Digital Marketing vs Social Media Marketing: The Difference you Need to Know

If you’re like most people, you probably use “digital marketing” and “social media marketing” interchangeably. That’s wrong. Social media marketing is just a small slice of the big digital marketing cake. Read our detailed guide to learn about the two and make your marketing campaigns that much more effective.

Updated: October 27, 2021
Digital Marketing vs Social Media Marketing: The Difference you Need to Know

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When we start to get into the nuances of social media marketing and digital marketing, it’s easy to get bogged down by the details. 

Some might even say, “it’s all marketing, what does it matter?” 

But, as we shall soon see, it is critical for marketers and business executives to differentiate between “digital marketing vs social media marketing”.

In general, digital marketing is an umbrella term for different kinds of online marketing; social media marketing is just one of them. The difference lies in the type of channel used.

Ready to know more? Here’s what will cover in this blog post:

    What is Digital Marketing?

    Digital marketing is the use of digital devices to promote a brand or its products. 

    It includes both online and offline channels such as TV, podcasts, billboards, commercial ads, text messaging, and many more. 

    Online marketing is a big part of digital marketing. When you think about Search Engine Marketing (SEM), content marketing, and email marketing, that is all part of digital marketing as a whole. 

    Digital marketing has been replacing traditional marketing for a while. 

    Magazine ads, direct mail, and printed billboards are giving way to pay-per-click ads (PPC), marketing emails, and electronic billboards.

    Marketing has always been about putting brands and products in front of the most eyes. 

    Digital marketing does that very effectively through the billions upon billions of electronic devices we have today.

    Offline Digital Marketing

    Offline digital marketing is often dismissed as traditional or ineffective. 

    However, some of the biggest brands today, such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, still spend millions on billboard and prime-time TV ads each year, and for a good reason. 

    Offline digital marketing channels can be highly effective when used properly. 

    Examples include:

    • Online radio ads and radio show promotions (radio)
    • LED billboards in high-traffic areas (enhanced offline advertising)
    • Cable TV commercials and streaming services such as Netflix (TV)
    • Phone marketing through cold-calling, texting, and in-app ads (Phone marketing)

    These tactics are often highly effective, but they can be expensive. That is why many startups and small businesses opt for online marketing instead.

    Online Digital Marketing

    Online marketing revolves around any kind of digital marketing that runs off the internet. 

    There are many categories of online marketing, but we will only cover the 6 most important ones.

    • Search Engine Marketing
      The use of paid strategies to increase the visibility of websites and brands online. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one tool used in SEM.

    • Content Marketing
      The use of online content such as blogs and videos to promote a brand or product indirectly. It is a huge part of Inbound Marketing.

    • Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)
      Involves advertising on platforms such as Google and paying each time someone clicks on the ad or makes an impression (e.g., downloads a guide, buys a product, or signs up for a demo).

    • Email Marketing
      The art of sending promotional emails to prospects; it is a big part of Outbound Marketing.

    • Affiliate Marketing
      This is when brands pay third-parties a commission when they sell their products. Influencers, bloggers, and resellers are all big parts of affiliate marketing.

    • Social Media Marketing
      Digital marketing through social channels, as we will see in more detail in the next section. 

    Key Benefits of Digital Marketing

    As a whole, digital marketing gets the attention of more people than any other form. 

    As of 2021, 85% of Americans own a smartphone as well as a range of other online devices. This gives digital marketing some incredible advantages:

    Broad Reach

    Digital marketing has the potential to have a global reach. As marketers, we can use anything from local radio stations to Google Ads to control the size of the audience we want to reach. 

    Cost Effectiveness

    A well-executed digital marketing strategy will cost significantly less than traditional marketing methods. It does this while giving access to a much wider audience.

    Accessibility and Versatility

    More brands can use digital platforms for marketing than with any other traditional channel. 

    Today, tonnes of small businesses built on platforms such as Amazon and Shopify can advertise their niche products and services effectively and efficiently using online channels.

    Quantifiable Conversions

    Digital marketing is highly measurable. 

    Brands can often accurately approximate new numbers of customers gained by monitoring various marketing campaigns and metrics such as email open rates, home page visits, and direct purchases. 

    Targeting and Personalization

    Modern technology makes it very easy to personalize marketing campaigns based on the target audience. 

    By using customer data, it is possible to create highly specific marketing content based on customer profiles. 

