This ques­tion has vexed me ever since social media began play­ing a role in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing: What does social mar­ket­ing entail? I’m dis­sat­is­fied with the gen­er­ally agreed upon answer: Social mar­ket­ing is any­thing that occurs on a site where there is user-generated con­tent. By this line, any­thing on Face­book, Twit­ter, YouTube, or Google+ falls into the social mar­ket­ing cat­e­gory. All blogs, posts on LinkedIn, and social media fan pages fall under the umbrella of social mar­ket­ing. Defin­ing any­thing that occurs on a social web­site to be under the social mar­ket­ing umbrella is overboard.

Three Mar­ket­ing Categories

Dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing falls into three cat­e­gories: (1) brand, (2) search, and (3) social. Before there was dig­i­tal, mar­ket­ing was essen­tially all brand or—as we call it—display mar­ket­ing. Com­pa­nies devel­oped their brand images using ban­ners, news­pa­per ads, and com­mer­cials to mar­ket their products.

When dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing emerged, mar­ket­ing cat­e­gories expanded. Search mar­ket­ing slowly made a name for itself, but at first the dis­tinc­tion between search and brand mar­ket­ing was cloudy. Even today, mar­keters attempt to appraise brand worth using search sta­tis­tics like pay per click (PPC) and cost per action (CPA). But mea­sur­ing a brand’s stature by clicks is no way to mea­sure a brand. Brand mar­ket­ing works to drive brand image in an abstract way, using cre­ative tac­tics like ban­ners, com­mer­cials, and ads to do that. Search mar­ket­ing attempts to opti­mize a company’s pop­u­lar­ity, click-through rate (CTR), and con­ver­sa­tion rates through search engines. So where does social fit into the mix?


There is obvi­ously some over­lap, and there always will be. Not all mar­ket­ing on social sites is social mar­ket­ing, yet many mar­keters orga­nize their teams as if it were. You wouldn’t ask a gar­dener to han­dle an exterminator’s issue just because you have pests in your gar­den. So why ask your social team to han­dle search and brand mar­ket­ing issues? My hope is that mar­keters orga­nize their teams per objec­tive and inten­tion rather then realm; that way mar­keters can focus on their spe­cial­ized tac­tics no mat­ter the situation.

The expan­sion of social media has cre­ated new mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Face­book devel­oped a new search tool that allows more com­plex and inclu­sive search fea­tures. YouTube allows com­pa­nies to buy video ad space. Google+ is so closely linked to Google that one can barely dis­tin­guish the social site from the search engine. It’s clear that social media involves brand and search mar­ket­ing tac­tics. Still, the ques­tion is, what exactly is social mar­ket­ing if not every­thing on social sites?

The Answer

Social media should only include any­thing that involves cus­tomer and brand inter­ac­tion. It bridges the gap between cus­tomer rela­tion­ship man­age­ment (CRM), cus­tomer ser­vice, and mar­ket­ing. The real ben­e­fit to social mar­ket­ing is that it allows you to talk to your customers.

Social teams should han­dle tweets to cus­tomer bases or indi­vid­ual cus­tomers. Dis­play teams should use pro­mo­tional videos and ads to drive brand recog­ni­tion, even if these things are on Twit­ter. Search teams should work within Twit­ter to opti­mize search results and drive sales.

Social teams should not han­dle every­thing that appears on social sites; they lack the time and skills to do so. Social mar­keters should work with brand and search mar­keters. Each mar­ket­ing team—social, search, and brand—should base its work on a pur­pose and objec­tive rather than a region or a website.