“Social Media Marketing” vs. “Content Marketing”: Setting the Record Straight

By Alexis Rodrigo | Social Media

Feb 03

Social media marketing gets all the attention.

People’s ears perk up, their eyes widen, their wallets open when they hear “social media.”

But say “content marketing” and you’ll likely see blank stares and hear crickets.

When I was doing keyword research for a client, I found a startling thing: “content media marketing” does not get nearly as much average monthly searches as “social media marketing.” In fact, it’s 33,100 vs 60,500 last time I checked.

I’m afraid people aren’t getting it.

That social media marketing is only a part of content marketing. And if you don't have a content strategy, you might as well not be doing social media marketing.

And so in this post, I’d like to try to define both and show how they relate to each other.

What Is Content Marketing?

“Content marketing is the use of educational and informational content to attract and build an audience, and move them along the path to become buyers/clients and advocates for a company, brand, product, or service.”

Let’s break this down:

educational and informational content

Content marketing is marketing through education and information. It’s not about dazzling people with sophisticated ads or catchy jingles. It’s about helping people solve problems.

attract and build an audience

In content marketing, you don’t push your content onto your audience. You pull them in towards you with your content. Because of the usefulness of your content, it acts like a magnet attracting your target market. Your content is a welcome visitor, not an annoying intruder, in your target market’s life.

move them along the path to become buyers/clients

The ultimate purpose of content marketing is still to sell. You might do that instantly with a single piece of content. But more often than not, it takes time. Why? Because it takes time for your market to know, like, and trust you — enough to actually pay for your products and services.

Most marketing plans have a clear sales funnel, that looks something like this:

In this sales funnel, your target market moves from being unaware, to becoming a buyer, and ultimately an evangelist for your product or service.

In this sales funnel, your target market moves from being unaware, to becoming a buyer, and ultimately an evangelist for your product or service.

Content marketing addresses the information needs of your market on each stage of the funnel, in a way that moves them further along the funnel. Always be asking yourself: “What does my market need to know at this stage to move on to the next stage?”

advocates for a company, brand, product or service

Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing there is. Research confirms what marketers have known all along: what people say about you is more powerful and credible than what you say about yourself.

So in content marketing, we’re not satisfied when somebody buys our product or pays for our service. We want them to be so happy with our product — enchanted, as Guy Kawasaki would put it — that they become evangelists for our business. They go out and spread the word.

Again, our content can help customers make the most of our product/service so they get the results they were after (and that we promised). Our content can also make it easy for them to help promote our product/service.

Content marketing is not new. Businesses have been using it for ages. White papers, tip sheets, seminars, booklets — any time businesses give away information that’s not primarily about their product then they’re doing content marketing.

Where does social media marketing fit into all this? Read on.

What Is Social Media Marketing?

“Social media marketing is the use of social media or social networking platforms to deliver a marketing message to a specific market.”

Social media marketing is simply marketing in social media. It’s more about the medium — social networks. So if you use social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr etc. to promote your business, then you’re doing social media marketing.

Social media is a marketer’s dream medium: It’s free to use, for the most part. It’s easy to reach highly targeted audiences. Advertising in social media is still a lot cheaper than traditional media.

Social media has leveled the playing field, enabling fledgling businesses to access audiences even with very little investments. No wonder social media has become today’s hot medium for content marketing.

Putting It Together

Social media marketing is one of the channels of content marketing, which in turn, is part of your main marketing strategy (which could include advertising, networking, etc). For some businesses, social media marketing may be enough to bring the number of leads and sales they’re after. But most businesses would have to go beyond social media marketing to continue growing.

In fact, if you do social media marketing but don't build your own content platform, then you might as well stop. You wouldn't be building a sustainable business that way. You would only be getting more traffic for Facebook or Twitter or whatever network you're using.

“Social media is a publicity engine,”says Copyblogger's Brian Clark. It's a distribution channel for your content. It should not be where your entire business is built.

Another crucial element is email marketing, which is the key strategy for nurturing the leads you do capture through social media and the rest of your content marketing work, so they become buyers.

Let me resurrect a framework I created in 2010. It’s still relevant:

The Magnetic New Marketing framework shows the role of social media in content marketing, and of content marketing in your overall marketing plan.

