campaign, as well as the impact the campaign has had on individuals once the campaign is over. Social marketing can be a hugely effective way of reaching a small, niche audience, however, it can prove to be a longer and costlier process. If highly detailed data is essential to what you’re looking for, and views and clickthroughs are not the end goal, then this may be something to explore. 

The overall goal of social marketing is to change or maintain how individuals behave, unlike a social media campaign which is to increase general awareness. Because of this, reporting for social marketing is thorough, and analyses the impact the campaign had.

Social marketing can be effective, but if you are looking to draw clickthroughs to your website, increase views of your video or raise awareness of a brand/product, then social media and influencer marketing is more than likely the better option

Creating Social Marketing Campaigns

Social marketing campaigns are typically organized into four stages:

  • deepening the understanding of the target audience including the barriers to change behavior and the motivations that can encourage behavior change;
  • message development and testing;
  • outreach and interventions; and
  • evaluation, During the target audience understanding phase, the goal is to identify with as much specificity as possible the demographic and psychographic characteristics of the target audience. Where do they live? What do they buy? How do they consume news or media? What stands in the way of the behavior change? What might be motivational to change behavior? This information (whether inferred or determined through research and focus groups) is used to build personas or fictional character representations of the target audience. Often, these personas are given a name – like “Social Smoker Sally” or “Trying to Quit Tricia.”

After the personas have been developed, the next step is to create and test messaging so you know what is going to resonate with the target audience. To make sure the messaging you use is on target and also appeals to your audience, focus groups are critical. When creating the messaging consider the barriers your target audience faces when trying to make the desired change. Your messaging should help them to lower those barriers. Another approach we use to develop campaign messaging is to frame the desired change as fun, easy and popular. Research in human psychology shows that people are more likely to adopt behaviors that they perceive to be fun (i.e. beneficial to them – what’s in it for me?), easy to accomplish (break it down into smaller steps) and popular (other people are doing it too). Using this information, we can create messaging that is more likely to change behavior.

Once the messaging has been tested and approved, it’s time to develop a plan to get the word out. Different audiences are reached in different ways. Tactics we commonly use are social media, traditional media (radio, television, print ads), environmental or experiential advertising, as well as events, media relations or public relations, and influencers.

While the final step in campaign development is evaluation – the evaluation process should really be ongoing throughout the entire campaign. Ultimately, you will evaluate overall performance (i.e. how many people took the desired action) after the campaign concludes, or has had time to make an impact but you should measure smaller milestones as you go. For example, how many impressions and engagements are you getting on social media? Are people signing up for email or calling to inquire about services? Evaluating these intermediary steps or actions early and often will help you to further fine-tune messaging and outreach methods and allow you to optimize your overall results.

Social Media for Social Marketing

While social media and social marketing sound the same, the tools and processes they refer to are distinctly different. However, by using social media to create effective social marketing campaigns your brand or organization can make a big difference in people’s lives, and the communities in which they live.

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