iStock_000016006182Small“Social media.”

“Content marketing.”

These terms are thrown around willy nilly these days, because in addition to everything else we’re doing in our daily professional lives, the accessibility of LinkedIn, Facebook, blogging platforms, SnapChat, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. has turned us all into social media and content marketing practitioners.

But while social and digital media are inextricably linked with content marketing, it’s important to distinguish them – they are NOT, in fact, the same thing, and shouldn’t be considered interchangeable. In today’s Two for Tuesdays, while it may seem a bit elementary to some of you out there, it’s come to my attention that there’s some confusion around the difference between social media and content marketing. We’re going to look at the difference between the two (I’ll start with the short version, then delve into the long one), and why it’s important not to confuse them. 

The short version: Content marketing is the creation and distribution of a substantive, well-defined message (the content) to a specific audience while social media are the distribution tools that can be used in the dissemination process of content marketing (or as a relationship-building and networking tool in pursuit of a marketing goal).

Content marketing is the stuff, social media is the tools used to get that stuff to people. 

Now, the long version:

Content marketing

For the official definition, let’s go to my favorite source, the Content Marketing Institute. CMI says:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

To many of you, this may sound like something that is too “out there,” but really, it’s likely something you’ve been doing all along. What’s new to many lawyers and law firms is two things – first, that we have a name for it, “content marketing,” and second, that we’re creating strategy around it. Lawyers and law firms have always created content – you’ve put together client alerts, done presentations, authored articles, and in more recent years, created videos, written blog posts, tweeted, Facebooked, LinkedIn, etc.

But now, we’re thinking about it a little bit more strategically, so that you can be efficient and not waste time. You ask, “Who do I want my clients to be, and who will be most interested in what I have to say?” Then you ask, “where are they, and how do I talk to them in a way that they’re interested in and will catch their attention?” Once you know that, you create your content and deliver it. Then you engage with your audience to see what resonates, how else you can help them, etc. Rinse, and repeat.


Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.

Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Let’s reword this from a legal standpoint, so it sounds less sales-y:

Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain clients by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable information with the intention of changing or enhancing client interactions. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall business development strategy, and it focuses on content that you control, as opposed to content that you don’t.

Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your clients and potential clients without selling. It is non-interruption communication. Instead of pitching your legal services, you are delivering information that makes your clients and potential clients more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as lawyers and law firms, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to clients and potential clients, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Right.

Social Media

But content marketing ≠ social media.

Social media is actually PART OF a content marketing strategy, because they are a delivery mechanism. The definition of “social media” has actually made its way into the Merriam Webster dictionary:

forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)”

Social media is the technology that you use to share content (and engage with people). Wikipedia does an even better job of describing it:

Social media has been broadly defined to refer to ‘the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships.'”

When used in conjunction with content marketing, it’s a delivery mechanism to publish information (also collaboration and research, but that’s getting a bit more advanced than we’re aiming for here).

Examples of social media include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, SnapChat, Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram, Blogger and many more. It can be a means of publishing your content, or a means of sharing content that you’ve published elsewhere. But it is not the same thing as content marketing itself – and the distinction is an important one.

As we head into 2016, there will continue to be more and more discussion of social media and content marketing. There are some other things you should know:

  • Content marketing is not new to lawyers and law firms: the language around it is new, and using strategy around it is new.
  • We have already entered an era of “content marketing 2.0” within law firms – it’s not just getting started. Firms are already producing content and sharing it with highly targeted audiences, carefully tracking and monitoring analytics, and then using those analytics to inform their next steps to improve their content marketing programs.
  • The next phase, and what a number of experts are talking about, is segmentation. Even though law firms and lawyers with sophisticated content marketing programs are already targeting their audiences carefully, there is less segmentation than is really ideal.  Firms are starting to explore the idea that more segmentation is necessary, in order to allow their audiences to only get the information they really want, and to better filter out the noise. This is for the benefit of everyone.
  • However, that doesn’t mean the volume of content decreases. Every day someone else jumps on the content bandwagon. Just remember, quality ALWAYS trumps quantity. If you want to be involved in delivering valuable content to your clients and potential clients, ensure that you’re focused on quality, using the right distribution tools, and having a deep understanding of your audience.
  • Part of understanding your audience is understanding the tools, and knowing what tools they use. Not every social media tool is right for you. I may love Twitter, but maybe my clients aren’t there. And if they are there, how are THEY using it? How do THEY want to consume information? Do they want to watch an hour long video, or do they want quick soundbytes that are actionable? Always be asking yourself about what your audience wants, and do that.