Integrated Marketing Communication: Where Social Media Fits

social media marketing

The marketing landscape changed dramatically over the last decade with the slow transition of advertising from traditional forms of media like TV, radio, and print. Now, digital marketing channels dominate the landscape, as you can see below. And, estimates for 2026 show this trend is likely to continue. This growth in social media usage creates its own cottage industry of professionals, gurus, and even traditional agencies who compete to guide business practices and generate revenue from firms participating in social media marketing. While we could argue about the value of all these social media gurus and the advice they dispense, a bigger discussion is how social media fits into other communication efforts undertaken by the firm — including advertising, public relations, or corporate branding. Creating an integrated marketing communication strategy across not only these traditional channels but newer social ones creates a challenge, especially for firms that entrust their marketing to separate teams of digital and traditional marketers.

integrated marketing communication
Image courtesy of Marketing Charts

Now, here’s the rub — is everyone out there saying the same thing about the firm and supporting the same branding? When you don’t develop a strong integrated marketing communication strategy, messaging is muddled and may cause damage to the brand rather than support it. Moreover, it’s a waste of money. When everyone is out there saying different things about the brand, disaster may ensue. The cure is to integrate marketing communication across every aspect of communication whether verbal or non-verbal or whether through social or traditional media.

Why the growth in digital media?

Unless you lived under a rock or in some backwoods part of the country, you know that the amount of time spent on social and digital media increased dramatically over the last decade or so. With the spread of mobile devices and 5G speeds, consumers use their devices more as a means of entertainment, distraction, and information. In fact, many consumers, called connected consumers, use multiple devices at the same time, such as watching TV and playing a game on their mobile or searching for items shown in commercials or programming.

Statistics show that the average user spends more than two and a half hours every day just on social media and a total of more than eight hours a day on digital media including blogs, online gaming, and streaming TV. The story is even more pronounced for teens and younger adults who spend even more time on digital media. Since brands want to reach as many customers as possible, it only makes sense to spend their marketing budgets on platforms where their market spends the most time. And, except for older folks (say over 80 since more folks 65+ spend most of their time on digital media), that’s digital.

Differences across media channels

Obviously, the nature of communication on different media channels requires a firm to adapt its message to the platform. For instance, you can’t just transmit the audio portion of a TV ad on the radio or pull a still from it to advertise in print. Nor can you create the same digital message to post on all your social media channels. However, we see massive differences between digital and traditional marketing channels based on the nature of the firm’s interaction with its target market. Below, I go into detail about these differences as they impact the way you must communicate on digital versus traditional channels. Read this post 16 differences across media channels to understand more about these very different communication channels.

Digital Media

Two-way conversation

Open system

Transparent

One-on-one marketing

About you

Brand and User-generated Content

Authentic content

FREE platform (and paid)

Metric: Engagement, CTR, CPC

Actors: Users/ Influencers

Community decision-making

Unstructured communication

Real-time creation

Bottom-up strategy

Informal language

Active involvement

Deep Analytics

Paid, Owned, Earned

Traditional Media

One-way conversation

Closed system

Opaque

Mass marketing

About ME

Professional content

Polished content

Paid platform

Metric: Reach/ Frequency

Actors/ Celebrities

Economic decision-making

Controlled communication

Pre-produced/ scheduled

Top-down strategy

Formal language

Passive involvement

Poor analytics

Paid

It should be obvious that these differences challenge the organization when it comes to creating integrated marketing communication given such wide differences between traditional and digital media. You face similar challenges when trying to create integrated marketing communication when it comes to different digital platforms. For instance, your blog requires long-form content for SEO (search engine optimization) and to help educate your target market, thus influencing their attitudes toward your brand. Social media, in contrast, requires short, pithy posts that sound much less formal than your press releases.

Images and videos across these two very different strategies also require some adaptation. In TV advertising, even streaming TV, you need a very polished product with professional actors, videographers, directors, and editors. TikTok and Instagram Reels, on the other hand, require a less professional, quirkier product using influencers, employees, followers, or just regular folks. Editing for these platforms is often focused on filters and lighting effects rather than formality.

