What Is the Difference Between Digital Marketing and Social Media?

When considering the difference between digital marketing and social media, it’s important to first understand the meaning of each term.

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital Marketing is any marketing (influential) action that takes place on a screen. While this barely existed 25 years ago it is now the standard for which all marketing takes place, it can include:

  • Online ads (Google, YouTube)
  • Websites (Nike, Apple, Tesla)
  • Digital Advertisements (Buildings, Transit, Stadiums)
  • Apps
  • Newsletter / Email Blasts
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media

What Is Social Media?

Social Media are software applications that are usually free to join and while originally designed for personal use, businesses have harnessed its massive user base for lead generation and eventually sales, they include:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Linked In
  • TikTok
  • SnapChat

Brands can create their own profiles – even localized profiles (Adidas Canada, Adidas U.S. Adidas U.K) and offer customized content designed to interact directly with millions of customers in a way that was never before possible. If you release content that people love, it can work to your advantage without spending a dime (other than the time to create it). Many businesses have formulated their entire digital marketing strategy exclusively around social media. 

What Is the difference between Digital Marketing and Social Media?

Any content you publish on social media (under a business profile) contributes towards your overall digital marketing strategy. It affects branding, public perception, value propositions and much more but it is still just a part of a greater plan.

  • Digital marketing uses online channels to connect with potential customers on any internet connected device. It can be interactive or an advertisement and has a tangible cost. It can also be offline such as software (apps) and digital adverts (Time Square). 
  • Social media occurs online-only, if a person does not have an account on that platform then they do not see your content. The content can also be shared or re-posted by followers becoming “Viral”.  

Risks of businesses relying too much on Social Media

  • Single repository of all your content – no diversification 
  • If the platform goes, so does your audience
  • Platform owns 100% of “your” content
  • Content must be made to fit within submission parameters 
  • Open comments
  • Flagged content 
  • Monetization is strictly monitored and controlled 

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Linked In all have the same policy: Whatever you upload becomes their property. So if one day there is a severe hack, or the company goes belly up due to some scandal, every single post, video, image and caption disappears and so does your audience. It also means they can take your content and sell it to 3rd parties – this applies to your personal profiles as well. If you don’t think this is possible this is how most social media companies raise funds, they sell your information because since the accounts are free, your info is their only asset.

You’re in their sandbox. Certain file types aren’t permitted, there are usage guidelines that forbid certain topics, words or content, files must be under a certain size and you must squeeze all info into their format, typically with low character limits. Sometimes this fosters innovation, many branded accounts have found interesting ways to shift aspect ratios (go from portrait to landscape) and new companies have sprouted up – purely as a work around or solution to a specific problem. Linktree is a great example of a company who’s main service is to allow Instagram accounts to put more than one link in their company bio.

Complaints are tough, but social media can be a hectic minefield to do business. You must be aware that every action you take and content you post could potentially draw unwanted criticism. And with cancel-culture at an all time high you can’t be cavalier about certain topics or what’s happening in the news because if the topic is polarizing (which most are these days) then you can automatically irritate 50% of the user base unintentionally. 

Benefits of using Social Media for Business

  • Easy and quick setup – Can be done in a few hours
  • No physical hardware required
  • User base of Millions
  • Easily migrated from one platform to another
  • Can utilize numerous platforms, for different segments 
  • Integrated e-commerce 

While much can be said for all the reasons not to depend too much on social media there are many attractive reasons why entrepreneurs and startups prefer them. 

In a single day you can create a profile, design and upload attractive backgrounds and tile images of your brand and logo, add company information, post content and begin to reach out to possible partners for sharing opportunities. All on numerous platforms with millions of users. If your brand is lean and nimble this is the perfect place to do business and now that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have integrated e-stores you can actually sell your products to your followers without them ever having to leave the app.

Social media is also great for segmentation. If you have more than one product or service or perhaps different editions that appeal to different demographics then selecting specific platforms is a great way to tailor your message to the right audience. For example if you are a cruise line that offers three types of experiences: 19-30 Party Cruises, Family Themed Cruises and Senior 50+ Cruises you can choose a platform for each. 

  • Facebook is great for the older demographics (50+, Seniors)
  • Instagram and TikTok would be where all the younger demographics hang out 
  • Facebook and Twitter might be best for people 30+ with families as they have multiple interests and could be some areas of overlap that would produce more impressions. 


Digital Marketing can include numerous approaches, platforms and methods all with the goal of creating new customers and encouraging repeat purchases which eventually end with high customer loyalty. Whereas Social Media is a software application primarily used for personal interaction but can be used for business to attract new customers and reinforce branding through free posts and sponsored ads. Image: Scrabble Font Vectors by Vecteezy

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