How Social Media Marketing and Traditional Marketing are Different

roi of social media

This is the 3rd in a series explaining how social media marketing and traditional marketing differ. Last week, I posted my side-by-side comparison of the 16 differences between social media marketing and traditional marketing. Today, I’d like to share another infographic (because y’all know I LOVE infographics) with a slightly different take on the differences between social media marketing and traditional marketing. Thanks to for creating this. So, here goes!

time on social media
Image courtesy of Oberlo

So, why focus on social media? Well, a quick glance at the graphic above shows that users spend more time viewing social media every year, even though it seems like social media use reached a plateau in 2019. Social media platforms like Facebook continue innovating to drive more viewership, offering a new platform for those too young for traditional Facebook profiles, but further significant increases don’t seem likely, as we already spend so much time on social media.

Inbound (social media marketing) vs outbound marketing (traditional marketing)

Social media marketing is also called inbound marketing because the notion is to attract social network users to your website by providing value — entertainment, information, special offers, etc. If you read contemporary experts, social media marketing is now broadened to include other digital tactics under the name digital marketing. Examples of digital marketing include blogs (which many overlook as part of a social media marketing strategy), search engine optimization (SEO), and social networks (including advertising and influencer marketing), even though most people still think of social media as being JUST social network marketing. I’d also include email marketing here, as I prefer to think of this tactic as digital marketing.

Traditional media includes broadcast media, such as TV and radio, print advertising, like magazines and newspapers, and direct marketing, including mass mailing. The reason I separate out email marketing (putting it with social media marketing) and direct marketing (including it in traditional marketing) is that email marketing is permission-based — folks requested more information — while direct marketing is not. Email marketing, due to the requirement that subscribers actively engage with the brand, requires efforts on social media to acquire subscribers.

Pros and cons of social media marketing

The next area on the infographic is a side-by-side comparison between social media marketing and traditional marketing. The graphic includes a subset of my 16 differences between social and traditional marketing (the list is now more than 16 differences as I updated the list a few times since the original publication), so I encourage you to read my earlier post to get a more comprehensive list of the ways social media marketing and traditional marketing differ.

CPM for social media marketing

Perhaps the most important aspect of this infographic is the cost comparison between the two types of marketing expressed in CPM (or cost per thousand reached, which is the standard metric for advertising effectiveness). In addition, recent data shows the CPM of social media marketing and traditional marketing demonstrating this gap is growing over time, not declining.

cost per impression

As you can easily see, the CPM for social media is the lowest, and the better you are at engaging your network, the lower your CPM. Unfortunately, at the time the original infographic was constructed, organic reach (unpaid) on social media was substantial. Today, the organic reach of social media is declining rapidly. Instead, marketers must now budget for advertising on social platforms (which is why it’s important to view the more recent data shown above), so, don’t go into social media thinking there are no costs. Plus, you must add the cost of tools, like marketing automation, hiring employees training in social media marketing or an agency, and creation of content, especially video content.

There’s also a steep learning curve to doing GOOD social media marketing. So, plan to spend some time and money learning the ropes — it’s not quite as easy as just turning your social media campaigns over to your college intern since he/she uses social networks as an individual. Since social media marketing changes pretty rapidly, you should also plan to dedicate some resources to keeping abreast of changes. Or, hire a seasoned professional to manage the process for you. Here are some of the skills you should consider before hiring an employee or judging the ability of the agency you hire to manage your digital marketing program. These skills highlight why you can’t just hire any Millennial to manage your online marketing, since they’re digital natives. You just can’t fake some of these skills or acquire them by using social media for yourself.

digital marketing skills

The power of word of mouth

The aspect of social media marketing that makes it so powerful is that consumers BELIEVE what other consumers say and consider advertising by the brand as biased, false, or exaggerated. That’s because they assume social media users have no reason to support products they don’t believe in (although this might change over time as more firms hijack consumers with juicy offers if they say nice things about the firm or hire influencers to tout the brand). They also figure folks in their social network are similar in terms of shared values, attitudes, and lifestyles, so if their friends like something, they figure they will, too.

But, as the infographic below shows, consumers even believe strangers posting on review sites more than they believe anything coming from the company. The trick is motivating positive word of mouth, which relies on traditional marketing concepts of producing quality products and services that fix REAL customer problems and providing great customer experiences. Marry this aspect of traditional marketing with social media marketing and you’ll hit one out of the ballpark every time.

digital influence on purchase decisions
Image courtesy of Digital Marketing Community


Influence in social media marketing and traditional marketing

Influence is the grease that makes your marketing work whether you’re discussing social media marketing or traditional marketing. The concept of using weapons of influence to market your brand is something that predates the digital era, tracing back to a book of the same name published by Cialdini (an academic). He posits in the book that influence motivates your network to share your message, motivates folks to buy your products, and even impacts how people FEEL about your product.

