Yesterday morning, I came across an interesting post by marketing expert Heidi Cohen about the differences between social media and content marketing. Cohen has included in her post a handy chart explaining the difference in utility between the two.
Social media marketing and content marketing are two terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually complementary halves of a whole strategy, not the same thing at all. In this post, I’m going to provide basic definitions of social media marketing and content marketing, and then I’ll give you three important reasons why you need both in your online marketing strategy.
What is social media marketing?
When people think of social media, they often think of Facebook and Twitter, and maybe Pinterest by now. These are the biggest social media platforms. However, social media is best defined by its essence, which is: an online medium or collection of media whose primary purpose is to foment and encourage the building of relationships, and which provides the tools necessary to build those relationships. Social media is personal, not institutional. It is, at its heart, small-scale. As I explain in a previous post: social media isn’t really about marketing, but rather about relationship-building.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is basically what it says on the tin: it’s content-based media belonging to your business, from your website to your print materials to your blog. The important thing about content marketing, though, is that it relies on proprietary content. Content marketing isn’t about tweeting a great article from the Wall Street Journal or about linking someone else’s blog post on Facebook: it’s about building your own content base and establishing your expertise – and your brand identity – through fresh, useful, excellent content. I’ve written before about the importance of building a blog as an encyclopedia of collected knowledge; the same principle applies to everything else you release publicly, across print, traditional and online media.
So basically: content marketing is what you’re saying; social media marketing is where and how you say it.
Why do you need both?
Here are three big reasons:
1. Each is much less effective without the other.
You can blog your heart out every single day, but unless you’re actively promoting that blog on social media channels, few people are ever going to read it. Even if you have the best SEO strategy in the world, and you’re #1 in Google search results for all of your most relevant keywords, you’re missing out on a huge amount of potential traffic from focused, interested readers if you don’t engage on social media.
Similarly, social media without proprietary content is, to adapt Macbeth, merely “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” You can tweet interesting articles as much as you want, and you can build relationships with other experts in your field by retweeting their content and engaging in their spaces, but ultimately you need your own content in order to ground your social media strategy in something substantial. At the very least, you need a good website full of useful information; ideally, you’ll have dynamic and fresh content. You want other people to tweet and retweet your work, too.
2. They boost each other’s signals.
Not only are content and social media marketing complementary strategies, but they also significantly reinforce each other. As I mentioned, social media channels are very effective in disseminating proprietary content to appropriate audiences, and the nature of social media is that good content will also be reproduced and shared by others. Think of an echo: a good loud shout will reverberate off the face of a cliff for far longer than the duration of the initial sound. Or, if you’re a theory-head like me, think of it as “The Work of Art in the Age of Social Media Reproduction”.
Similarly, your content should reinforce your social media strategy. Include the Facebook and Twitter logos on all of your print materials, on your billboards, in your commercials. In all of your web content, include the option to share via channels like Digg and Reddit along with Facebook and Twitter, and add an RSS button to your content. Make your content easily shareable and people will be more likely to share it.
3. They are important parts of a more robust marketing program.
Marketing is multifaceted, as any marketer will tell you, and there’s a reason why most large companies have several marketing specialists who all have different foci. Social media and content marketing have grown in importance relative to the whole picture, though, and it’s important to pay attention to these aspects of your program if you want to maximize your market share and reach as many potential customers/clients as possible.
Not every business will be able to engage on every level, of course. There are always decisions to be made. But proprietary content, supported by a good, consistent social media campaign, is essential for any business that wants to maximize its online presence. As more businesses develop a robust and dynamic online presence, those that don’t will be left behind.