Social Media: Advertising Vs Marketing

With its enormous reach and low bar for entry, social media has become a valuable tool for running and growing a business. It offers varied options for paid advertising and organic marketing, making social media an integral part of digital marketing campaigns.

Many people use the terms “advertising” and “marketing” interchangeably when it comes to marketing and social media. However, these are two different things with different goals and objectives. Each also comes with its own uses and strategies.

Understanding the difference between social media advertising and marketing is essential for creating an effective digital marketing strategy.

So let’s talk about social media, the difference between advertising and marketing, and how to use social platforms as part of an overall digital media campaign.


Digital media vs social media

Before diving into the differences between social media advertising and marketing, let’s clarify the difference between digital media and social media.

Digital media is an umbrella term that includes all online marketing channels. This includes permission-based email marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and other online marketing strategies.

Social media refers specifically to social networks and digital platforms that allow users to share content they’ve created or find content created by others. It’s “social” because it allows people to connect with others and build communities around similar interests and hobbies. In other words, it serves primarily for people to communicate with each other and find entertaining content regardless of niche.

This means there’s also a difference between digital and social media marketing. Like digital and social media, digital marketing and social media marketing are two related but distinct concepts.

Digital marketing is a type of online marketing that involves using any digital platform or channel to promote products and services.

Social media marketing is a subset of digital marketing and refers to using social media to create and share content promoting brands, products, and services.

To put it simply: Social media is one part of digital media. Social media marketing is one aspect of a digital marketing campaign.

What is social media advertising?

Social media advertising refers to paid advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These advertisements target a specific audience based on demographics, interests, and behaviors.

Social media advertising can take various forms, including sponsored posts, display ads, and video ads.

Examples of social media advertising include:

  1. Sponsored posts
  2. Display ads or banner ads on social media
  3. Video ads to tell a brand’s story and showcase products or services
  4. Retargeting ads that show to users who have previously interacted with a brand’s website or social media page
  5. Paid influencer promotions
  6. Promoted trends on Twitter or sponsored Snapchat filters to increase brand exposure and awareness
  7. “Boosted” social posts i.e., paying the platform to expand a post’s reach

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing involves using social media channels to promote a brand, product, or service, build brand awareness, and engage with a target audience. This can include creating compelling marketing content, responding to comments and messages, building a community around a brand, and running social media campaigns to increase brand awareness.

In short: social media marketing is any unpaid social media activity that engages an audience and focuses on your brand or products.

Examples of social media marketing include:

  1. Engaging posts promoting products or services
  2. Contests or giveaways to encourage engagement and increase brand exposure
  3. Interacting with your audience, including providing customer service and responding to customer inquiries and complaints
  4. Informative content related to a brand or industry to establish thought leadership and build credibility
  5. Unpaid influencer collaborations highlighting your brand
  6. Post promoting your blog or website

Differences between social media advertising and social media marketing

Social media advertising and social media marketing are two distinct strategies. Businesses can use both to grow brand awareness and reach their target audience. However, they do so in two different ways.

There are four primary differences between social media advertising and marketing. These differences are:


The primary goal of social media advertising is to increase sales or conversions immediately. It typically involves paid advertising on social media platforms designed to drive users to purchase, visit a website, or perform another specific action.

Social media marketing aims to build long-term customer relationships, improve brand awareness, and drive engagement with marketing content. It’s more interested in catching and maintaining the audience’s attention rather than making a sale.

Target audience

Social media advertising allows businesses to target specific demographics and interests with paid ads. This can be useful for companies looking to reach a particular audience quickly. You can use typical audience segmentation to find and target your desired audience. Most social media platforms that offer paid ads already have the data to create audience segments. By buying an ad, you can use their data to target audiences based on age, location, income, and behavior.

On the other hand, social media marketing focuses on building relationships with existing and potential customers over time. This usually means creating content more aligned with your audience’s likes and preferences. You can also use more homegrown social media techniques to find your audience, such as studying the posts that appeal to your audience, using hashtags, and scheduling posts to increase engagement.


Social media advertising requires a clear strategy for targeting the right audience, choosing the correct ad format, and tracking results. This includes creating an advertising budget, hiring advertisers to create the ads for you, and creating a more traditional campaign with specific and measurable goals. You’re essentially transposing the strategies of a typical print media or TV ad campaign to include social media tools and trends.

Social media marketing strategies involve a more comprehensive approach to building a brand’s presence on social media. This includes developing a content strategy, engaging with followers, and monitoring metrics such as engagement and reach. Your content strategy can consist of determining the type of content your audience likes, which platforms you’d like to target, and the themes that can unite your content with your brand. Then, you can build a community, foster relationships with them, and track engagement.


Social media advertising can require a significant investment in paid advertising to reach a specific audience quickly. Again, consider it a traditional ad campaign with the usual costs: an advertising team, money to create the ads, and paying for ad space. The only difference is the space you’re buying is in your target audience’s social feed.

Social media marketing can be done with a smaller budget. However, building a loyal following requires a more significant investment of time and effort. While you might incur some costs depending on the content you wish to create, social media marketing usually features no paid advertisements.

Tip: Match content to platform!

Most social media platforms offer marketing opportunities and paid advertising options.

Each platform is generally built around a specific type of content. This means each platform offers its own strengths and strategies. To help, here are some brief outlines of the most effective content on popular social media apps:

Instagram: Instagram is a photo-sharing platform. Eye-catching photos and short, entertaining videos work best. Text is optional with brief, catchy captions working best. The bulk of long-form posts remains hidden from view until a user taps it. Instagram also doesn’t allow links within a post, only in your account’s bio. However, you can use hash tags to help interested audiences find your posts.

Facebook: Facebook allows text, photos, videos, and links in their posts. While their algorithm tends to favor videos, that’s generally because that content drives engagement. There are a lot of options, so I’d recommend studying how similar companies use the platform and experimenting with your own content to find what works for you.

Twitter: Twitter allows text, photos, videos, and links. However, text posts are limited to 280 characters. It’s a good platform for sharing varied content. Paid ads often work in photo or video formats, while marketing tends to succeed when using memes, well-written short-form text (jokes, announcements, etc.), and interacting with customers in the comments.

LinkedIn: Because LinkedIn is business-focused, it works best for B2B marketing. It also allows for long-form text and informational posts. Links to blogs are often more effective on LinkedIn than other platforms.

TikTok: The newest of this crop, TikTok focuses on short, personality-based videos. To improve your reach on TikTok, it’s important to stay on top of trends, which change often. Of these platforms, this is the one most heavily focused on younger millennials and Gen Z. I’d once again recommend studying trends and experimenting with content to help develop an effective TikTok strategy.

Digital Marketing on Your Mind?

Explore ways to improve your Digital Marketing skills.