Over the past two months Pandemic Labs co-founders, Matthew Peters and Brennan White, have been privileged to be interviewed for a number of stories on viral and social media marketing. In the process we noticed an interesting pattern: the first question in every interview was always the same! In five interviews with journalists from publications ranging from niche trade magazines, to business school reviews, to national newspapers everyone seemed to have the same question on their minds. Of course the questions were phrased differently each time, but it went something like this:


So I’ve been conducting a lot of initial research on my own and I have to say it seems like there are a lot of names floating around out there. Originally I knew the term viral marketing, but now I see there’s word of mouth, buzz, and social media, and social network…honestly, I’ve got to say, I’m a little confused. What are all these terms? Are they all different? What’s the difference? Why…..etc…….”

This was the first question from five separate journalists! That’s either an extraordinary coincidence or it’s representative of a key point of confusion in the industry. Notice that it is not simply that each journalist asked for clarification at some point in the interview, rather it was the first thing they wanted to talk about. This pattern led us to search the internet as the journalists might have. What sources are out there defining and comparing the various genres and sub-genres of marketing taking place in the Wild West of online marketing? The answer: not many. Wikipedia is showing a solid effort at defining various forms of marketing, but the interconnectivity and overlap of many forms is not adequately defined. In our opinion, there are too many terms trying to reference the same thing. Let’s look at a list of types of web-based marketing terms that are floating around the net:

  • viral marketing
  • social marketing
  • social media marketing
  • social network marketing
  • blog marketing
  • content marketing
  • word of mouth marketing
  • buzz marketing
  • guerrilla marketing (sometimes used to describe more clandestine attempts at controlling buzz)

Those nine terms are just what we could come up with off the top of our heads! Each term is trying to be slightly more descriptive than others about its particular method. But we’re splitting hairs here. Most of the time these terms are used synonymously. This not only creates confusion within the industry, but also confuses potential clients (and journalists apparently).

Now, we are not so arrogant as to think we can present a solution here and watch as it is universally adopted as standard nomenclature. As is the case with language, standardization happens as a matter of course rather than a matter of will. However, for our own sanity and for the sake of those who might be confused about the terms, we are going to present two representations that we feel accurately describe the way these terms are really being used.


WOM umbrella


This is one way to look at things (and probably a way that WOMMA would like!) At their core, all of the marketing types we are discussing are based on the age-old idea of word of mouth. The difference is that now with the internet, everyone has a greater ability to spread a message and certain people—in the form of blogs, videos, etc—have “mega-mouths.” They can “talk” once and thousands of people will “hear.” The depiction above shows that each type of marketing simply uses a slightly different tool set to achieve word of mouth spread.

Now we would like to present you with another way to look at things. It is not completely different, but it more accurately depicts our viewpoint and the way we have found success in describing new marketing possibilities to clients.


We see these forms of marketing not as overlapping genres competing against each other but as tools in the Social Media Marketing toolbox. Social media encompasses all forms of web-based media where the community can organize and contribute. Media sharing sites, forums, social networks, online games, blogs and virtual worlds are all forms of social media. The specifics of how to use each type of social media for marketing purposes may differ, but they are still part of the social media toolbox. Content marketing is not different from social media marketing; it is a type of social media marketing. Using forums to generate word of mouth interest in a product is not its own separate industry but a social media tool.

Again, we stress that this is merely our view of the ever-changing internet marketing landscape. We are interested in other peoples’ views on the subject. We are calling on our readers and other bloggers to help pin down the relationship between all these wandering terms. As we said above, there is no right answer yet, merely room to help distill and define terminology and relationships for easier consumption. We would feel privileged if others would join the discussion.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.