Social Media vs. Online Marketing: What’s the Difference?

The online world has its own set of vocabulary that can be a bit confusing to learn. As a small business owner, you’ve likely heard the term, “social media”, and know that platforms like Facebook and Twitter fall under the heading of social media. And as a small business owner, you might also hear and use words like SEO, email marketing, CMS, search marketing, directory listings, click-through rates, and blogging, or have employees or consultants who manage and implement some or all of those tasks for you. But what truly falls under the heading of “social media”, and what about the term, “online marketing”? If someone calls themselves a “social media manager” or an “online marketing consultant”, what does that mean and what kind of skills can you expect from each one?

Differences between Social Media and Online Marketing

Differences between Social Media and Online Marketing

The best way to think about this is to know that social media is one aspect of your small business’ online marketing strategy. Your social media strategy incorporates the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube (and for some niche businesses, Snapchat and TikTok) through both organic posting and engagement activities as well as paid social ads.

Online marketing, on the other hand, includes all your social media activity (organic and paid) plus all of the other tasks you would execute to establish and grow your business online. Your online marketing strategy can include but it not limited to:

  • Social media
  • Your website and/or e-commerce store
  • Blogging
  • Email marketing
  • SEO of your website pages and/or product or services listings
  • Directory listings
  • Reputation management and online review sites
  • Google My Business (this could potentially be considered a social media platform given its posting and photo and video sharing capabilities)
  • Google AdWords

Social Media Consultant vs Online Marketing Consultant

The terms, “social media” and “online marketing”, tend to be used interchangeably even though there are definite differences in what each means. Though when looking to hire someone to your team to manage either your social media or all your online marketing, or when hiring an outside consultant, manager, or strategist, you want to make sure you are clear on what skills should be expected for each job description.

An online marketing consultant has a broader range of skills and understanding of the many facets of what it takes to be (comprehensively) successful online. An online marketing consultant doesn’t need to be a specialist in all of those areas, but should have a firm grasp on each and how they all work together. For example, a web developer is a very specific skill set just like an SEO is a different and specific skill set. An online marketing consultant or strategist may not be the one to deliver on one or more parts of your online marketing strategy, but would understand why each is important and how it works in tandem with the rest of your overall marketing strategy. Likely, your online marketing strategist would have specialists to you refer you to for any piece s/he can’t execute themselves.

In contrast, a social media consultant or manager would specialize in managing your social media accounts and content, and may or may not be capable of running social media ads. Depending on what your specific small business needs are will dictate which type of help you are looking for.



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