Social What?

Click on a random page in a communications plan or marketing strategy and odds are you’ll find the term “social.” Social engagement, social media, social traffic, social networks, social sites… the world has gone social and marketing is the veritable social butterfly. If we hope to do more than pay lip service to all this social-ness, we need first to understand what we’re talking about.


Let’s look at some of the “socials” we encounter most frequently in our industry, starting with social media. Social media, of course, refers to online communication platforms used for networking, sharing information, and other interactive user experiences. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram are examples of popular social media sites used by individuals and businesses alike.

Social media is not to be confused with social marketing. Social marketing is aimed at changing public attitudes and behaviours. Here the term “social” is used in its more classic definition, pertaining to society at large. Like traditional marketing, social marketing relies heavily on research and evaluation of the target audience, but the goal is to help the audience, not the marketer. Social marketing hopes to sell ideas, not products, and while it often utilizes social media, the terms are neither synonymous nor mutually inclusive.

Social Enterprises, a relatively new phenomenon in the business world, are businesses that exist for a common good, such as education or clean water. Think Matt Damon’s Water.org. They can be nonprofit, for-profit, or a bit of both. According to the Social Enterprise Alliance, social enterprise may be “the single most hopeful vehicle for” overcoming large-scale problems that traditional government and nonprofit groups can’t.

Social enterprise is also called social business. Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunis founded the Yunis Center in 2006 to promote his Grameen model of social business, described as “a non-loss, non-dividend company dedicated entirely to achieve a social goal.” The Grameen Bank, co-winner of the Nobel Peace prize, is the archetype social business.

However, not all companies who call themselves a social business are trying to save the world. “Social business” is also used to refer to a way of doing business that incorporates social media. The Social Business Model takes the customer-facing communications focus of traditional PR departments and applies it company-wide. Social media tools are integrated into all aspects of a business’ internal and external communications, from employees to vendors to customers.

The social business model is sometimes referred to as social media marketing (not to confused with social marketing!), but successful social businesses know there is more to it than that. IBM offers products and services specifically geared for social business, with mobile and cloud based tools and solutions designed to meet the new communications standards of a social world. A social business believes in the value of engagement at all levels.

Are we all on the same social page now? Whether you’re a international corporation or a nonprofit activist group, a social marketer or a social media strategist, your success will ultimately depend on your knowledge of and ability to market in the new “social world order.”

Arnt Eriksen. Simplifying the complexity
of marketing and communication.


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