My definition of social marketing in 100 words or less

by Shannon Paul on February 18, 2009

Aaron Strout at SXSW 2008

Aaron Strout

Aaron Strout, a highly regarded social media marketer and all around smart guy, issued the social marketing challenge over on his blog: Define social marketing in 100 words or less.

There were a lot of great (and humorous) entries, but he and his colleagues, aka the judges, selected the one I entered as the winner. This means I am now $20 worth of iTunes richer.

Here’s what I wrote:

Social marketing injects humanity into the delivery and reception of business communications by emphasizing relationships and meaningful experiences with people rather than simple transactions with publics.

However, as soon as I wrote this, I immediately started thinking of subtle tweaks that might just make it better. I had to let go of the ideas in order to move onto other tasks, but I thought I might ask for help in the editing process here.

Can this statement be improved upon? Should it be limited it to 100 characters or less? Should we scratch this and start over?

I’m interested to see where you can take this idea that Aaron started.
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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

February 18, 2009 Aaron Strout 1

Shannon – is this art imitating nature imitating art? ;)

Love that pic. I believe it’s from Podcamp Boston last summer. What a hoot! BTW, so glad you won. You were right that there were a lot of really good entries but in the end, I think you got the essence of social marketing “just right.”

Aaron | @aaronstrout


February 18, 2009 Todd Smith 2

I can’t add anything. Injecting humanity and building relationships are key for me. Will be interested to see what others can add.


February 18, 2009 Steve Woodruff @swoodruff 3

Maybe a bit of tweakage:
Social marketing is humanity re-asserting itself into business communications by emphasizing relationships and meaningful experiences with people rather than mass communications and faceless transactions.
My 2 cents.
You really do have the essence down!


February 18, 2009 Eric Brown 4

Nicely Done Shannan,
Social Marketing certainly provides so very many conversation opportunities with our customers, past and present and potential customers that didn’t exist with traditional marketing.


February 18, 2009 Dennis 5

Social marketing is:
Marketing by the people for the people.


February 18, 2009 David Spinks 6

Obviously you got it down pretty damn well but hmmm lets see…

Social marketing injects humanity into the delivery and reception of business communications by replacing one-way delivery methods with conversational campaigns, emphasizing relationships and meaningful experiences with REAL people.

I don’t know that yous can be made better but at least I added some words and capitalized some letters ^_^


February 19, 2009 Chaunna Brooke 7

Thanks for sharing this information about social media and social media marketing. Keep on writing.


February 19, 2009 Rufus 8

Somewhat ironic that the “new kids” of social media are defining it like a geezer corporate mission statement. It was just a matter of time. :-)


February 19, 2009 Bill Sledzik 9

Nice job, Shannon. And I hope the discussion continues. For my 2-cents, I’ll take issue with Rufus. As a pro-turned-academic and a relative “geezer” myself, I think it’s important to work on definitions as a means of promoting interest and research in a topic. Social media and social marketing both need that kind of inquiry.

My field, public relations, has failed miserably when it comes to defining itself — one of the reasons so many in social media use the terms “PR” and “marketing” almost interchangeably. Don’t get me started!


February 19, 2009 Shannon Paul 10

@Aaron – Thanks. I love that picture of you! So glad you don’t mind my imitation, but I really thought this should keep going at least a little while longer.

@Steve – I think that’s a good point, humanity seems to be exerting itself more than we are trying to exert humanity. Maybe we’ve been repressed long enough!

@Eric – You certainly know how all of this is done — your business provides a great example to others that this stuff really does work!

@Dennis – That sounds familiar… ;)

@Bill – Thanks! I hope the discussion continues, too. I really admire your work and think you raise a very valid point about PR not defining itself well. I was always stymied at family gatherings to define what I did for a living. I was also a little deflated at how under-impressed they seemed. ;) Oh well, I would love to hear your thoughts on the differences between “PR” and “marketing” however… color me intrigued.


April 7, 2009 Isaac 11

The main difference between PR and marketing is that PR is about influencing public oppinion and promoting the good social deeds of the org to influence interest and maintain mutual relationships with stakeholders. Whereas marketing is more about promoting products, services, within the org to the external environment. Marketing relates more to profitable ends, whereas PR relates more to social reputation. I guess in a way PR is a more proactive acitivty whereas marketing is more reactive to consumer needs. The overall context of the two definitions in terms of communication differ. PR is more concerned with media releases and factual sources to ensure credibility eg magazine, newspapers. Whereas Marketing is more concerned with the scope and relevance to the org/product/service eg specilised magazines for gamers. Another main point is that PR needs to establish credibility and factual points within its advertisments/messages. On the other hand Marketing does not rely on credibility and facts within the advertisment, rather exagerates elements based on consumer needs. Prime examples; Puffery in advertisments, or even larger packaging to conotate more content.


February 19, 2009 Rufus 12

@Bill I am going to take issue with you and agree with you ;-) It is important that we define what something is or it becomes everything. But, the irony of language is the more we strive to find that specific word(s) that defines something — connotatively and denotatively — the less precise we make the thing. Like what I’m doing here!

