Dueling Social Marketing Definitions

On the heels of Jay Bernhardt’s explanation of why the CDC uses the term “health marketing” instead of “social marketing” and Craig Lefebvre’s take on the term (“What the heck is health marketing?“), comes a new offensive on the definition of social marketing from the other direction.

Jupiter Research has just launched a new Social Marketing research service that will “provide marketers and site owners with recommendations on how to profit from the use of consumer generated content, blogs, podcasts and other emerging media tools.” Apparently they didn’t get the memo that there is already a long-established field called social marketing that uses marketing to bring about health and social change.

The burgeoning use of the term “social marketing” to refer to social media has already created confusion among techie types I know who have misunderstood what type of work I do. This leads to people talking past each other, thinking that the other knows what they mean when they are not on the same page at all. It’s as if one group of people suddenly started calling a new kind of dog a “cat;” they are very similar in general — four legs, furry, domesticated — but in the details they are quite different.

As a result of my initial discussion of this issue in March, the folks at Forrester Research decided to change the name of their “Social Marketing Bootcamp” to “Social Computing Bootcamp,” and they no longer use the term “social marketing” to avoid exactly this type of confusion. While I agree that “social marketing” would have been a great term to adopt if it did not already mean something else, it’s about 35 years too late for that.

I hope that, like Forrester, Jupiter will take another look at their erroneous terminology and take another stab at coming up with a term that is clear and accurate. Social network marketing, social media, consumer generated media, digital marketing — whatever they want to call it is fine. It would help potential clients find them instead of the many firms who offer social marketing services (using the real definition). And people won’t assume that Jupiter does health & social change research when they mention their social marketing research services. Do a google search for “social marketing” and you’ll see that for pages and pages of results there is nothing but links for companies and organizations working toward social change.

So if you are a social marketer, please join me in leaving a comment for Emily Riley, the lead analyst on the Social Marketing Service at Jupiter Research to let her know why they should consider changing the name, as well as letting other companies know when they use the term incorrectly.

It’s not just a matter of semantics. It’s about all of us doing the work we do best and making sure that the right people know about it. Everyone wins when clarity reigns.

UPDATE: Rohit, Craig and Carol have all weighed in on this issue as well. No response from Jupiter yet. I agree wholeheartedly with Carol when she says:

It is my hope that no one is made the villan here and that both groups can cooperate to make the differences in the two practices and methodologies clear. I think that this would serve the “greater good”. Additionally, the public discussion in the blogosphere could generate positive attention for both.

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  1. Oh My! Poor JR just cannot make a move these days without sticking their proverbial foot in their mouth. I think it was just 6 weeks ago they were dueling in the blogosphere about methodology on a corporate blogging study they had done. I suppose negative attention is better than no attention… Huh?

    However, this is kinda bad… Thanks for posting this.

  2. Nedra:

    Great post. I also saw your comment over at the CDC blog. I often use the term “healthcare communciations” to include PR and marketing for nonprofits, corporations, hospitals, individuals, government agencies and others. The terms are confusing. I guess we should simply add qualifiers to let people know what we mean eh?

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