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In a Nutshell: What is The Difference Between Online, Inbound, Social Media, and Content Marketing?

There might be some confusion as to what the differences are between online, inbound, social media, and content marketing. Let me tell you briefly what these four marketing efforts are not, then I will let a “friend” explain what they are and illustrate how they are related.

Online marketing is not being a sleazy dude who tries to sell stuff on the web.

Inbound marketing is not scheduling trains, planes, and other public forms of transportation.

Social media marketing is not hanging out with kids on Facebook and retweeting stuff I think is cool.

And  content marketing is not driving traffic to people’s sites.

Meet Wilby. Wilby is a character created by a one-time animator in Japan for and of me. I wish he had made him slimmer but considering what he had to work with, what can I say?

The Wilby matryoshka doll can illustrate the difference between online, inbound, social media and content marketing efforts:

Online Marketing

The all-inclusive activity that happens on the Internet with the intent of bringing visibility to a website and making a connection with the searcher and product/s or service. The goal can be sales, visibility, branding, or maybe just buzz. Sometimes called Internet Marketing.

Inbound Marketing

The science of pull versus push marketing. The intent of inbound marketing is to attract readers or buyers to a target site by hook or by crook … but indeed preferably by legitimate hook. Inbound marketing happens within the sphere of online marketing.

Rule of Thumb – it is cheaper, more time efficient for would-be buyers to find you than it is for you to find them.

Social Media Marketing

When the efforts of the marketer take on legs or a life of its own in social networks. Sometimes referred to as “going viral”. Or when the social media marketer does his/her darndest to make their content go viral. The best way, however, is for the social networks to be attracted to the content/website of the marketer so much so that there is a natural (organic) grass-roots like compulsion to share the information with others in their online networks.

Content Marketing

NOT the smallest nor the least significant component. Content is at the core of all great marketing efforts. Quality content is the soul of all effective marketing campaigns. Excellent content begs to be shared. Social networkers do not need to be asked, coerced, prodded or even poked. In fact pushing content, driving content is contrary to getting best results. Rather social networkers who find something really cool race to be the first to let someone know what it is they have come upon. The result being the sharer and those in their network are intrigued and attracted to what else this content creator has to offer. That’s not good marketing, that’s SUPER marketing.

All of this happens online.


Do your content right and your content will be the little piggy that goes to market for you.

Too often there is an attempt to manipulate search results, which equal shady SEO efforts. Sometimes over-emphasis is placed on the perfect page with the thinking ‘if I build it they will come.’ Good luck with that. One ideal landing page still has a 1 in a trillion possibility of being found. A poor inbound strategy indeed. A better strategy is to churn out as much good quality content as possible, consistently over a long period of time. It really is that straight forward.

For more on niche content, see my last SEJ post, 4 Strategies to Beat Anybody in Any Niche in Content Marketing.

Content is king. Always was. Always will be.

Next article – How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results – From Zero to 3,000 Uniques in 3 Months – Case Study

Image: Property of author.

Category Content
Bill Belew CEO at

Professor, Speaker, Author, blogger, all-around old man. Having taught a full 48-hour MBA course in Marketing with Social Media at ...

In a Nutshell: What is The Difference Between Online, Inbound, Social Media, and Content Marketing?

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