Social Networking vs. Social Media: What is the Difference?

Off-line Social networks have been around since cavemen gathered around a fire and told stories to each other. Networking events have been popular with Chambers of Commerce and other business groups for many years.  In the mid-1990’s organized networking or “leads” groups became popular.  These groups met on a regular basis, got to know each other tried to understand what other group members did in order to be able to give and receive Cavemanreferrals.  The idea behind all business networking groups is simple – to increase the reach of the company and generate more business.

The advent of Social Media Marketing changed the playing field for most businesses. How much depends on the goal of the business owner.  Owners of small, local businesses on “Main Street” or those who draw their customers from a very limited geographic area will do very well by using a combination of face-to-face networking at referral groups and the local Chamber of Commerce. They can leverage those contacts by adding them to on-line social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, and running the Pages themselves. They will never have a large following, but may have a small, tight-knit group to market to.  This strategy will work as long as they wish to remain a small town business.

However, should they wish to branch out a little further, the dynamic changes.  They could consider joining Chambers of Commerce and referral groups in their surrounding  communities.

But how many referral groups can they join?  How many Chambers of Commerce?  How many networking events?  How much time do they have? Don’t they have a business to run?

For businesses that have outgrown their local Chamber of Commerce and weekly “Breakfast Clubs,” it might be time to get serious about Social Media Marketing.  Done correctly, online Social Networks can increase the reach of even small companies exponentially.  And hiring a Social Media Manager will not destroy the brand’s authenticity. In fact, hiring the right person will enhance it. Appropriate, interesting and valuable content will be researched and posted to the right sites at the right times.  Social Media professionals also monitor the sites, and can refer questions, comments and even complaints to the business owner, keeping him or her apprised of the activity on the pages and giving the business owner the opportunity to respond.

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Social Media Marketing professionals understand each of the platforms and which businesses will do well on them.  For example, will your business do well on Pinterest? (The answer might surprise you.)  They also understand what and when to post.  They understand how and when to use paid advertisements on the sites, and how to target the right people – by demographic, psychographic, geographic and other criteria – in order to use marketing dollars most effectively. worldwide

Each business owner must decide on a marketing strategy that fits the business AND his or her personality.  And the goals of each business may be different. For some, it is the camaraderie of a face-to-face networking group or immersion in Community activities. For others, growing the business beyond the confines of one small town or geographic area might be what gets them going in the morning.  Both business models are legitimate, but each requires a different marketing strategy.  Which one fits you?

Comments: 2

  • Hi Laura,

    I like the way you’ve described the evolution from private group and chamber meetings towards leveraging social media.

    I thought you could perhaps also consider using private social networking tools that would move these face-to-face chamber and networking events online. Still keeping things tightly knit however it would be easier to communicate and manage time.

    I belong to a small group of ecommerce consultants and we’ve been using a private social networking site called Mumba Cloud ( We’ve found it useful for follow ups and sharing information with everyone instead of just between individuals.

    Hope this helps to broaden the conversation.

    Rgs, George

  • George, If everyone you want to reach is on the private social network that will work. We belong to a group that uses Google meeting (or something like that :) for inter-group communications. However, don’t ignore Facebook and other public sites if you want to reach people within the community. Even Chambers of Commerce and Referral groups are interested in going outside these groups for customers – no everyone in your town is in your group, and even the smallest business should reach out to the community at large.

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