Brand journalism, content marketing and social media marketing are not interchangeable terms. Each requires a different mindset and, when implemented correctly, each will produce different short-term results.

From marketing standpoint, the expectation and intention is that each will contribute to achieving specific goals you’ve defined in your strategic plan.

Here’s a quick primer on the differences between brand journalism, content marketing, and social media marketing.

Brand Journalism

I sometimes consider brand journalism to be both a philosophy and an approach to marketing. Essentially, brand journalism is about telling the stories that show how your company or product helps the customer solve a problem or achieve an aspiration.

Your customer is always the hero of the story you're telling about your brand.


Ticket sales for the Florence Alabama workshop on Content, Social and SEO end Tuesday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m. Purchase tickets through Eventbrite here.

More on the workshop here.


You are the hero in the Start Learn Co story.

The mission of Start Learn Co is to help YOU achieve your business goals, move forward on your entrepreneurial journey, and answer a question you have about a business or legal issue related to your creative work.

Here's a quick example from a real business in this summary of a story we shared on the Vulcan Security Systems blog….

Vulcan Security Systems installed a new camera system in the warehouses of a large Alabama commercial distribution center. Not long afterward, a customer of the distribution center called about a missing shipment. A review of the security video footage revealed that a disgruntled employee had thrown the order pull ticket in the trash and the shipment had never gone out. The distribution center quickly filled and shipped out the order to its customer. Vulcan Security Systems' video security system was the tool, but the hero of this story was the distribution center manager who used the video footage to solve the problem.

The stories you tell can almost always be used in a content marketing campaign, but content marketing is not the same thing as brand journalism.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a strategic approach or style of marketing that focuses on creating different types of media content to answer questions, solve problems, raise awareness, even entertain prospective customers while also demonstrating that your product or service can solve their problem.

The stories you create under the brand journalism umbrella can become part of your content marketing strategy. However, the pieces of content you create for content marketing are not always going to count as “stories” for purposes of brand journalism.

If you make and sell handmade soy candles, your content strategy might focus on how to incorporate candles in home decor, holiday entertaining, or lifestyle design. You might create “content” that combines brand journalism with educational content that explains the health benefits of aromatherapy, how to select candle scents to reduce stress or boost productivity and tell the story of a customer who takes 3 hours each month to have a home spa moment.

If your business is residential lawn care, your content strategy might focus on tips for keeping the landscaping healthy in-between service visits. You might offer tips for entertaining outdoors without needing to use toxic pesticides or where to position a firepit to protect the landscaping investment.

If you’re a lawyer or accountant, the world is your oyster. Imagine how many questions you can answer on your website to attract the type of client you want to bring into your practice. Each question can be the basis for some type of educational content. Just make sure you have the required and recommended disclaimers on your website.

A quick aside: If you can’t update your website easily without bringing in a web developer you need a new website.

  • For SEO reasons, your website should be updated regularly through fresh content and/or updates to older content. We’ll be covering this in a separate post soon.

Ticket sales for the Florence Alabama workshop on Content, Social and SEO end Tuesday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m. Purchase tickets through Eventbrite here.

More on the workshop here.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing should be a strategic part of your brand journalism and content marketing efforts.

For some types of businesses–especially in the consumer/retail verticals–social media marketing will be a huge part of your marketing efforts. For others, like law firms and B2B service providers, social will be more of a distribution channel and a place to respond to inquiries.

Rules of professional conduct and confidentiality requirements mean that certain types of service providers will engage differently (if at all). Even though the engagement may be different, the social presence can still be a valuable part of a professional services firm’s marketing efforts.

Your social media marketing strategy should be developed in alignment with and in support of your larger brand journalism and content marketing efforts.

You will likely also have elements of your marketing strategy that are purely social in nature. A big part of a social strategy is understanding where your ideal clients and customers hang out.

Creative artists can use Instagram and Pinterest as a primary social channel, while a skate park or local ice cream shop might emphasize Snapchat and Instagram. Lawyers and accountants may find Twitter to be more effective than Facebook, while veterinarians get the most traction from Facebook and Instagram.

Once you know where to focus your energies, then you’ll have custom content specific to those social channels that builds on the messages and stories in your brand journalism and content initiatives.

A 30 second Instagram video explaining how to clean your new leather backpack might send your followers to your website to watch a longer video showing how to remove a particular type of stain or a downloadable PDF of an infographic on caring for leather.

For B2B companies, LinkedIn can be an excellent social channel. You may choose to occasionally cross-publish blog posts directly on your company’s LinkedIn page or the LinkedIn profiles of your chief executives.

There’s not a one-size fits all approach to brand journalism, content marketing, and social media marketing. You must start by defining your objectives, create your ideal customer profiles, and then develop the strategies and tactics to achieve your goals.

Organic Reach vs Sponsored Content

Another factor to consider in your  the extent to which you’ll solely rely on organic (i.e. free) distribution through your website, social channels, and other third-party platforms like Medium (which is a hybrid publishing platform and social network). If you have any budget at all, you’ll probably need to incorporate at least some “promoted” content in certain channels. We’ll cover the organic vs. sponsored/promoted distribution in a separate blog post.

Before you begin to develop a strategy for your brand journalism and content marketing initiatives, you need to consider certain factors about how your business fits into the industry vertical you're in, the types of customers and/or clients you have or want to attract, and what stories might appeal to them. We take a look at that in the next blog post.

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