Content Marketing Alone Will Fail - Social Media Explorer
Content Marketing Alone Will Fail
Content Marketing Alone Will Fail

A friend asked me what was the difference in content marketing and social media marketing. He seemed to think the trend is now that companies are following the flow toward content marketing and the social media part has sort of passed it’s prime.

The problem is they’re different. While one begets the other, it doesn’t necessarily work the other way. This could pose a dangerous problem for brands that don’t see the natural flow and relationship between the two.

Defining Social vs. Content Marketing

Social media marketing is defined best as participating in open communication channels in order to persuade an audience. This implies the marketer can communicate outwardly, but must receive/communicated inwardly as well, and accounts for the fact that any member of the communications network can also watch/listen to others communicating as well.

Content marketing is best defined as producing content that persuades. That content has to be disseminated along communications channels. One of those could be social media channels.

So social media marketing begets content marketing because you’re going to need good content to keep the social audiences attracted, engaged and persuaded. But you don’t necessarily need social media marketing to be a good content marketer. Content marketing can (and often does) exist as a one-way, push mechanism. Think about how you’ve marketed in the past: Advertisements? Content. Press releases? Content. Newsletters (print and email)? Content.


Sure, you can add commenting and call “content” a conversation. But that doesn’t, in and of itself, make that content marketing also social.

What It Takes To Be Social

Social marketing takes additional effort and intent. It’s not enough to push your content. You also have to drive conversations around it. Think of it as finishing the content with a question, then shepherding the answers, learning as you go, discussing the information with the audience in question. That makes content social.

Being social means caring beyond hitting “Send” or “Publish.”

Sure, you can use social channels — where you may engage in conversations with your audience — to promote your content. But those channels are more appropriate to host that resulting conversation from the content, not just serve as an advertisement or promotional mechanism for it.

Being social means caring beyond hitting “Send” or “Publish.” It’s about asking your audience for their feedback and really caring what that feedback is. It’s carrying on the conversation and perhaps even evolving ensuing content based on the audience’s reaction.

Content in a social context is not one-way. It’s the beginning of the conversation, not the end of the deadline-driven story submission.

Where Companies Will Screw This Up

The rise in popularity of the concept of “Content Marketing” as something that fuels or supplements social marketing is, in general, good for businesses. By evolving to becoming their own media producers, brands and businesses are primed to get far more results, engagement and credit from their social efforts.

However, many marketers are simply running from one proposed “easy button” to another. When they see that this Content Marketing thing checks the box of posting things on all their social channels, they will start to think the social side of the aisle isn’t as important and phase it out. Marketers today need to understand the differences in content and social marketing and ensure they don’t fall victim to the trap content marketing inadvertently leaves.

Social marketing demands good content marketing. And, by my count, good content marketing demands social. Otherwise, it’s just the same garbage companies have been spewing for years.

NOTE: By the way, the friend who asked was Jeff Cohen. He gathered other opinions on the matter over at

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • Nicky Helmkamp

    Jason- This is a great article! We included it in our resource roundup

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  • Christel Vaenerberg

    Thanks for this interesting article. With all my colleagues at EzyInsights we so much agree with you. The easy button “Content created and posted” also seems to become more and more outsourced, clinically boring and soulless as companies don’t dare to listen and engage. And few companies understands this your great line: Content in a social context is not one-way. It’s the beginning of the conversation, not the end of the deadline-driven story submission.

  • Jason Jue

    Does the marketing profession have a standard definition for content marketing? Is it the definition written in the article you wrote?

    • Standard definition? Not that I know of. I try to keep it simple — content used to market, which in my mind is persuading an audience to think or behave a certain way.

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  • Hm. I think i get what you’re saying and did enjoy this post. I’m not sure I separate the two, though. “Content marketing is best defined as producing content that persuades.” seems to neglect the fuller definition of being focused on audience from the start. What do they care about? What do they need? What information is useful to them?

    Based on those needs, only then do you create piece of content—an eBook, a blog post, a newsletter, a social post, or perhaps all of the above—and offer it to your users. Pushing content out in an attempt to persuade without discovering the aforementioned needs or challenges isn’t actually content marketing, it’s traditional marketing. I view social as a part of an overall content strategy, delivery tool for content and a place to discuss and find out what content works where and adjust appropriately.

    Maybe we don’t disagree or I read your post wrong but I’m not sure how true (or good) content marketing could ever live “alone” from social in the first place.

    • Content marketing has existed for centuries. And it’s goal has always been to persuade an audience to take action. The audience needs, etc., you speak of are a means to an end. You position your persuasion in content that appeals to the audience in question.

      • Yep, totally agree. I just was curious about why social is separated from content instead of being a type of content. That’s all. Unless I’m misreading something here? Not trying to be upsetting.

  • Very good thoughts, Jason! I agree that the two strongly go hand-in-hand. They’re practically a symbiosis — one cannot survive without the other. In fact, I think people need to start viewing content marketing and social marketing as one practice, not two different branches.

  • Ken Handumon

    I agree to the post. Although in my own and simple definition, social media marketing is just a type of strategy wherein a marketer needs the help of social networking sites to be able to endorse the business, however, there is a great factor involved and that is the audience. Local and international businesses now cannot stand alone without the help of social media. On the other hand, content marketing is also a process in which the marketer has to attract the audience for it to sell. The content itself must be attractive and productive. I don’t think there is much of a big difference when it comes to content and social media marketing. They may have a different way of attracting an audience but still they have the same goal and that is to ensure that the audience’s demand must be on a high importance.

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  • Jane Ellen

    Jason, I’m glad Simon Salt hipped me to you a couple of years ago You’ve nailed it. You can push out information, but that doesn’t build loyalty. Fans/followers need to know they’re being heard.

  • Completely agree. It is not the element, but the combination of several elements, based on a communication plan with engagement that is truly key.

  • Now a days Social media and content marketing are related to each other. Social media marketing generates content marketing. Good content of the blog attracts the traffic.Thanks.

  • Great post and totally agree. If your company is going to invest in a content strategy, pairing that with a social and promotion strategy is essential.

  • Elizabeth Hall

    I agree with your comparison between being social & content marketing. It makes perfect sense. For those who are not fully vested in social media marketing it could be confusing. I get questions about this all the time. Thanks for the info.

  • This is awesome, Jason. Exactly what I each in my social media practices class. I’m assigning this post as required reading for the last week of classes, as the students finish up their comprehensive content and social media marketing plans.

    • Wow! Thanks, Sheree. My college professors are rolling in their graves. Assuming they’re dead. Heh.


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