Content Marketing, Social Media Strategy

Here’s the Difference Between Content Marketing and Social Media

Calling all content marketers! We would LOVE your ideas and insights on this new content production survey from our friends at Rundown. It should only take a few minutes, and you’ll get a copy of the report when it’s been analyzed in August. Thank you for your time and brilliance!

Image from

Image from

Jay Baer Blog Post

What is the difference between content marketing and social media? And, with the burgeoning interest in the former, will the latter wane as a tactic or as a marketing term?

These were the questions posed to me by my very wise friend Jeff Cohen of the SocialMediaB2B blog. Jeff asked several other content/social thinkers and consultant-types to weigh in as well.

Here’s what I said:

Content marketing is a device used by companies to educate, inform or entertain customers or prospects by creating attention or causing behavior that results in leads, sales or advocacy. Social media is used by customers and prospects to communicate among themselves, and occasionally with companies. This communication can result in leads, sales or advocacy, but is often less structured and conversational, and can be reactive too, as social media is increasingly used as a customer support channel.

The goals of content marketing are consumption, then behavior. The goals of social media are participation, then behavior. (tweet this)

The confusing thing today is that as social media expands, brands need to create content to populate these channels. Further, many content repositories have rich social media overlays (the new G+ fueled comments on YouTube, for example) In no way will content marketing overtake social media in any corner of the universe with the possible exception of professional marketers.

Social media is the new telephone. Content marketing is the new brochure. (tweet this)

That doesn’t make it unimportant – hell, I just published a best-selling book about doing content right. Keep in mind that my Mom uses social media every day. My Mom could care less about content marketing, although she of course consumes content routinely.

Social media envelops us like air. Content marketing is a place we (mostly marketers) can go visit, like a sparkling lake stocked with trout.

More on Content Marketing vs. Social Media

Jeff broke the responses up into two fascinating blog posts. The first contains answers to the “what is the difference between content marketing and social media?” question. The second features opinions on whether content and social will merge, converge, or other.

I encourage you to read the posts for all the answers (19 in all), but here are a couple excerpts of my personal favorites:

From Michael Brenner at B2BMarketingInsider and SAP:
The difference between content marketing and social media is huge. Social media is a new channel. And it competes with other media channels like TV, radio, print and all the digital channels available to us.

Content marketing and storytelling are as old as human beings. We have always needed to find ways to convey important information in useful and entertaining ways. Social media is just the latest evolution in the way we can tell the stories. I think soon we will drop the “social” and go back to calling it plain old “media.”

From TopRank’s Lee Odden:
In terms of a business activity, I think content marketing as a discipline will continue to rise and marketing budgets are definitely streaming in that direction. Some of that budget is being drawn from social media too.

Will marketing budgets towards content-focused marketing initiatives potentially exceed those for social media marketing? I think that’s entirely possible, especially for organizations that see social networks and media sites more as content distribution and engagement channels than purely as communities. But with companies that operate socially across departments (marketing, sales, customer service, public relations, HR talent acquisition, legal, operations, etc) both internally and externally, overall social media investment could easily dwarf anything spent on content marketing.

And from Jason Miller at Linkedin:
Content marketing will not replace social media by any means; they are and will continue to be two very different things with two very different functions. Social media channels are the tentacles from which your content extends its reach while opening up a direct line of communication with your customers and prospects. In addition, what were once known as “social media vanity metrics” (shares, plus ones, Likes, retweets, and comments) are now playing a much bigger role in how your content ranks within search engines and the social platforms themselves. At the end of the day, content and social will be broken out of their respective silos and pulled together as an essential part of an overall integrated marketing strategy.


What do you think? Best answer wins a limited-edition Youtility T-shirt.

Facebook Comments


  1. Troy Thomas says

    With regards to content marketing, I tend to think of social media as a channel, and content marketing as a tactic. Content is the “what,” social is the “how.”

    • RedSlice says

      Agree with Troy. I tend to think of content marketing as a method with which to engage with customers and prospects in multiple channels – social media being one of them. You could just as easily present that content in a live seminar or a brochure downloaded from your website. I find it easiest to go back to my days working at Discovery Communications: Content is what people consume, like a TV show or production (Burn Notice, Scandal, CSI); Social Media is like deciding to distribute that show over cable TV (versus say radio or web). The social media platform (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is like the specific network on which you air the show to reach your target audience (CBS, USA, MTV, Discovery, etc.).

  2. says

    Content marketing and social media marketing are pretty much the fuel and the furnace for your messaging. One without the other is useless. Content Marketing feels like the umbrella to me, because it covers creating and sharing valuable content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. Social media is the sharing part.

    The digital revolution, as Brian Solis has written brilliantly about, ended business as usual. The way marketing has always been done has changed. But it is taking awhile for businesses – nonprofit or otherwise – to “get” it. So they’re scrambling for new terminology. The first was ‘social media marketing’ — a nod to the fact that communication channels were shifting. Dramatically. Suddenly the inside/out world became outside/in. Print ads didn’t work.Newspapers weren’t read. TV ads could be ignored. But… social media marketing has largely been a failure. Because folks didn’t know what to do. They slapped up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and started counting likes and follows. It didn’t get them very far. So they didn’t budget for it. And that got them even less.

    People don’t want ads anymore; they want valuable information. Great information is shareable, and people do this today online. Content marketing is a way to get folks to know you and trust you. Search engines love valuable content as well, so if you
    offer it people will be more likely to find you.

