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Digital Marketing Versus Social Media: What’s the Difference?

Danielle Rhodes

Aug 2, 2018

Digital takes the cake in the modern marketing world and social media is an important slice. But, they’re not entirely the same thing.

Digital marketing is a cool Generation X who knows the ropes of the internet and how to market your company in classic world wide web fashion. Social media is a more casual millennial, the product of the Gen Xer’s, who bucks against anything traditional and stays connected to the world 24-7.

You need both to spread your message effectively.

Let’s see how understanding the ways the two intersect and stand apart, benefit your business.

By the Book

Digital marketing is any brand messaging or advertising you do on the internet. It includes creating or managing:

  • Pay per click advertising
  • Your website
  • Email marketing
  • Digital campaigns
  • Digital ads
  • Digital branding
  • SEO
  • Plus all of social media

Social media refers to digital places where a small part of digital marketing happens, specific channels designed for social sharing and interaction. Each one has a different purpose, crowd, and rules you have to play by.

These are just a few of the major channels important to businesses and digital marketing:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Yelp
  • Pinterest

The Point of Social Media

While social media refers to specific websites, digital marketing on the other hand, can be both our digital marketing materials and the act of marketing ourselves online.

Even without an active, free profile, you can pay to run digital marketing ads on social media channels. No one really does that though, because who doesn’t want the free marketing power of social media?

In modern marketing, not having active social media profiles is sort of a red flag for consumers. It tells them you’re not modernized or accessible, and by not being open to publicly communicate with consumers it might look like you have something to hide.


Consumers want you on social media and not just in the form of ads. They’re trying to have a conversation with your brand, ask questions, review your business and even reach out to your customer service team.

Recently, a local news station near me featured a consumer tips and tricks segment. They advised airline passengers to report issues and problems on the social media pages of whatever airline they were flying, instead of waiting in line at the airline’s customer service desk in the airport.

This strategy is to address problems as they’re unfolding.

Let me say that again: it’s easier and faster to get help from big companies via social media than in person, from people literally being paid to help you.


Mostly, because the whole digital world can see what you say on social media and brands don’t want you sharing your unhappiness with the masses. It’s the equivalent of letting the public listen to every customer service interaction anyone has ever had with your company. It’s invasive.

Casual Socializing

Even for the world’s biggest brands, social media is a place to relax, have fun and communicate casually.

Consumers LOVE fun interactions with businesses online. And when you think about it, isn’t the point of marketing to make the world take notice of what you’re saying? When you’re interacting with consumers on social media, not just pushing a prewritten marketing message, people take notice.

The novelty of branded social media accounts is interesting. Since brands aren’t actually people, even adults love interacting with them as if they were people. We’ve all formed strong, long-term connections with our favorite brands, even without social media.

So, when we can understand and communicate with those brands on a more personal level, it’s a little bit like a kid meeting their favorite cartoon character. We’re getting to see the personalities of our favorite brands, in an uncandid, uncontrolled environment. It’s fun in a way that marketing usually isn’t.

Just take a look at Wendy’s letting their hair downthe TSA being hilarious on Instagram or even Old Spice being totally absurd on Pinterest.

The Church of Brand Evangelists

If your digital marketing is working like it should, you’ll be creating brand evangelists. These ride-or-die consumers LOVE you and they want the world to know. Your branded social media channels give them a place to sing your praises, kind of like church.

Let your biggest fans do your marketing for you, with positive reviews, product videos, testimonials, how-to guides, hacking tutorials and more. All you have to do is provide the place to do it: your branded social media channels.

Social Media (Especially When it isn’t Free) IS Digital Marketing

Everything you do on social media becomes part of your digital marketing, whether you want it to or not. Social media is transparent, so there’s nowhere to hide. All of it falls under the umbrella of your branding and marketing.

In a broad sense, many people think of digital marketing as full digital marketing campaigns, with a budget, goals and strategy. Social media is almost always one of the many mediums and components of that type of campaign.

Supplementing your Social Media with Digital Marketing

You can do a lot more with your social media by adding some digital marketing elements.

Paid advertisements are an option to get your digital marketing message in front of an extremely targeted social media audience. Hypertarget your audience using social media’s wealth of personal information and data.

You can literally buy (a little or a lot) more control over your social media influence and reach. Straight-up digital ads aside, you can also pay to boost your social media and reach more people. Since social media algorithms severely limit the natural reach of most business accounts, we typically recommend paying to boost your efforts.

Promotion Notion

An extremely common use of social media is to support your digital marketing efforts through free promotion. Screaming your news from the digital mountaintops is as simple as sharing a link to your latest blog post on your Facebook page.

Take advantage of your most relevant social media channels for promoting new website content, blogs, videos, events, promotions, sales, new products and more. Most blog publishing tools, such as HubSpot, include an option to schedule social sharing in advance.

Just remember, when you’re using unpaid social media, talk like a human, not a business. Even loyal fans of your brand will be turned off to hear a formal marketing tone of voice in your social posts.

Two Sides of the Same Essential Coin

Basically, while there’s a lot of overlap, you need both digital marketing and social media for the most effective modern marketing. Ignoring any tool at your promotional disposal is a bad idea and both of these are lifelines for the modern marketer. So, understand how they work, how they work together, and how they can work for your business before you dive into either.


This article originally appeared in Impulse Creative. It was written by Danielle Rhodes from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to