I stumbled upon an interesting post today that got me thinking. The post is titled “The Difference Between Social Marketing and Social Media Marketing,” and it can be found on the blog of Mike Kujawski. It’s not a new post, but it raises one of my favorite topics: nomenclature. I found it via a tweet by the author today saying, “Wishing people would stop confusing Social Marketing with Social Media Marketing once and for all…”

Back in June, Brennan White wrote a nomenclature post about the definition of viral marketing and described our viewpoint on the meaning of “viral” in viral marketing. Brennan notes, “To me, ‘viral’ denotes the specific distribution strategy of a piece of online media.”

Kujawski addresses a similar nomenclature issue. Rather than defining “social,” however, he clarifies the differences between “social marketing” and “social media marketing.” Let’s look at his definitions.

For his definition of social marketing, Kujawski uses a quote:

Social marketing is a process that applies marketing principles and techniques to create, communicate, and deliver value in order to influence audience behaviors that benefit society (public health, safety the environment and communities) as well as the target audience.” – Philip Kotler, Nancy Lee and Michael Rothschild (2006)

The Wikipedia entry for Social Marketing confirms this view:

The primary aim of ‘social marketing’ is ‘social good’, while in ‘commercial marketing’ the aim is primarily ‘financial’. This does not mean that commercial marketers can not contribute to achievement of social good.

Kujawski goes on to define social media marketing, but the definition of that term is not the issue here. My primary issue here is the changing use of the term “social marketing.” Kujawski no doubt wrote his post to clear up what he saw as a misuse of the term social marketing. But, I’m not so sure it social marketing means what it used to.

In my experience (and I would love for someone to show me a contrary example) types of marketing are named for methodology and medium, not for their goal. “Direct marketing” is marketing directly to individuals. “Email marketing” is marketing using email for distribution. “Television advertising” is advertising using television for distribution. Each of these examples shows the adjective preceding “marketing” to refer to the method or means.

This, then, leads me to wonder why the term “social marketing” was ever used to refer to marketing for the purpose of social good. It is in contrast to the overarching (though unofficial) naming conventions of marketing types. By this convention, “guerilla marketing” would be marketing to or for the benefit of small groups of combatants who like to ambush a lot.

Linguistically speaking (and I dredge up my college days here, so cut me some slack) humans like to keep to set language patterns, even if unconsciously. Just think of the linguistic convention of putting “e” in front of things. It is not an official rule, but we all know that, much like e-mail, putting “e” in front of something means it takes place on the internet. If someone told you that eMarketing was something other than online marketing, you would likely be a little confused.

It is for this reason, our collective tendency to adhere to linguistic patterns, that I think the term “social marketing” is quickly moving away from the dogmatic definition prescribed in Wikipedia. An increasing number of people are beginning to use the term to mean marketing using social methods. “Social methods” casts a wide net and could encompass everything from street teams to viral marketing…anything where interaction, conversation, and other social elements are at work. It is easy to see how this marketing ideology differs from billboards which shout messages and commercials which are 30-60 second monologues whether you want to see them or not.

Personally, I prefer using the term “social marketing” to encompass various forms of new, conversation-based marketing. It makes sense…it fits the naming pattern that I am used to. I do not deny that the term has been used differently in the past, but I think the times are ‘a changin’ and people who blindly cling to their old definitions will quickly find themselves scrambling to redefine.

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.