In traditional advertising, companies employed one or more of these weapons to motivate consumers to buy their brands or engage in other behaviors that benefit them. But, influence grew in importance in the digital age, since consumers have much more control. Consumers can:

  • Control the brand message in a way that wasn’t possible without digital tools like social media where a single Tweet, shared multiple times, can sink or spell success for a brand. Before digital access, it was harder for consumer voices to spread like they can now. Even traditional programming often features Tweets, TikTok videos, or other content from social media platforms as part of their news or entertainment offerings.
  • Ignore your ads. Gone are the days of inflicting your commercials on consumers in exchange for the content they desire. Today, a number of options exist for removing ads from your viewing, starting with relatively low-tech options such as Tivo to streaming channels with no ads. Even your smartphone is adept at removing ads today and your email program sequesters ads behind a tab that most folks never look at. Even social media platforms allow users to control the ads they see so they can easily ignore yours.

the art of influenceWeapons of influence

Since Cialdini created this concept with the notion of how influence works in an organization versus in a consumer group, not all the tools of influence work equally well in social media. But, for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll cover all 6 weapons.

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is tit-for-tat; you do something for me and I’ll do something for you.

2. Consistency

In the workplace, consistency refers to making decisions in a consistent way so your staff can predict your decisions, which makes them more comfortable and satisfied. They know exactly what you want.

In social media, consistency often refers to publishing content on a consistent basis so followers know what to expect. For instance, if you post a new YouTube video every Tues at noon, followers know when to expect fresh content. Moz, an SEO expert, publishes Whiteboard Friday, which delves deeply into some topic that might interest readers every Friday. Posting content on a consistent basis to all your social media platforms, including your blog, shows respect for your followers and creates higher engagement rates, as well as helping your SEO rank so you’re more easily found online.

Consistency also refers to a consistent voice.

3. Social Proof

Social proof is the reason why reviews are so impactful with consumers. Companies like Amazon work very hard to provide reliable reviews to consumers by asking buyers to review the products they buy and filtering out reviews from biased parties, such as friends and family. Verified reviews come from users who actually purchased the product.

More subtle forms of social proof exist on social media. For instance, when several users say the same thing, it creates a patina of truth, which is unfortunate for disinformation. A brand with a larger following or more engagement also makes other users feel like the brand is respected. Posts with more engagement also transmit to other users at a higher frequency since the platform owner finds the post more valuable.

4. Liking

Now, we’re getting to the heart of what makes social media work. When you like someone, you want to be like them; you want to make them happy; you acquiesce to their requests. When you “Like” a brand, you’re more likely to buy the brand. There’s also an element of consistency in here because “Likes” are public – in fact, go to many successful web pages and you’ll see pictures of your Facebook friends who’ve liked the brand. Being consistent means you’ll follow up that like by buying the brand, especially if the brand is something others see you use.

Your goal, as a social media manager or other public face of the firm on social media, is to be likable. How do you do that? The same way you become likable in the real world – be a good friend, provide assistance and support to your network, be real, own your mistakes, recognize the accomplishments of others, etc.

weapons of influence
Image courtesy of Influence at Work

 5. Authority

It’s good to be the King – or anyone else who’s in charge of things. As humans, we seem predisposed to follow instructions. Think about the Milgram experiments where otherwise normal people continued to shock distressed “subjects” simply because they were told to by someone wearing a white lab coat.

Much like social proof, you can convey authority in social networks. Using a title or listing credentials conveys authority. Your ranking on Alexa or other respected rating sites gives you authority if it’s high. Who shares your posts or comments on them conveys authority when that person is a recognized leader. Also, guest posts on respected websites suggest you’re an authority.

There are lots of ways to build authority. For instance, answering questions on Quora, especially when those answers get votes from readers, helps build authority. Building your social network conveys authority, so you might list your social networks on your site along with counts of followers. Counts for shares on each post similarly convey authority.

6. Scarcity

People want what they can’t have and the less there is of it, the more they want it. Experiments show that when you limit purchases, people buy more. For instance, put a sign on a display of canned beans stating $.75 limit 4 and you’ll sell more cans of beans than without the limit. You’ll even find some consumers trying to game the system by getting a friend to buy 4 cans for them, so they have 8.

