The Differences Between Social Media and Traditional Media

Kim Kritzinger Social Media vs Traditional Media
Kim Kritzinger Social Media vs Traditional Media

The Differences Between Social Media and Traditional Media

One of the questions I get asked often in my line of work is “What is social media marketing?”.  I have two main groups of clients that ask me this question: the first is a client who has been told that their small business needs to “get online” if it’s going to stand a chance competing with other businesses in the digital age, and they’ve recently discovered that it’s not as simple as creating a Facebook page and waiting for the product orders to flood in; the other is a business that already employs people to do their traditional marketing and PR, and wants to know why they can’t ask the traditional marketers to handle the social media too.

For the sake of social media marketers and the sanity of traditional marketers everywhere, I’ve put together a comparison table that explains why social media and traditional media require completely different approaches, and why being trained in one doesn’t automatically mean you’re able to do the other.


These are the differences between social and traditional media, from a marketing point of view:
Traditional MediaSocial Media
1. Traditional media is delayed.1. Social media is instant and in the moment.
2. Traditional media is a one-way conversation about something that has been carefully planned and carefully worded.2. Social media is a two-way conversation that takes place between the brand and its audience. Posts are informal, authentic and quick.
3. With traditional media the brand controls the message and the perception.3. With social media, the brand delivers the intended message and the audience will react, either positively or negatively. The brand cannot control the audience, but should always respond to the audience with transparency and sincerity.

Not responding to negative feedback, or sounding too formal/commercial will hurt the brand and alienate the audience.
4. Traditional media generally covers material that occurred in the past, will occur in the future, or material that is not time-specific.4. Social media covers material that is occurring right now. Trending topics and engagement are the backbone of successful social media posts.

Trending topics: These are topics of conversation that are happening right now, and they are usually “hot” for up to a day. If a brand is too slow on the uptake, the audience perceives the brand as being out of touch with what’s relevant to them.

Engagement: Being successful on social media is determined by the ratio of engagement. In other words, it’s the percentage of your audience who like, comment or share on your post. While posting about old news will get some engagement, posting about current events will encourage far more engagement and, in turn, a larger following.
5. Traditional media is about the brand.5. Social media is about how the brand adds value to the lives of the audience.
6. Traditional media publishes professional content.6. Social media posts user-generated content. Only one or two of every five posts should be about the brand - the rest should be content that adds value to the lives of its audience and shared content.
7. With traditional media, multiple versions of the same publication usually won’t dilute the message.7. With social media, it’s important to be the first to post on a current news topic. Posting first, with an image, will increase the chances of your post being liked and shared instead of a competitor's post. Reach and engagement are key!


How this relates to the company structure within a business:

As you can see, the job requirements and expertise differ between social and traditional media, and while traditional media skills can be taught, social media requires the marketer to actively stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies, on a daily basis. Traditional marketing can be contained within regular working hour; social media happens all hours of the day and night and cannot, by its very nature, be contained in regular working hours.

Although traditional media and social media are both concerned with the message that the brand wants to deliver, it is important to see them as separate entities with entirely different approaches, that exist under one umbrella: In a small to medium sized business this umbrella  is the marketing department. The marketing department is responsible for ensuring that the “message” delivered by ALL streams (internal and external) falls in line with the overall marketing plan for the organisation.


I hope this helps clear up the grey area between the two careers. If you are a traditional or social media marketer, does this fit with your experience in the field, and would you add any other points to the comparison?

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