    My thoughts are colored by my work in nonprofit, and I’m still hearing folks ask: “Don’t you think social media is just a fad?” Content marketing relies on the old adage that ‘content is king.’ You can’t just slap any old thing up online (how many nonprofits tweeted “We’re on twitter!” or posted “See us on Facebook”?) With content marketing the goal is to create brand-related content that’s so good it is better than anything else your constituent could be consuming.

  3. Mike Myers says

    Content Marketing is a mindset; a way of creating messages that are useful, that solve problems for people and that draw people to a brand without talking about products or services, features or benefits.

    Social Media got its start as a group of vehicles to deliver that message (Facebook, Twitter), but has now grown to become a way of delivering a message. I think that’s what causes a lot of the confusion between the two.

    I believe Content Marketing will simply become Marketing in the near future.

  4. philnugent says

    Great post and comments. I believe that the effort to make a clear distinction between content marketing and social media is a worthy exercise, but in an effort to find clarity, it can be easy to oversimplify and miss the greater significance of social media. (Remember that ‘simple’ is good, but ‘simplistic’ is not.)

    As Marshall McLuhan said many decades ago, “The medium is the message.” He explained this by suggesting that “societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”

    What does this mean to us? It means that social IS content, and that any attempts to claim that it’s just another channel for content cannot be entirely correct. Social media has already changed us as a society, and it will continue to do so. This will continue to affect not just how we’re willing to consume content, but the types of content in which we’re interested in consuming, and even the lessons we take from that content.

    Yes, social media is a channel. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a content-shaper and a society-shifter. Additionally, it’s still very much in its toddler phase. What we know as social media today will look primitive in just a few years – which then will make it even more difficult to claim that social is just a channel. Fasten your seatbelts.

  5. says

    Social media is the bar. Content marketing is the drink you buy that lady to try to get her to do what you want.

  6. says

    Social media is a boat. You float around in it. Sometimes it’s calm. Sometimes wavy. If you have a destination in mind, you give your boat some gas and steer. That’s your content. It can still be calm or wavy in that environment, but at least you went and got a goal.

  7. says

    In my marketing experience, content marketing has widely been for the benefit of some other company/person as we share a lot of the work of other industry professionals, as well as for the audience. While the goal may be leads, sales or advocacy, sometimes the best you get is goodwill among the community.

    Social media, on the other hand, brings a more accomplished feeling with one on one interactions. That direct contact builds a relationship faster and thus leads to a sale or advocacy quicker.

    I think the growth of other departments/industries (besides marketing) will keep social media just as much of a focus in 2014 that content marketing has come to be this past year.

  8. says

    This has been said many times here and on the other posts, but content marketing isn’t new. Companies have been putting out content forever. The difference is that today we have a whole new range of tools that traditional marketers don’t know how to use–websites, blogs, infographics, videos, interactives, mobile apps. In my opinion, successful digital marketers will bring value to their organizations by forgetting about silos and buzzwords and instead focusing on what is new and finding ways to make it work. Digital departments can be engines for innovation.

    I don’t think it’s wise or forward-thinking to imagine there being a battle between “content marketing” and “social media.” Content needs social media to be seen and social media needs content to create conversation. As someone who works for a big brand (the International CES), I don’t compare our content spend to other parts of our digital budget. I instead ask: Are we spending enough time and money on content to achieve the results we desire?

  9. Abhiram Pathak says

    Awesome information dear, very informative. Content marketing is the best among all, because it’s exposed you to a larger audience. Thanks for sharing.

  10. samrex says

    Hmm.. How bout, ‘content marketing is the conversation starter, social media is the barstool’.. 😉

  11. Dave Link says

    This is sometimes the most difficult thing to explain the difference to with clients and stakeholders – especially if they aren’t familiar with either from more than a basic user perspective. Those of us that work in the field day-to-day have the advantage of seeing a clear distinction between creation of pieces and amplification of those pieces through social. To many – users and internal folks alike – content and social are really one and the same. Great to see some clear cut distinctions laid out in plain English!

  12. Akash Agarwal says

    Content Marketing means
    creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects
    into customers, and customers into repeat buyers.
    media often feeds into the finding of new content such as news stories, and
    discovery is a search activity.
    Thanks for sharing your nice view on content marketing and social media.

  13. John Waghorn says

    I agree that social can act as a customer support channel, but when comparing the two together there are plenty of differences.

    Social is the end product whereby promotion and engagement are focused around the content that’s already been created. The two work hand in hand or are at least more powerful when combined together within your strategy.

    You need content to share on social platforms, and you also need the ability to promote your content to the wider world via social to have a greater impact.

  14. says

    “Social media is just the latest evolution in the way we can tell the stories. I think soon we will drop the “social” and go back to calling it plain old “media.” I LOVE this line. Communicating with your customers in a genuine way through a particular medium is a constant; it’s the technology (or channels) we use to communicate that change. Right now the best channel happens to be social media. Even though I speak to businesses about ‘social media’ I focus on digging deeper to understand the ‘why’ more than the ‘how’. The ‘how’ is tactical, and understanding the ‘why’ helps them learn how to adapt as technologies change. Great article, thanks!

  15. says

    Content Marketing and social media are two different things, but will forever be linked together. According to Pew Research, half of social network users go to these sites to share and discover news stories, images or videos. This spans content from friends, to brands and publishers.

    While content itself isn’t social, social networks represent a highly effective way for people to discover relevant content as participants’ social graph (friends, colleagues) filter out the noise from the signal through the uncoordinated, but collaborative process of engaging with, and sharing, content that matters to them.