I once sat with a graphic designer at the big Madison Avenue agency as he painstakingly removed every bit of tattoo from a model for a print ad over more than a week. For digital ads, such overdone images don’t play as well as something quick and dirty that’s ready in a few hours to meet an emerging need.

Elements of integrated marketing communication

Despite these challenges, creating an integrated marketing communication strategy is essential. It ensures you send a clear, concise message to your target market. Integrated communication also means your message reaches more of your target market and with increased frequency (frequency should be between 4 and 7 times to impact purchase behavior) because the same message is wherever they hang out. An integrated message that resonates with your target market increases your sales.

Everything a firm does is a form of communication — the colors, images, words, and content. Even the causes you support, the donations you make to political candidates, and the way you treat your community of employees, suppliers, and customers, send a clear message that your target market interprets to make purchase decisions. So, how do you integrate marketing communications in the era of digital media?

The first step is to create a style guide. This isn’t something new, but as businesses expand their communication online, it means revisiting your style guide to ensure it works as well online as off. For instance, you might review your brand colors to ensure they’re web-safe by translating them into hex codes from RGB colors. Kuler, which is free from Adobe, can help with this.

  • Logo – certainly, the minimum is to use the same logo throughout the company’s communications. Business cards, stationery, websites, and digital media should all use the same logo. Limitations in social media require modified logos, so create PNG formats that scale effectively without looking pixelated and create ones with no background so they can blend in better wherever you want to use them. Think about the little favicons as you create logos appropriate for electronic communication.
  • Color schemes — branding with color is very strong and helps coordinate your messaging across platforms. The logo, website, printed materials, and everything the firm produces should echo the same color scheme. This includes colors for storefronts, signage, and uniforms in a retail setting. Starbucks is a good example of a firm that uses color very effectively. The green is carried through from the aprons worn by partners, the cups, signage, website, Facebook page …  everything has the same color. Changing from the original brown to green corresponded with the change in messaging to one with greater environmental sensitivity, since colors have meaning.

    rebranding tips
    Image courtesy of Design Inspiration
  • Images – don’t use one spokesperson or hero image in print advertising, then something else for in-store signage, and another on the website. And, here’s where many problems occur because the technology folks doing the website may not find the same images useful.
  • Wording – sometimes different messages exist across traditional and social media and these differences are harder to find than different images, logos, and color schemes. Inherent differences in tone between different types of media sometimes dictate these differences. For instance, social media is often more open, supportive, and customized than traditional media. To the extent possible, the tone of these conversations should be consistent. More importantly, your take-home message needs consistency across messaging platforms. Often called the tagline, use the same one wherever you share content.

Organizational issues

Some problems with integrated marketing communication are structural — often different departments or different agencies create and disseminate communication on different platforms. A PR department (firm) creates public relations, several departments or workgroups may control advertising for various brands, and digital media may be controlled by technology managers rather than marketing folks. Or, you have different marketing teams working on traditional and digital media. It’s much harder to achieve integrated marketing communications across disparate teams unless you work really hard at it.

In the days before digital, I once worked for a direct marketing agency. Some of our clients used one agency for traditional advertising and our company for direct marketing. Sometimes, there were meetings between the ad agency and our staff. When the two groups were equal, it generated better coordination and ideas that translated into both channels, resulting in integrated marketing communication. When the ad agency dictated the elements used in our direct campaigns, they often didn’t translate as well because the ad agency folks didn’t understand digital. But, more serious were situations where we never worked with the ad agency at all but were just given assets such as images to use in our campaigns.

Not only do you have multiple inconsistent voices when there’s poor coordination between work groups, but you likely have folks who don’t talk to each other — and may not even respect each other’s efforts, as you saw in my example above. Most notably, folks working in traditional media have little respect for those they see as playing around on Facebook all day while those working in digital media feel those in traditional media are totally out of touch and old.

Surmounting these problems is challenging, but possible with cross-functional teams or managers overseeing the entire process. A bigger problem is firms that don’t understand the importance of integration.

Conclusion

Building an integrated marketing communication strategy is challenging, as I think you can see from the discussion above. But, it’s a critical aspect of your marketing success. As the transition toward digital marketing continues, it is even more important to integrate across different digital platforms to achieve a holistic marketing effort.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.