    What is Social Media Marketing?

    As part of online digital marketing, social media marketing relies on the use of social channels and forums to reach prospects. 

    Some of the biggest social media platforms used include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, and Pinterest.

    Online forums such as Reddit and Quora are also fertile grounds for social media marketing. 

    Known as SMM in short, social media marketing is all about publishing highly engaging, usually short-form content to attract new customers. 

    However, SMM isn’t all about selling. Brands also use online communities to monitor customer sentiment, analyze brand awareness, and keep track of market trends. 

    These tactics have come to be collectively known as social media management. 

    What is the Goal of Social Media Marketing? 

    Social media marketing is a large and complex field. 

    It is also constantly evolving as platforms change and brands discover new ways to market to their customers. However, there are some primary goals that brands like to achieve through SMM:

    • Advertising
      One of the key uses of social media is pushing products and services through paid ads; this is how social media companies make their money.

    • Content promotion
      SMM is often used to push site and blog content. This drives site visits and creates a loyal brand following, a great way to build brand authority and visibility.

    • Tracking competition
      Social media platforms are information goldmines. They are perfect for finding insights about competitors’ marketing strategies, targeted markets, and even keyword research.

    • Build brand image
      Social media channels allow customers to engage with the brand on a more personal level. This is possible by building and maintaining a consistent brand voice, e.g., friendly, helpful, trustworthy, or professional.

    • Tracking marketing sentiment
      SMM is incredibly powerful. It can be used to track comments, shares, mentions, and tone of social posts to gauge how the brand is perceived by customers.

    • Data collection
      Brands gain significant insights into the minds and lives of their key customers through social media. This, in turn, helps them tune their products, services, and marketing efforts to better serve the same customers. 

    Essential Pillars of Social Media Marketing

    With such a versatile tool as SMM, it is important to have solid principles that can help guide how we use social media for marketing. 

    We would suggest the following:

    Have a solid strategy

    A detailed social media strategy is paramount to success. 

    Each social platform in use needs guidelines on what business goals to aim for, type of content to publish, and the type of brand persona to use. 

    Be consistent with publishing

    Consistency is key when it comes to social media engagement. 

    Daily, weekly, or even monthly publishing calendars are necessary, often with the help of automation tools.

    Engagement monitoring

    A variety of hi-tech software tools are necessary to keep track of how a brand is performing on social media. 

    We need these tools to tell us what customers are saying about us so that we can manage and stay ahead of market sentiment and trends.

    Use of analytics

    Social media platforms provide a depth of analytic tools. 

    We take the information provided seriously to help measure and quantify brand awareness, the success of social media campaigns, and more. 

    Commercial ads

    Paid social media ads can be a very successful investment when done properly. 

    However, we have to invest in high-quality campaigns with highly personalized ads to ensure a good return on investment.

    Digital vs Social Media Marketing: Top Differences

    If digital marketing were a cake, social media marketing would be a big slice full of icing and cherries. 

    Digital marketingSocial media marketing
    Marketing done on all kinds of digital platforms, both online and offline.A form of online digital marketing that uses social networking platforms, channels, and forums.
    Usually aims to reach the audience at different touchpoints and raise awareness.Used to reach a wide audience on social channels and engage them with the brand.
    Only requires investing in powerful ads in prime spots such as billboards or TV ads.Relies heavily on content strategy for success.
    A umbrella term for all modern, electronic-based advertising.Specific to marketing based on social engagement channels.
    Mostly used to drive sales.Can be used for all kinds of business goals such as brand awareness, competitor research, and more. 

    These differences reveal that social media marketing and digital marketing are very different, and yet essentially the same. 

    We have all dabbled in some kind of digital marketing, and perhaps some social media marketing as well. 

    The question is, does any of the two deserve more attention?

    Digital Marketing vs Social Media Marketing: Which is Better?

    Knowing what we know, it is clear that we can no longer think of digital marketing and social media marketing as rivals. 

    Instead, they are contemporaries that both require attention. 

    For the best results, we also use content marketing, email marketing, PPC, and other forms of digital marketing as part of our online marketing campaigns. 

    These often work together to give a more effective synergy when it comes to customer-brand interactions.

    That being said, social media marketing is a highly specialized marketing and requires a lot more attention. 

    Because of this, a good social media strategy is fundamental to success.

    For more information, we have a detailed post about social media strategy for better engagement!


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