What’s the Difference Between Influencer Marketing and Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing, influencer marketing, advocate marketing. These terms get bandied about and inserted into PR and marketing proposals in seemingly interchangeable ways. But these terms mean different things, and to quote the theme song from sitcom phenomenon, Diff’rent Strokes, “what might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

Now, putting aside the fact that the theme from Diff’rent Strokes was co-authored and sung by the late, great Alan Thicke of Growing Pains fame (bet you didn’t know that), how can you best differentiate and explain these different marketing terms and concepts to clients and colleagues?

For purposes of this blog post (and, well, modernity), let’s only focus on online marketing when considering how social media marketing, influencer marketing and advocate marketing are each different and can fit into your marketing mix. Set aside the fact that influencer marketing and advocate marketing don’t have to be performed via social media channels. These days when people talk about influencer marketing and advocate marketing, they’re almost certainly referring to marketing that is being conducted via such popular social channels as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Yes, influencer marketing can be done via traditional media – brands have always hired celebrities to appear in print and TV advertising (heck, Alan Thicke was a spokesperson for Optima Tax Relief) – but most modern marketing plans use these terms in the context of online initiatives.

Social Media Marketing – Think On-Channel

Social Media Marketing primarily refers to brands using their own social media accounts to promote themselves by authoring their own posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. It’s mainly about marketing yourself via channels that you control, hence the term on-channel marketing. Be they text-based posts, videos, infographics, creative photographs or any other content types you can imagine, if you post it on your own account, it’s on-channel marketing. The same goes for boosting posts and paying for ads on social media networks to directly promote your goods and services.

Of course, social media marketing should also be about listening to the greater conversations out there and directly (and speedily) responding to communications from your followers, and even inserting yourself and your brand into conversations across social networks and media gathering places.

Influencer Marketing – Think Off-Channel

Influencer Marketing is focused on getting other people with significant followings to promote your brand or product to their followers – hence the term influencers. Almost all of the time this involves paying them directly or compensating them with goods or services. This form of paid marketing must be clearly marked on social media networks by the influencers as being “paid” or “sponsored” or simply as an “ad.” And since the influencers are posting on their own social media accounts, this is referred to as “off-channel” social marketing, because these are channels that you, the brand do not control, the way you control your own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The key here is to encourage influencers to post in their own authentic voices when they are carrying your water. Authenticity matters most when connecting to their audiences, by sharing their own experiences, opinions and preferences and directly relating them to your product or brand messages. These influencers can reach audiences in ways that you typically cannot, and you can benefit from the credibility they have established with their followers. Here, too, the content can take the form of text, video, photography, etc.

This is a great way to drive engagements around your brand’s content to generate clicks, likes, shares and comments from your target customers. It should come as no surprise, then, that influencer marketing is on the rise among companies and brands of all types.

Advocate Marketing – All Channels!

Advocate Marketing is all about finding and engaging with people who already love your brand. These most often are customers, but partners and employees sometimes insert themselves into this mix. Advocates serve as powerful voices who have direct experience with your products and who have already started spreading the word for free. You will find them on your social media channels (on-channel) as well as on their social channels and those of other third parties (off-channel).

Once you’ve found these people, reward their behavior by communicating directly with them, responding to their questions, needs and concerns. You can also choose to reward them with special offers, special products and anything else you can think of to help expand their affinity for your brand. Check out our previous blog post on this subject, “How to Create Superfans for Your Brand.”

And since you made it this far, also check out these 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Alan Thicke


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