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Social Media Marketing vs. Social Media Advertising: What’s The Difference?

When developing your business’s social media strategy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a big difference between social media marketing and social media advertising.

While the two can (and should!) work together to build your overall brand recognition, they each have their own tactics, best practices, and goals.

If you’re wondering what the heck we’re talking about, that’s OK! You’re not alone.

Let’s break down the differences between social media marketing and social media advertising, and how you can make the most out of both for your business.

What Is Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing refers to the content that your business creates and shares on your branded social media pages, as well as any interactions between your audience and your business in comments and direct messages.

This includes videos, photos, graphics, shared links, and captions on posts. 

The two main goals of social media marketing are branding and engagement. If you are looking to grow your brand, connect with customers and potential customers, and build trust with your audience, social media marketing is a great tactic.

Social media is where your brand is built. It’s important to have a cohesive look and feel to your imagery and a consistent, conversational voice to the copy of your posts. Social media is also one of the main sources of engagement with your customers and potential customers. Every post that a business publishes is an opportunity for people to have a conversation with that business, which is very powerful! 

An optimal social media marketing strategy focuses on growing engagement — or comments, reactions, shares, and saves (metrics may vary by the platform). Businesses should focus on storytelling, educating, and entertaining to be successful. While it’s OK to post about sales or deals occasionally, the vast majority of posts should focus on starting conversations.

Most content on social media is considered organic (or unpaid). Who sees your posts is determined by the social media platform’s algorithm and how engaging your page’s content is overall.

On many platforms, such as Facebook, businesses can pay money to boost a post to a targeted audience so that the platform serves that post to more people, extending the reach and increasing impressions. It’s best to boost posts with the intention of increasing engagement on that post. However, if your post isn’t something that naturally inspires engagement from your audience, boosting the post is not going to make a significant impact.

What Is Social Media Advertising?

Social media advertising, on the other hand, is paid advertising on your social media profile focused on growing your customers. These ads do not show up on your business’s main page but instead are delivered in specific ad placements available on the platform. Similar to content, these will include videos, photos, graphics, links and captions, but it’s more like the social media version of a display ad or video ad.

The two main goals of social media advertising are generating website traffic and driving sales or conversions. (There are other goals that you can achieve with social media advertising, but these are the most common).

If you are interested in promoting a limited-time sale or event, selling products or positioning your brand with a particular message, you should use social media advertising. 

On most platforms, social media ads often look similar to and are placed among organic social media posts. Think of them like commercial breaks when you’re streaming your favorite show on Pluto TV.

While they seem similar, most users can tell the difference between a social media post and a social media ad, and each platform has some sort of designation that makes it obvious. And more importantly, the social media algorithm does not determine where an ad is placed — that is determined by your ad creative, your ad spend, and how the ad is set up on the platform. The only people who see a page’s ads are the people in the target audience for that ad campaign.

In some placements, your social media ad may be able to get comments and reactions similar to posts. While these can be useful (and you should respond to them as much as possible), engagement is not the main goal of advertising.

Some people call social media advertising “social media PPC,” which is not always accurate. PPC stands for pay-per-click, which means businesses only pay when someone clicks on the ad. While some platforms do offer a PPC option, this is not the default.

How Social Media Content and Advertising Work Together

Whether you’re focused on building conversations with social media marketing or selling a product with social media advertising, you’re still interacting with consumers through social media. It’s key to have a cohesive plan that incorporates both.

Whether it’s a post or an ad, you want to make sure your brand is instantly recognizable. The imagery and colors should be consistent, and the tone of your copy or voiceover in a video ad should match. Keep in mind that while the ads won’t show up on your profile page as your content will, it will look like it’s coming from the same page to the consumer.

You can incorporate both social media marketing and advertising into an overall marketing campaign or goal, but the execution will look different between the two.

For example, a credit union that is promoting its mortgage loans to consumers would create social media ads that talk about the mortgage loan and why consumers should work with that credit union. They might have different creatives, some using images and some using videos, but the key message is the same. When a consumer clicks on the ad, the link goes to a page on the credit union’s website about mortgage loans that have information on how to apply for a mortgage loan. 

The social media marketing strategy for such a campaign would focus on a series of posts about the home-buying process aimed at generating conversations. Topics for these posts could include:

  • Asking consumers what they look for when buying a home
  • Stats about the local housing marketing
  • A trivia question about down payments
  • Asking consumers what they wish they knew when they bought their first house
  • Information to gather when applying for a mortgage loan
  • A mortgage loan officer explaining how a pre-approval can help a buyer in a hot housing market

Some of these posts could include links to the credit union’s website, but the main focus would be generating conversations and positioning the credit union as a trusted source of information about mortgages. 

Social media is an important part of a business’s overall marketing plan, and it can be an effective way to engage with and advertise to consumers. If you’re not sure if your social media marketing or social media advertising is helping you grow your business, Federated Digital Solutions can help create custom strategies for you. Contact us today.

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Krystal Vivian

Written by Krystal Vivian

Krystal Vivian is the Director of Social Media and Content Marketing for Federated Media. She has more than 10 years of experience using written content, podcasts, and social media to help businesses build trust and deep relationships with their audiences. A former journalist turned digital marketer, Krystal is passionate about powerful storytelling and great user experiences. She believes in creating compelling content as part of an overall marketing strategy to drive measurable results for businesses.

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