Hardly a week goes by when you don't read or hear about social marketing or social media. Those terms are frequently used, so it's probably a good idea to first define them.

Social marketing was "born" as a discipline in the 1970s. Philip Kotler & Gerald Zaltman of Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, in 1971 used the term to describe the application of commercial marketing principles to health, social, and quality-of-life issues.

Social marketing was defined as "seeking to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society." It leverages the value that consumers/customers have in sharing between themselves and with the brand/manufacturer. It delivers a two-way communication link between the consumer/customer and the brand.

While social marketing was originally developed from the desire that companies had to capitalize on commercial marketing techniques, it has evolved into a more integrative and comprehensive discipline that draws on a wide array of technology, from the traditional media to new media, referred to as "social media."

These social media comprise primarily Internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information, such as viral videos, blogs, and online reviews, to help the company build its business.

Whereas your Web site provides customers and visitors with information about your company and its products—and you use the Internet to enhance your reach through things such as pay-per-click, webinars, and search—social media is about leveraging relationships and networks. It complements other online and offline marketing initiatives.

As more and more companies invest resources into social media and marketing, it's natural to ask the value of this investment is to be measured. Social media and marketing doesn't replace other media, just as radio didn't replace newspaper and television didn't replace radio. Rather, social media are another part of your multichannel-marketing efforts.

The same principles that you apply to determine how much you are going to invest in other media apply to online social media. The first principle is to select your target market. Second, develop consistent relevant messaging and content. Just as with any online effort, content is king when it comes to social media.

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM