let’s stop calling all of it social media

There are three quite different areas that fall into what we once knew as “social media”: content marketing, social advertising (paid social display) and community engagement.

Let me break these down for you…and hopefully add a little clarity to the mysterious world of “social media” for businesses as it sits in 2015.

content marketing

The strategy and execution of the story that the brand puts out there in the publicly consumable feeds on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, etc, as well as native content advertising and storytelling (which can also include influencer content).  More times than not this content (FB, Twitter, Native) must be paid in order to hit reach levels to merit the effort of creating the content and grow awareness which in turn can provide more opportunities for increased engagement with your brand. Oftentimes “Content Marketing” is its own team or department within an organization.

Content marketing is setting the foundation for the emotional side of the brand story – pulling the audience in on a deeper, more meaningful level, connecting with what the brand is all about and putting it top of mind down the line for the consumer. The purpose here is not to directly lead to a transaction. This is the top of the funnel but is so extremely important today with constant noise across the digital landscape. Your brand has to mean something to people, and you can aid in that quest through quality storytelling…and not just storytelling about the brand itself, but about what it stands for, or what the meaning behind the brand means to real people. (Note: I am only talking about content marketing on external sites for this purpose, I am not talking about owned blogs or owned content on your brand’s website….this is about social networks, native content publishers, etc)

social advertising / paid social display

Essentially “social media display advertising” – this is NOT the emotional brand story in news feeds or content that is publicly available to the audience or communities within a “social” network or better-known content publisher (native); no, these are avenues such as Facebook side-bar ads in mass quantity, or Twitter web card ads, typically with multiple variations based on demographics, interest targeting, locations, things like Facebook Offers, Foursquare location-based ads, re-targeting social ads, and many more that don’t hit on the emotional side of the brand – all with the purpose of driving web traffic back to the website with a specific goal of  sales, which is something content marketing does not strive to directly create.

Basically, this really is display advertising that happens to live on a social media platform because of the large opportunity to reach highly-targeted audiences. Oftentimes this part of “social media” is actually managed by a digital marketing and/or display & re-targeting team and not the actual social media team.

Paid social in this sense is more-so about transactions, lower on the funnel. Agencies will often talk about Facebook Display for example, and call it “paid social.” This is what they’re talking about. It’s a mixed bag and can always have some cross-over on platforms like Pinterest and Polyvore, for example, but it’s more times than not a different discipline with separate goals, not to be confused with paying to promote everyday social content.

community engagement

The only remaining part of “social media” that is actually still truly social, community engagement management is literally interacting with humans from the brand, and in turn humanizing the brand. This is the real-time conversation with people and consumers, (hopefully) quick customer service assistance via social channels, relationship building, complimenting a great photo, talking to customers as if you were right there with them sitting on the couch. It often gets lost and/or disregarded by brands as we get further in to 2015. But, it’s still very important. Content marketing pulls people in, but community engagement is what might keep them there, and turn them in to a loyal customer down the road. If your brand fails here, a competing brand won’t, and you’ll miss opportunities with real potential customers.

This is the first line of defense (and offense) and is frequently what consumers remember most – conversing with the brand, a great (or poor) customer service experience via social, getting their photo shared by the brand, etc. You could make the argument this is the most important part of a brand on social media as it relates to impacting the business by way of actual existing consumers.


These three big buckets often get tossed together under one person or team and called “social media management.” They should all work together on some level, of course, but we should start calling it what it is, and it might not be the same person. The content marketing experts very well might not be keen on best practices for Facebook display advertising for sales goals. And community management needs to be completely intertwined with the brand’s customer service team to really win there. It can all fall under the same umbrella, but if trying to focus on strengths, there’s a good chance the same person doesn’t dominate in creative content storytelling, display advertising, and customer service and community conversation.

Only 1 of these 3 is actually inherently “social.” And all of these three could be argued as being very different approaches to execution, with different views of what success looks like. They play together, yes, and should have strategic oversight by a common leader and should be collaborative with one another, but the days of just assuming it’s all “social media” are dying quickly, and these should be treated as separate strategies within a larger digital and brand marketing framework.

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