What Is Social Marketing? (With Examples)

by | Apr 23, 2019 | Content Strategy


We live in an era where nothing is valued in business as much as social responsibility.

As business owners or managers, we’re encouraged to not only sell our products and services but also leave the world a better place for it.

And the principles of social marketing give us the guidelines to apply it to the promotion of our products.

In this post, we’ll cover the basics of social marketing, examples, and we’ll also show you how to develop a social marketing plan.

Here’s what you need to know:


What Is Social Marketing?

Social marketing, or socially responsible marketing, is a form of advertising and promotion that uses social good to attract and retain customers.

With over 86% of US consumers expecting brands to act on social and environmental issues, it’s becoming increasingly common for brands to employ certain social marketing practices.

Historically, the examples of social marketing you may be most familiar with are numerous anti-smoking campaigns. Even the UK government used it to reach their healthcare goals by promoting healthier living to their citizens.

The main goals of social marketing are:

  • Improving customer engagement
  • Raising awareness about the brand through raising awareness about the issue, or vice versa
  • Encouraging behaviors good for the community
  • Improving the PR of the brand
  • Increasing customer base

In the long term, this means brands and their marketing strategies are more sustainable.

So while the efficiency of our brands is still the main focus, social marketing shifts the perspective to also include the process:

  • Fairness
  • Equity
  • Social transformation

Or, to put it simply: it no longer matters that the shoes you make look good.

How you make them matters, too, and what you give back to the community becomes a competitive advantage.


Is Social Marketing the Same as Social Media Marketing?

No, although social marketing can be implemented through social media networks and platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Social marketing is an approach to marketing, just like behavioral marketing. And social media networks are the channels where social marketing content can be promoted.


Why Is Social Marketing Important?

In addition to becoming a requirement if you want to retain customers, showing what values your business stands for could grow your customer base by 64%.

That’s how many of the consumers surveyed in Harvard Business Review’s study said that their main reason for buying from a brand are shared values.

And with the era of social media setting into place like never before, customers have started treating brands like their acquaintances and even friends.

Think about it: when you share relatable, non-promotional content on social media, what you’re really telling your customers is:

I’m more than a brand. I’m someone (not something) you know.

And consequently, this means that they’re setting the same standards for your brand as they set the standards for their friends.

What you believe in weighs in on their decision of whether they’ll buy from you.

Selling to Millennials

The new generation has significant purchasing power, so it’s in your best interest to adapt to how they like to buy.

And in Millennials’ case, 81% of them expect companies to declare their corporate citizenship. This comes with a huge advantage: if we connect our businesses to important social changes, we’ll become more competitive.

On the shelf with countless other competitors who aren’t doing social marketing or encouraging socially beneficial behavior, we’ll be the brand people know and love.

How Social Marketing Creates Emotional Connection (and Why You Need It)

Emotionally involved customers stick around longer, and they can make up for 40% of your business’ revenue.

But how do you get there?

You don’t offer better discounts.

65% of consumers that feel an emotional connection to a brand say it’s because the brand cares about people like them.

So if you want to future-proof your business, social marketing is the way to do it.

A Note on Facebook and the Lack of Social Marketing

Finally, Facebook has been a hot topic lately. Mainly because they haven’t been following a single social marketing/business practice.

All of this is due to irresponsible actions.

Facebook, much like other tech giants, follows one rule: “Move fast and break things.”

And that isn’t working for consumers.

The users haven’t felt valued. Their data was sold for $0.005 a pop. And Facebook had no values they could share. Their main value was making money off of the users, no questions asked.

It stood for nothing, and so it fell for everything.


Examples of Social Marketing

Do you remember that one ad that felt like the story of your life? It aligned perfectly; it showed your story, from the humble beginnings to where you are today. It showed you a mirror image of your values, identity, and your life.

It felt like it was created for you.

That’s the power of emotional connection perpetuated through social marketing.

Just take a look at the following example:

Kia: Hero’s Journey

In this commercial, Melissa McCarthy showed how much Kia supports people who take a stand, proving that social marketing doesn’t have to be the proverbial wet blanket of advertising.

And since McCarthy had starred in a political skit on SNL, that, paired with Kia’s commercial, meant a lot of shares and discussions about it on social media. This significantly improved Kia’s results.

And it’s all because they showed their customers they shared their values.

Similar social marketing ads:

In each case, the reputation of the brand was visibly boosted, with positive connotations attached to it.

The progress is most significant for AirBnB who struggled with hosts who wouldn’t accept diverse people, and the platform received backlash for it.

After the ad was shown, the public opinion changed to a positive one and the crisis was soon forgotten, giving AirBnB a place at the top of the most socially responsible companies (practically) overnight.

And if you want to benefit from similar brand awareness and connection with your customers that will make sure your business is profitable in the long run, here’s how you can develop a social marketing plan:


Developing a Social Marketing Plan

The first step is understanding your business goals.

Have you been practicing social marketing for a while, or are you new to the market and the practice?

A quick fix would be launching a social marketing campaign to announce your brand values. This is best done by standing up for a cause that your customers support, as well.

When it comes to implementing a long-term social marketing practice, these are the key things to keep in mind:

  1. Your customers and their values
  2. Your business process and your product(s)
  3. Which factors and behaviors you’ll focus on
  4. Which channels you’ll use

1. Your customers and their values

Know what social issues your customers care about. Is it gender equality? Is it preventing climate change?

Ideally, you want to show that you stand for the same things.

You can do this through a campaign, as we’ve already stated, or by slowly incorporating it into the mission and vision of your company, and organizing your content around it.

The most important thing is to be vocal about it on every channel you own.

If you don’t know what values your customers stand for, conduct a test – either through focus groups, surveys or other methods.

2. Your business process and your product(s)

The easiest way to mess things up with social marketing is by being a hypocrite.

If you want to stand for certain values and support causes, you need to actively support them through the way you do business.

For example, if your customers care about gender equality, your company should hire diverse people and take pride in it.

3. Factors and behaviors

Which behaviors relevant to this cause do you want to change with social marketing? Do you want to empower all genders? How will your customers do the same?

Understand the basic factors: product (Which outcomes do you want to change?), price (How much time, effort and money will it cost your customers to change their behavior?), and place (Where do you want these behaviors to occur?).

It’s important to focus on action. Give your audience something they can do immediately, and lead by example.

4. Actors and channels

If you want sustainable social marketing results, your primary three actors are:

  1. The public face of your company
  2. Your employees
  3. Your customers

You can show the public face of your company as it stands for changes through channels like media outlets and advertising platforms.

Everything else should go through your employees and employee advocacy. The messages they share go 561% further than the ones your company officially shares, and people are more willing to trust them than you. The best channels are social media.

Finally, your customers should amplify your message, as well. Preferably, on social media where you’ll also be able to highlight them as examples of successful standing up for a cause and making social change.

This is why you should offer actionable advice on what they can do.

And if you show them a way to make a real change in society, the next thing they do will be supporting your business.


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