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Social Media or Digital Marketing: what is the difference?

In the world of online advertising, there are multiple sites and publishers all vying for your marketing dollars. And knowing exactly where to allocate your money so that it provides maximum impact for each dollar spent can be more art than science, particularly given that the online advertising landscape is ever-changing. But a solid starting point would be to gain an understanding of the broader categories that all the online advertising avenues fit under. Very top-line appraisals of the online advertising landscape will usually settle on two key areas: Social Media, and Digital Marketing more broadly. 


But what is digital marketing, and isn’t social media considered digital marketing? 


Well yes, and no. Social media is a form of digital marketing, but digital marketing isn’t just social media. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. and all the numerous social networks command so much ad spend that they are not just seen as a subset of digital marketing really, but a rival to all other forms of online advertising. So digital marketing, as a term in this context, has really come to mean ‘everywhere else’ that is not social. Although, just to confuse you further, digital marketing as a term in the broader context of all advertising, generally refers to everything that is not traditional media (TV, radio, print). Context is everything people. 

So what are we generally referring to when we say we will run digital marketing activity as opposed to social? Well, it could be display advertising, which circulates in various sizes across one or multiple websites. Just go to your favourite news website to see all the different placements on their homepage. It could be email marketing. Or it could be the biggest of all online advertising…     Search.


What are the pros of running a digital marketing activity?

woman on laptop on Shopify screen


Generally, display advertising can offer amazing collective reach, and in a short time frame, although this reach will be determined by the popularity of the website/s you are running your advertising on. Search activity is multi-faceted, and we would recommend you read our breakout articles in order to get a better understanding of all the different elements of search marketing and how to do it well. But the key ‘pro’ to know for search is that you are reaching customers that are at the bottom of the funnel, in-market, and searching for products or services like yours. Low hanging fruit, so to speak. EDMs, when done well can be quite a personal line into a customer’s consciousness, I mean it’s a personal letter just to them (in a way). 


What are the cons?


Cost is really the predominant difference of running broader digital marketing activity compared to social media campaigns. Booking display activity on a major webpage like for example could set you back tens of thousands of dollars, and for just one day. Paid search can vary in price depending on the keyword category you are playing in also. These channels also aren’t great in targeting specifically in the same way social does. But if you are after a lot of reach and fast then EDM waves, display activity and SEM could be for you. 


So how can we define social media? 

social networks on mobile phone


Well as stated earlier, social media can house digital marketing in the form of sponsored posts and stories. But social media is so much more than just advertising; it is essentially a website or app that provides a social networking landscape for anyone and everyone to meet and follow each other’s published content. As you might know (like a few billion other earthlings do) many people post on and review their unique social media feeds every day, and from a business perspective, having a social media page and a number of engaged followers or fans can be a great way to interact with current and prospective clientele. Much of this interaction and management can be done organically, in the sense that there is no budget attached and therefore isn’t considered digital marketing activity. But more and more, in order to get any sort of cut-through or engagement, any business activity on social media needs to be supported by a budget. 


Why would you spend money on social media advertising? 


Social media marketing has numerous benefits for businesses and artists looking to expand their audiences and grow their activity. Not the least of which being the relatively extraordinary detail in the audience targeting capability you have access to, even with a tiny budget. The best way to grapple with building your own niche audiences is to start playing around with Facebook Business Manager. This platform will enable you to build a trial campaign and really play off your prospective clients interests, socio-economic status, and most importantly the geographic area in which they reside (or have recently visited). 


Why wouldn’t you spend, what are the cons?


There are some reasons to consider other avenues of marketing spend though. For example, social media feeds are considered by many (surveyed individuals) to be the least trusted of all advertising platforms (with generally the most trusted being word-of-mouth recommendations). This can make it difficult to utilise social media to build brand awareness and saliency on, particularly if you have a high-value or high-involvement product to sell. Think about where your ad could be sitting on the news feed, in between a silly meme, and a crazy relatives’ political aspersions perhaps? Depending on your product or service you may want to fully consider the contextual relevance of where your ad is sitting or the relevance of the platform or publisher themselves entirely. 


So where should you spend your money? 


In reality, probably both, but the decision to spend your advertising budget on just one platform or multiple is one that should be influenced by a variety of factors. The first and foremost of your factors should really be understanding your demographic. By knowing who is most likely to be receptive to your product or service, you can then ensure your advertising is on platforms that your particular demographic are usually frequenting. Ultimately, there is no substitute for doing research on your audience and then running trial activity across platforms to build knowledge on platform effectiveness, whether they be social or digital marketing more broadly. 

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