Social Marketing vs. "Social Marketing" Smackdown

At the suggestion of Carol Kirshner of the blog Driving in Traffic, I have created a chart to help elucidate the differences between authentic social marketing and the new use of the term to mean “social media marketing.” As organizations like Jupiter Research continue to knowingly or unknowingly use the term incorrectly (see backstory here), confusion will reign as people try to figure out what each other is talking about. This chart, which I hope will be a collaborative work-in-progress, can serve as a touchstone for continuing the conversation among marketers of all kinds.

Social Marketing vs. “Social Marketing”
Social Marketing “Social Marketing”
AKA Social Marketing Social Media Marketing
Usage Started 1971 Approx. 2005
Definition The use of marketing techniques to promote the adoption of healthy or pro-social behaviors Marketing via online tools and platforms that people use to share information with each other, such as blogs, social networking sites, wikis, podcasts and shared media sites
Purpose Changing individual behaviors to improve their own health or well-being, or to help society for the greater good Involving consumers in marketing efforts designed to generate positive word of mouth or personal investment in the brand
Who Uses It Nonprofit organizations, government agencies, other organizations working toward health or social change Companies or other organizations that want to add an online peer-to-peer or participative component to their marketing
Who “Profits” Individuals or society The organization doing the marketing
Target Audiences Individuals at risk for a particular health or social problem, those who are likely to adopt positive behaviors to help society Tech-savvy consumers who are already using social media tools, whether as a creator or consumer of content
Related Fields/Terms Nonprofit marketing, cause marketing, health marketing Social media optimization, social network marketing, word of mouth marketing, viral or buzz marketing, citizen marketing, community marketing
Examples Verb Campaign, truth Campaign Snakes on a Plane, Chevy Tahoe
For More Info Wikipedia, Squidoo, Social Marketing Wiki Wikipedia, SEOMoz blog, Marketing with Social Media

Whether you are a social marketer or a social media marketer, I invite you to add your comments and modifications to this chart to make it helpful to everyone in the marketing field. I will post updates as the chart evolves by blogsourcing a la David Armano.

UPDATE (9/6/06): I added the year the usage of each term first appeared. Kotler and Zaltman coined the phrase in an article in 1971. I don’t have a historical source for the “other” social marketing appearing in 2005, but that’s when I remember first seeing it.

UPDATE (2/21/07): Added “community marketing” to the “related fields” list.

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  1. How does “Social Marketing” differ from “Development Communications” or “Development Journalism”? I don’t know that generating an opinion poll moves the issue forward as much as a dialog that helps folks be aware of the discourse of “social marketing” and its historical relationships to social development. It’s clear to me that the question posed here presumes an awful lot about the practice and field. You raise a debate that presumes away the controversy. What literatue and authors form the bibliography of your version of “Social Marketing?” I’ve found Simpson’s “Science of Coercion” to be the first book in which I found the term ” development communications.” Daniel Lerner’s, “Passing of Traditional Society…” is another work that I’d put in my bibliograhy. I think our sharing of literature and readings will go a long way toward distinquishing and defining the schools of thought that define our common interests. Are we at the point where it’s time to establish a culture of Social Marketing; Development Communications, etc.?

  2. i love this post but please try to reconsider “chevy tahoe” or “snake on a plane”as example of social media marketing.

  3. Anonymous –
    The debate over how exactly we define social marketing occurs periodically in the academic literature (e.g., “Social Marketing Quarterly”), on the social marketing listserve, at conferences, etc. My intention here is not to restart that debate within the social marketing field, but to highlight the differences between this general use of the term and the other emerging use. We certainly won’t resolve the internal debate within this chart, but it’s a place to start for dialogue with the other newer field of social media marketing.

    Fluido –
    Please give me some better examples then! My intention in making this collaborative is to include input from both sides, and my expertise is not in the social media marketing area. I’m hoping that those who know that field better than I do will help to improve that side of the chart.

  4. This is all a bit too academic for me and think we are in danger of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of pin!
    In the more visceral world of business, however, I 100 per cent agreed with your definition “social media marketing” – the area in which I win.
    It’s all about managing our client’s reputation in a world that has become astonishingly more transparent through new technologies.

  5. Ian-
    I don’t think this is merely academic at all or I wouldn’t be putting so much energy into clarifying these distinctions. This has huge practical implications for people in both fields and their customers. Imagine if cosmetic plastic surgeons started calling themselves “ear, nose and throat doctors” because, after all, they do work with those parts of the body too. Both are doctors, but I sure wouldn’t want to accidentally go to someone who does nose jobs and tummy tucks when I need a tonsillectomy.

  6. Nedra

    It strikes me that the difference between the two terms is largely in their application rather than in the common body of thinking, techniques & tools that underpin them both.

    Both seem to be based upon a common foundation of people as social animals.

    As you recognise in your Social Marketing University description, social marketers do have a lot to learn from corporates like Nike & Apple. Perhaps it would be wiser to embrace the best of what corporate social marketers have to offer to strengthen your own version of social marketing.

    It might be more effective than just tilting at the new social marketing windmill.

    Graham Hill

  7. Nedra,

    Please can you add niche or community marketing into your terms.

    The likelyhood of another myspace with it’s 150 million users seems small, but the likelyhood of 150 million niche social networking sites isn’t. e.g. the new NASCAR fan one; – catering specifically to a niche group.

    Maz Nadjm

  8. Thanks Maz. I added “community marketing” to the list. I think any kind of marketing can be applied to a particular niche, so I wouldn’t consider that to be a field in and of itself.

  9. Graham Hill — way wrong. The first box accurate defines the diffence. Social Marketing is part of nonprofit or not for profit marketing. There are books by Fine, Kotler, Porter, Lauffer, and others about social marketing, nonprofit or not-for-profit marketing from the 1980s and 1990s that make very clear the difference between social marketing and in effect, customer relationship building using electronic marketing, the kind of stuff Howard Rheingold wrote about in the early 1990s with the rise of the graphical, and now definitely multimedia-based Internet.

  10. You’re right to raise the point. I run an agency that specializes solely in social media marketing. People who attempt to use the term “social marketing” seem to me to be largely ignorant of the fact that “social marketing” is a well established term of art in public health and related fields.

    As such, those of us new to social media marketing (and we’re all new to it, as the industry itself is still nascent), just need to know that we can’t use a term that means something else.

    We’re trying to spread that word, too. See Social Media Does Not Equal Social Marketing

    I don’t know that there’s much to debate. We just need to keep talking about it until the rest of my friends in SMM finally notice.

  11. I am responding because Alan Andreasen has recently (12/13/07) re-raised the potential confusion or conflict between the terms. On the same discussion group, Stephen Dann added so good advice, namely educate the social media marketing crowd about the field of social marketing.
    Nedra did great job in distinguishing between the two terms. However, things have changed since September of 2006.
    Social marketers could argue that social marketing is a form of marketing and social media marketing is the use of online tools (Nedra’s definitions in the first box). The problem with this is that marketing using social media has been evolving and there are good examples of where it fits Nedra’s definition of social marketing. Take as an example. Yet, this was initiated by a commercial enterprise not a non-profit or government agency. Nor is it only the company that profits.
    The lines are blurring. Social marketers are in a position to help the social media marketing crowd learn concepts, principles and methodologies that fit our social nature. On the other hand, social media marketing people are rapidly learning to harness an extremely power channel for “social marketing.”
    While the practitioners of social marketing might want to keep the focus on social change, the cat is out of the bag and savvy social media marketers will learn to use the theory of social marketing for building mutually beneficial relationships with their customers.
    John I. Todor, Ph.D

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