What really IS the difference between marketing and social media? Aren’t the really one in the same?

In short: no.

While I often call on my many years in marketing while consulting about social media, they really are  different animals. When discussing social media campaigns, over and again, I find myself stressing the same words: transparency. Engagement. Relationships. Sometimes, eyes glaze and heads nod, but I know I need to dig deeper and explain the differences between the traditional forms of marketing and PR and social media. I’ve spent many years in traditional marketing and one of the reasons I believe so strongly in social media is BECAUSE of these differences.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t advocate “doing” away with traditional marketing and PR firms. On the contrary,  I firmly believe that marketing, PR and social media should work together on any and all initiatives and campaigns. None of these departments should be ignored in their respective viewpoints. Indeed, they can enhance one another’s objectives when working together.

At the risk of over simplifying. Let me explain.

At its most basic essence, marketing is about creating an image and PR is about creating and controlling messages.  Social media is about crafting relationships.

In social media, regardless of the tools you’ll use, you’ll find building an audience is about inspiring action. Few people take action on a product or a brand they can’t believe in. To have a voice that people can reach out to in the medium/tool of their choice is a powerful relationship builder. That’s social media. More importantly though, what’s more important to you – to be heard or to speak? How do you think your customer feels?  Further, people like to feel connected to the brands they support. When they feel like the brand is their “friend” then it makes them feel as though they have a voice. Giving the customer a voice and LISTENING to them is the first step in crafting a relationship that creates action.   This is engagement at its simplest and yet, most significant.

Marketing is about putting your best foot forward. In PR its about putting it in context. Social Media is about putting it all out there.

Social Media is a new form of communication. Mistakes happen, and when they do, their instant and virtually irretrievable. But guess what? That makes your company, product or brand human. Humans like dealing with humans. We are at once more isolated behind our computers and yet inundated with more and more messages. Ask yourself, whose email do you read first, the one from a close friend or the email newsletter you signed up for. Do you read “messages” first or notes from friends? Social media works the same way – and we are better able to choose which messages we hear, see and respond to. If there is a human behind the brand, it garners an entirely new level of respect and response. This is transparency, indeed, humanity at its best.

Marketing is promoting a message. PR is about controlling the discourse. Social media is about two way communication.

While I believe that content is important in social media, what’s more important are discussions. The opportunity to directly communicate with someone you perceive to care about the experience and perception of a brand. Its almost like customer service, only better – because the conversation is between two people who care enough to give and take. The customer is no longer an account number, they are a human. Very meaningful. Two way communication is the foundation of relationships.

Marketing leaves you cynical. PR leaves you asking more questions. Social media leaves you with friends.

After years in marketing, I can barely watch a commercial, read an ad or visit a website without some cynicism.  I sometime wonder, “did the person who crafted this image or message ever even USE the service their promoting?” So often the customer experience is radically different that then the pitch, the image, the ideal.  As important, particularly if you are a small business, its an opportunity to get a real opinion direct from the customer. Suddenly, the customer and the brand/company are friends. The brand/company begins to empathize with the customer experience in an entirely new way and the customer begins to empathize with the brand/company differently too. As a customer, when the brand is your friend, its a lot easier to proactively promote and support.

This is the revolution of social media. Strangely, through technology, people are becoming people again. “Power to the people”, is really more about power to the individual. Companies can either listen or ignore, but in the long run, those who listen, engage, build will find themselves ahead of the pack.