Understanding the Differences Between Advertising in Traditional Media and Social Media

If you are trying to find a way to effectively market your company’s goods and services, then you know the number of choices for channels you can use to reach your customers is staggering. There’s no way to invest in everything at once when you are just starting out, and the biggest divide seems to be between social media and traditional media. There are a number of marketing and advertising strategies you can use in each, and the costs and analytic tools available to you will differ based on your choices.


Major Strategic Differences

In general, online advertising tends to be pull advertising, which means it draws customers to you, usually by finding ways to direct them to your site or products as a solution to whatever they are searching for. It functions on the assumption that customers are trying to find you or products and services like yours, and it uses various online tools like search engine placement and demographic targeting to find them and direct your marketing at them.

Traditional marketing, on the other hand, tends to be push advertising. That means it is pushing information about your products or services on whoever happens to be exposed to them. It is harder to focus, but there are tools for ensuring that you are at least directing it toward interested demographics. They are not as precise as the tools available with online marketing and social media.


Cost Differences: Social Media vs. Traditional Media

There are tremendous cost differences between the two forms. In general, advertising on social media platforms averages a cost of around $2.50 per 1000 viewers. That metric is called CPM, and it defines the ways costs are calculated in advertising. CPM is the one area where calculating costs online can be difficult. That’s because it is easy to calculate CPM on something like a direct ad buy online, but it is more difficult to weigh factors like SEO, which is an ongoing process requiring continuous investment.

Online marketing also relies on the use of a number of different strategies for putting your information out there, so it is useful to consider all social media and digital marketing efforts together when calculating CPM or return on investment. Traditional media, on the other hand, tend to operate more like separate strategies. Coordination and synergy makes them work better and improves their cost effectiveness, but the CPM for real-world ads tends to be quite a bit higher than the $2.50 average across all social media channels. Here are some costs for comparison:

  • Billboards – $5 CPM
  • Radio – $10 CPM
  • Newspaper – $16 CPM
  • Magazine – $16 CPM
  • Local/Broadcast Television – $28 CPM
  • Direct Mail – $57 CPM

It’s important to point out when comparing these ones to another that some forms of traditional advertising are much more effective than others for certain industries. It’s not always effective, for instance, for a company to use direct mail advertising because certain demographic groups are less likely to respond in that medium. In that sense, it is important to balance investment in traditional and social media, because you are going to get customers through one that you will not get through the other. It’s also important to remember, though, that no matter how effective offline advertising is, it needs to be many times more effective than social media marketing before your cost per conversion is actually lower.


Measuring Conversions, ROI, and Other Analytics Between Media

When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of your ads, only social media advertising can provide you with precise analytics that document the exact number of views and the exact rate of conversion to sales. It doesn’t work with other forms of online marketing like SEO, it only works for the few channels that are “social:”

  • Online ad placement
  • Search keyword investment
  • Social promotion on social networks

When it comes to traditional advertising, those analytics are just plain unavailable. You can measure sales before and after a campaign to measure its influence, and comparative measurements like that are worthwhile. They are not precise, though, and they can only roughly estimate the effectiveness of new campaigns because they exist in an advertising ecosystem that usually involves multiple simultaneous promotions at once.


Is One Better Than the Other?

If you are trying to decide where to spend your advertising budget and you can’t afford a large-scale multi-media campaign, then it is fairly likely that one particular form of advertising will be more effective for you. When considering the costs and benefits of each, your social media marketing is almost surely the lowest cost and highest yield marketing you can engage in. It’s also the easiest to calibrate because of the specific analytics you can use to determine which platforms give you the best performance and which strategies and demographics to target on those platforms.

There are situations where traditional advertising might give you a higher ROI temporarily. For example, if you have a local event that is related to your business and you intend to be highly visible during it, then advertising in traditional media might temporarily eclipse the cost-effectiveness of your social media ads. The fact is, though, that these moments are fleeting.

In the end, you will probably need both traditional media and social media to be able to build a long-term strategy, so thinking about one being “better” than the other is not very useful. Instead, it’s worthwhile to think of social media advertising as the least expensive way to build your exposure. Start with it, learn its ins and outs, and look for help from media partners who really understand social media, like Social Vantage. Once your social media marketing investments are mature and performing, it makes a lot of sense to start investing in costlier forms of advertising so you can reach everyone who is interested in your product.



If you have limited resources, it makes sense to ask whether traditional or social media marketing will take you further. The fact is, social media marketing will almost always be more cost effective, but it works best as part of a comprehensive multi-media approach to marketing.

About Grant Cooper

Grant Cooper is the co-founder and CEO of Social Vantage, a prominent social media management agency based out of Philadelphia, PA. Over the last three years, Grant and his team have worked with hundreds of businesses across six continents, created thousands of campaigns and generated well over 100,000 leads for businesses through social media marketing. Grant is a passionate hockey fan and a regular attendee at Philadelphia Flyers games.