You can use this by limiting the time allowed for buying your product, limiting the number of products available, or creating content only available to specific users, such as those who’ve joined your subscription list or membership site.

Mistakes that can sink your social media marketing

While I’ve given lots of tips for creating social media marketing success on this site, here are some things you should NEVER do.

Confuse advertising and PR with social media marketing

Now, this may sound like common sense — in fact, I got a comment yesterday on one of my social platforms about the lack of originality for recognizing the differences between social media and traditional marketing — but OBVIOUSLY it needs saying. In an article on AdAge, the authors decried the types of advertising on social networks and suggested we needed FULL SCREEN ADS!

Are you f&@%ing kidding me!  Do you WANT to turn Facebook into a ghost town?

Face it – no one (I repeat NO ONE) wants to hear your advertising. And that goes for your PR, too.

I DON’T want to hear how wonderful you are, which celebrity endorses your crap, or how smart you are for developing new crap. I want you to HELP me, entertain me, reward me, or make me feel GOOD. Social media marketing success is definitely a pay-it-forward proposition. Give me something and MAYBE I’ll buy your crap or tell my friends about it — if you make it really easy for me to share.

OK, in traditional marketing you create a bunch of ads then pay to transmit them across radio, TV, newspapers …The more channels the better, right?

Treating Facebook pages as if they’re ads is a particularly BAD idea.

Overly promotional

Being overly promotional in social networks doesn’t contribute to social media marketing success (go back and read the earlier paragraph). In fact, Facebook will shut you down if your cover photo or image are overly promotional. Experts recommend that less that 20% of the content you share on social media shoud represent promotions. And, that includes advertising. In fact, a great way to reduce the transmission of your ads on Facebook is to host contests or other promotions designed specifically to get engagement like shares, likes, and comments.

So, if you can’t include a bunch of promotions, what should you post on social media? Well, you have lots of options:

  • humanize your brand by sharing insights from employees
  • share your humanitarian efforts or tout the causes you support
  • create content that helps your target market such as explainer videos to help users get more from buying your brand
  • highlight collaborations with local businesses or nonprofits
  • invite users to provide feedback such as voting between different new menu items or new logo options
  • share reviews posted on other platforms

Multiple pages

And creating MULTIPLE Facebook pages (or Twitter streams, etc) is a particularly bad idea.  An acquaintances, who’s currently reading Social Media for Dummies and thinks she knows what she’s doing, wanted to create a Fan Page for every project we’re working on in a non-profit. Now, some non-profits are strong enough to do this (ie. the American Red Cross), but our charity had less than 100 Fans (and it took a lot of cajoling to get that many from our members). To create another Fan Page just dilutes our efforts.

Maybe an example will illustrate the problem.

Social media marketing success comes from creating compelling content that gets shared. No matter how great your call to action, if you rely on just your own fans, you’re unlikely to succeed (yes, I know there are exceptions of Fan Pages like Starbucks with large numbers of fans). Even if you’re Starbucks, it helps if your 30 MILLION fans share your message to all their friends. At an average of 15o friends per fan, you reach 4.5 BILLION people. Social media marketing success comes from engaging this large number of fans to not only act, but encourage their friends to act. So, if 2% of those reached through engagement with other users buy you sold 90 MILLION more cups of coffee.

Now, let’s say, instead of 30 million fans on the site, Starbucks were to have different pages for different products: fraps, lattes, iced coffee, tea, pastries, sandwiches, coffee accessories, beans …. Now, consumers would LIKE the page or pages related to products they buy at Starbucks and instead of having 30 million fans, individual pages would have a few million fans (maybe). Now, when you post a message on the iced coffee page, for instance, you have 2 million (assuming the page garners this many fans).  Again, assuming each fan has 150 friends, you’ve now reached 300 million (versus 4.5 billion). If 2% buy, you’ve now sold 6 million more cups of coffee.

Not only do you sell 84 MILLION more cups of coffee with a single Fan Page, you have the additional cost and effort of building you fan base and creating engagement on multiple pages.


Well, this was a really long post but even a long post can’t cover everything there is to know to be successful at social media marketing. If you want to learn more, and there’s a ton more on this site, all you have to do is search the social media marketing category. A specific topic you should explore is the issue of analyzing your digital marketing to glean insights that help you do a better job with this part of your marketing plan.

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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differences between social media marketing and traditional marketing
Image courtesy of Kuhcoon