I could also go on about why Shannon felt compelled to define what it is not at the end (“rather than simple transactions with publics.”) That that would be a rather long comment, though an interesting psychological discussion. Anyway, it still strikes me that the definition sounds like a corporate mission statement.

@Shannon I think lunch is for sissies, too. A good, brisk walk in the cold air instead. Yeah!


February 19, 2009 Ari Herzog 13

I have a huge problem with your definition, Shannon, because a 7-year-old wouldn’t know what half the words mean.

It’s also not simple. Dennis’ definition is simple.

If you *really* want tweaking suggestions, I opt for eliminating everything in the middle:

Social marketing is about people.


February 19, 2009 Daria Steigman 14

Hi Shannon,

You nailed it, and I love that you captured this with only 26 words. I wouldn’t change the essence at all. But, with the awareness that it’s far easier to tweak than to create, I might rework very slightly to make your language a little warmer:

Social marketing injects personality into business communications by emphasizing relationships and meaningful experiences with people, rather than just transactions with a faceless public.


February 19, 2009 Andreas Duess 15

Not to sound like an ass, but were you writing for me I’d send you back to the drawing board.

While I agree with the sentiment of what you’re saying, I respectfully disagree with how you’re saying it. I measure pretty much all copy that I write myself, or that is written for me by others, by one simple yardstick: Would my mother understand it without me having to explain it?

The copy you wrote is what we call ‘marketing copy’. Writing stuff like ‘injects humanity into the delivery’ does exactly the opposite, instead moving your delivery away from humanity.

Cheers, and best,



February 19, 2009 Ari Herzog 16

I’m with you, Andreas. Your mother is like my stereotypical 7-year-old. If the non-social media person can’t understand something, then good luck.


February 20, 2009 Bill Sledzik 17

To Ari and Andreas:

I’m all for simple definitions, but oversimplification to satisfy mom or a 7-year-old isn’t the answer. Ari’s definition could be applied to a church service or a special stew cooked up by your favorite cannibals. They’re both “about people.”

What Shannon presents is part definition, part explanation. It’s not perfect, but it provides a basis for discussion. And that seems to be working here.

My field, public relations, has spent a lot of time on this process over the past 50 years, and we still haven’t gotten it right. You might find this post useful:

When the time comes to propose a social media initiative to a client, an accurate definition will help you — a lot.


February 20, 2009 Shannon Paul 18

@Bill – My thoughts exactly, only more finely expressed. Definitions are for other social marketing professionals as well as those in the C-Suite and/or potential clients. I don’t think it would serve any of us well to speak to those people like 7-year-olds.

@Ari and @Andreas This definition was never intended to read like “copy” because it’s a definition. Vague slogans won’t help us define a set of tools and practices to people who are in the position to actually pay for them. Bill is right, we could all learn a lot from the PR industry’s struggle to define itself.


February 21, 2009 artifacting 19

Now lets see you do it in 140 characters! ;)


February 22, 2009 mack collier 20

I hate to pull out my slide-ruler and get anal-retentive, but you guys are saying ‘social marketing’ when you mean ‘social media marketing’. Social marketing is the marketing of social causes and initiatives that bring about change. Jackie has a good post on this with great comments explaining the difference between ‘social marketing’ and ‘social media marketing’:


February 22, 2009 Scott Hepburn 21

@ari I think I’ll have to side with Shannon on this one, Ari. It’s not imperative that those outisde of marketing understand the definition.

Cynical as this may sound, our job as marketers is to market, not to explain to the audience that we’re marketing to them. We create definitions for our sake, not theirs.

@mack Good distinction. If we want credibility, we need to be precise with our wording.

@shannon I like where you’ve taken this definition, Shannon. The only thing I can think to add is that social media marketing is a two-directional (or maybe rather multipoint-to-multipoint) communication, as compared to the traditional one-directional or point-to-multipoint nature of marketing.

But then we’d be a tad over 100 words, I’m sure…


February 24, 2009 Jack z 22

Hi Shannon,
I do like your definition, I think it sums up what social marketing is.
Is it too complex for the lay person – yes
But for an accurate definition you have to go beyond simple.

I think there is room for multiple definitions. In the classroom I often use ‘official definitions’ that make the students eyes glaze over. But then I boil it down to something very simple – and build on it. By the end of the lesson they can start to understand the official definition.
Great work


March 5, 2009 MLDina 23

You obviously did pretty well if you won the contest! Sometimes the best answers are the ones that come to you first. Congrats, and enjoy the iTunes. :)


April 7, 2009 Isaac 24

The only query I have with the deifnition is that their is no emphasis on behavioural change which is the basis for all social marketing campaigns. Also the emphasis on relationships in my opinion doesnt really capture social marketing, sounds more like a PR function. I think social marketing emphasises the change from an undesribale behaviour to a desirable one and is not as concerned with the relationship that is formed, as long as the behavioural change has happened.


April 28, 2009 RIYAD 25

i m student of chittagong university in Bangladesh. my major subject r marketing .so i want to know about online marketing nature and m marketing nature and defination


July 15, 2009 Willie Plasencia 26

I look at social marketing more than a he said, she said.

It is more like I said,he said, she said, we said, they said.

Said enough.

Great blog you have.


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