The Magnetic New Marketing framework shows the role of social media in content marketing, and of content marketing in your overall marketing plan.

In this framework, the first step is attracting your target market to your blog or website. The yellow circles around the blog represent the different referrers to your site. These include social media, as well as other marketing channels such as search engines, advertising, public relations, live events, promotional materials, etc.

A very small number of people who land on your site will buy from you the first time they get there. However, almost everybody else will not. Most likely, they will never return.

And so, from your blog or website, you want to get your target market into a mailing list. An email list is the easiest and least expensive way to get started. You keep giving your subscribers useful information in the form of regular emails (more content marketing!) and you also keep giving them the opportunity to become your customer. It's the same approach for direct mail, in which you mail physical letters and other items to people on your list.

From your emails, they move to a sales or landing page (or a similar sales interaction such as getting on the phone with your sales rep or doing a demo of your product), where they finally make the decision to buy your product or service.

As happy customers, they become one of your referrers. They tell their friends, family, and colleagues about your businesses. You get more people into your funnel by word of mouth — nowadays it’s happening more and more in social media — and so the cycle continues.

(I explain this framework in a video here.)

I hope this helps you see the big picture of what social media marketing and content marketing are — how they fit with each other, and how each fits into your overall marketing plan.

Got a question? Post it below. I’ll be happy to respond!

PS: If you find social media marketing too time-consuming, overwhelming, or not worthwhile, you might be interested in a webinar series I'm hosting. Get the details to SMART Social Media Marketing Webinars here.


About the Author

Lexi Rodrigo is a communication and marketing professional for multimillion-dollar businesses, co-author of Blog Post Ideas: 21 Proven Ways to Create Compelling Content and Kiss Writer's Block Goodbye, and host of "Marketing Insights LIVE!." Connect with Lexi on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

  • Ryan Law says:

    Great post, too many people view SMM and content marketing as almost antithetical stategies. In reality, anyone who manages a successful SMM campaign is also managing a successful content marketing campaign – because without content to share and promote through social media, SMM can’t exist! As you explain, they’re all part of the conversion process, and all part of the big picture. Thanks for writing an informative post!

  • A very good article, well written and easy to understand.

    Keep them coming.


    Carolina McLaughlin
    Style Organization

  • Diana Walker says:

    Wow Alexis! I really love this post – you are so clear about Content Marketing and Social Media Marketing and how they fit together. There is a real need for anyone in business to understand these concepts. I liked reading your article, and totally agree, especially about the need to include email marketing in the mix. Thanks! Diana

    • Alexis Rodrigo says:

      @Diana – Thank you! Email marketing is a crucial element that many miss. It pains me to see business owners who think they “own” their Facebook and Twitter followers. They’re making a big mistake and putting their businesses at risk.

  • Steph Riggs says:

    Social media marketing and content marketing both are equally important for the success of your business or get more traffic towards your website. Actually social media is all about contacting with your customers directly and content marketing is the way of answering the questions of your customers in interesting way. I like your comparison between social media and content marketing which clear so many concepts in my mind.

  • Junie Jucar says:

    Hello Lexis

    Your website was recommended to me by kapwa Filipino so I thought let me have a look. Your website is wonderful and the way you choose and use the words are just perfect!

    First, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Junny, nickname as June or Junie and by the way Filipino’s think its a males name… I always have to explain between the difference of Jun and June, if you know what I mean. I am base in London, UK but originally a native of Baguio City.

    I am in a process of building a website and currently in need of a copywriter to tweak something to make it and sound good. I am currently in process of bringing a 100% Filipino product here in the UK and creating a website for the UK and international market. I want the product to go global and have exposure in all corners of the world and I will use website as a marketing tool to reach other areas.

    I am wondering how much are your fees and charges? I am just an ordinary worker here in the UK and have to see If I can actually afford it. I know that I wanted the website to be of high standard but in the other hand I don’t have that huge budget as I am just starting to build it up.

    Is it possible if you can quote me for the job. Please visit https://www.firstvitaplus.net/index2.html and feedback.
    Suggestions are very much welcome and much appreciated.

    I am looking forward to hear from you soon.

    Kind regards


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