what is social media marketing?


OK, pay attention: here’s the theory bit. This is a diagram I sometimes use in lectures, to illustrate the shift from traditional to social media marketing. You may have seen it before; it was conflated with an older blog post about YouTube last year. When I transfered the blog here, I thought it could do with a fresh, expanded airing on its own post.

So. The traditional, bog-standard marketing theory. Marketers have always tried to get us to trust them by passing their message down to us through traditional media channels. If they can get endorsements from experts, so much the better. Who might they be in publishing? Well, anyone you get to do a cover puff for you; pre-publication quotes from your reviewers; Richard and Judy, or Oprah maybe, if you’re really lucky. The people we trust most, of course, are our friends and family. The Holy Grail of marketing is ‘word of mouth’. People start talking about your book, recommending it to friends. It’s the most effective, yet the hardest thing to do with traditional media – unless a TV chat show book club kick starts it for you.

Traditional marketing theory describes this as a circle of influence – the layers of influence that marketers try to penetrate. It looks something like this:

Circle of Influence

But traditional marketing is less effective than it used to be. Today, people listen to recommendations from peers rather than marketing from companies. Social media marketing might be represented as a merger of influence, like this:

Merger of Influence

It’s what happens when people become media and they market stuff for you and to each other. They create their own media (blogs, social networking profiles), they review and recommend, they pass on YouTube clips, they tag interesting media and websites with keywords so others can find them. It all gets mixed up.

And who are you going to trust? Trust today is in ‘people like me’ rather than in corporations. Those people might be tenuous connections, distant nodes in your online social network; but you’re more likely to listen to their recommendations – or even simply pay attention to what they’re doing, which cultural products they’re consuming. Which books they’re reading.

It’s not hard to tap into, and it’s not expensive. The first step is simply to make your stuff findable, so people can locate and recommend it. A blog is easy to start. A Facebook Group takes a couple of minutes to set up. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you might want to create some media that people can pass on and that you can track – such as a YouTube clip or a podcast. In fact, you can track all this stuff. You can start small, and measure your results. They might surprise you.

About Author

Jon Reed is an author, screenwriter, publisher and social media consultant. He is the author of Get Up to Speed With Online Marketing (2e, Pearson Business, 2013) and the the founder of social media consultancy Reed Media, which offers social media management, training and consultancy. Jon started Publishing Talk in 2007 following a 10-year career in publishing, including as publishing director for McGraw-Hill. More...


  1. Actually, it’s funny that you mention this. I launched my first graphic novel as an ongoing web serial back on December 3rd and I just did a post where I yabber on some of the metrics I use to track data points (being an old bookstore guy, I like tracking numbers pretty carefully).

    Getting something to go viral (that wonderful synergy where there’s a surge in interest) isn’t easy to do. Part of it is that it’s just out of one’s hands. Case in point: I know in my case that my webcomic certainly has not done this. Word is getting “out there” slowly but surely but it’s definitely in the fits and starts kinda mold. That can be frustrating and I would love to see this great explosion of interest happen “just like that” (uh, I’m snapping my fingers here!). That might happen in the long run and, of course, the jury’s still out on that front right now.

    At the end of the day, though, doing work I believe in (hopefully with a sense of craft) and then keeping to my promised update schedule is the biggest thing I can do. We’ll see what happens with the ol’ word of mouth from there.

    Von (long-time lurker, first-time poster)

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