The explosion of social media use is hard to miss – everyone’s tweeting, Digging, Stumbling Upon, and becoming a Facebook “fan” of everything from Britney Spears to sleeping. Personal and professional are also merging, as your Facebook status updates automatically appear in your Twitter stream, you’ve discovered what type of actor, color and cheese all your friends and clients are and how to easily spend 2.5 hours a day watching YouTube just to teach your daughter the Hoedown Throwdown.
Within this new world, we see communications professionals staking their claims as experts in social media. For any communicator, new forms of engaging your audience and, well, communicating, reveal a new realm of possibilities.
Every day millions of people join the conversation. From my professional perspective, this equates to endless opportunities for my clients to effectively engage their target publics. And that’s the point, isn’t it? We help clients grow their businesses by providing those audience-specific connections.
Yet something is nagging at me, and I just can’t let it go. As I wade through hundreds of blogs, wikis and tweets a day, I find the term social marketing being used more and more to refer to social media marketing or even social media optimization (SMO). I know what you’re thinking – “You have time to worry about that?!?” Let me explain. Cookerly has created and successfully executed social marketing programs for many years prior to the explosion of social media – and social media marketing – so I feel compelled to jump on my soapbox and clarify the difference.
Social marketing is a well-defined and longstanding practice area within communications. It is most widely credited to Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman, who published “Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change” in the Journal of Marketing in 1971 – long before the first blog or Facebook page was published.
In its simplest terms, social marketing is using established marketing practices to change behavior for the social good. The most well-known include anti-smoking campaigns and HIV testing awareness. Close to home is The Clean Air Campaign’s 10+ year battle to encourage people to adopt cleaner commuting habits that will result in cleaner air. Our success in metro Atlanta has translated to similar campaigns in Las Vegas, Charlotte and Birmingham.
On the other hand, social media marketing involves the use of social media to create brand evangelism, engage with customers or even to drive sales. We use social media as an integral part of our social marketing campaigns with great success. Because social marketing campaigns focus on issues about which people feel passionately, or that affect them personally, social media and social networking tools are really no-brainers. We get to interact with our audience directly, which is key to changing behavior, and the viral nature of online communications allows advocates to provide a personal endorsement to their connections.
I know many of my marketing colleagues may be okay with the “evolution” of the term social marketing, but I guess I’m a purist. I’d like to see social marketing stay defined as it has been for almost 40 years. And, the next time I see it used incorrectly on a blog or in a tweet, maybe I’ll start my own personal social marketing campaign to save the definition…using social media marketing to spread the word, of course.