Weighing the options between organic and paid social media? We'll save you some legwork: you'll probably want to do a bit of both.

Paid and organic social networks are different beasts that are best used for different purposes. However, for a holistic approach that balances awareness and conversion, it pays to understand the pros and cons of each one.

If you're new to paid social networks, 2020 is an interesting time to get started. During the pandemic, people around the world are using more social media. At the same time, advertising spending is not keeping up. The major social networks are reporting some ups and downs in their earnings, as many brands stop advertising to either save money during an economic downturn or to take a moral stance against hate speech.

It's a complicated time, but the silver lining shows that ad prices tend to be lower. For example, Facebook's CPC fell from 11 cents to 9 cents between January and March alone. Just a year earlier, Hootsuites own numbers had a CPC averaging around 40 cents.

So where is your brand's social media marketing strategy? Well, it depends on your overall goals. Read on to find out more.

Bonus: Get the Step-by-Step Guide to Social Media Strategies with professional tips on how to increase your social media presence.

What is organic social media?

Organic social media refers to the free content (posts, photos, videos, memes, stories, etc.) that all users, including companies and brands, share with one another in their feeds.

By organically posting to your account as a brand, you can expect the following people to see:

  • A percentage of your followers (a.k.a. your "organic reach")
  • Your followers' followers (when people want to share your post)
  • People who follow the hashtags you use

It sounds pretty simple, but the reason organic social media is the foundation of any digital marketing strategy today is because it's the best way to connect with your customers on a large scale.

For example, brands use organic social networks to:

  • establish their personality and voice
  • Build relationships by sharing informative, fun, and / or inspirational content
  • Engage customers at every stage of their buying journey
  • support their customers with customer service

Here are some examples of typical organic content from companies:

This barber inspires and informs its clients with a steady stream of portfolio shots that simultaneously give potential clients insight into its aesthetics and remind current clients of how badly they need it.

"The thing is, the tone can be so completely adapted to any style of living. I've seen it in rooms with tons of boldness …

Posted by Article on Tuesday July 14th, 2020

This ecommerce furniture outfit often shares user generated content about its products in the wild. This couch happens to be in an influencer's house, no big deal.

Pro tip: While the two aren't mutually exclusive, paid social media generally doesn't involve influencer marketing, which is usually arranged directly. Read our complete guide to influencer marketing here.

Here is a fluid dress company that publishes content with no fluid dresses in sight. (The mood still screams for flowing clothes.)

MoonPie tweets

(Source: MoonPie)

This snack cake brand likes to tweet warm jokes like it is a person, not a snack cake, that attracts the attention and interaction of other official brand accounts, which everyone generally likes.

But of course organic social has a disadvantage. The reality is that only a small percentage of your followers will see your organic posts as all major platforms use ranking algorithms.

For example, organic reach on Facebook was down 2.2% at the end of 2019, which means that the average organic reach for a Facebook post is around 5.5% of your follower count. For big brands with a large fan base, it's often even less.

The decline in organic reach has been a fact for a few years as the world's largest platforms saturate, attention spans shrink, and platform CEOs prioritize “meaningful” or “responsible” user experiences. In other words, it's harder than ever to see your content from your own audience, let alone new eyes.

This is where the paid social comes into play.

What is Paid Social Media?

Paid social media is another word for advertising. This is the case when brands pay money to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc. to share their content with certain new audiences who are likely to be interested, either by "improving" their organic content or by designing unique advertisements.

Paid social networks are on an upward trend, according to eMarketer, as users are more comfortable with the idea of ​​shopping directly from their social feeds.

Social networks currently using paid social networks

(Source: eMarketer)

B2C retailers aren't the only industry focused on social advertising, however. More than organic content, paid posts are the best way for brands to target new audiences on social media and convert them into customers. Brands use paid social networks to:

  • Increase brand awareness and gain new followers
  • promote their latest offers, content, events, etc.
  • Generate leads
  • Drive conversions (including ecommerce sales)

Here are some recent examples that we noted.

We pride ourselves on serving Canadian small business owners like Peter Laywine who has been in Toronto for 30 years and online around the world for 2 months. Check out his story: 👇 https://t.co/ab2VpsMQrS pic.twitter.com/p91AYjj4Vp

– Google Canada (@googlecanada) June 26, 2020

Google put the ad budget behind these feel-good stories, which highlight the company's importance to small businesses during the pandemic. Paying for the promotion of these videos ensured that they would be seen by users beyond the (relatively) small number and following the company's official accounts. If your brand has the budget for a charm offensive, this type of soft-touch display can be important for relationship building, even if it doesn't generate sales per se.

London Review of Books Paid Advertisement

(Source: @londonreviewofbooks)

In the meantime, a more traditional approach is to target users who have already shown their interest in your niche. For example, the London Review of Books uses a tried and tested formula: audiences who follow similar accounts (in this case FSG Books, Artforum, Paris Review, etc.) offer them a significant discount and direct them to a smooth landing page with Instagram Shopping.

Shipping coffee Instagram paid ad

(Source: @dispatchcoffee)

To survive the pandemic, Dispatch Coffee switched from the local cafe and monastery to the subscription service for the delivery of beans. Instagram ads allow them to target customers in a specific geographic area to get the word out.

Organic versus paid social media

Organic and paid social strategies each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Let's sum them up.

An organic social media strategy promotes your relationship with your customers or your audience. It will help you:

  • Build your brand's presence where people are already spending their time
  • Support and retain existing customers
  • Convert new customers by showing them what your business is about

However, organic is often slower to achieve business goals, and while technically free, it takes a lot of time, experimentation, and / or experience to get it right.

A paid social media strategy is how you connect with new customers or viewers. It will help you:

However, this requires a budget and some form of expertise of its own (these ads don't self-monitor).

In short, while organic activity is necessary for relationship building, it is also true that network ranking algorithms mean that pay-to-play is a fact of life on social networks.

How to integrate a paid and organic social media strategy

The foundation of most integrated social media strategies is using bio to serve and delight your existing customers while attracting new eyes with paid ads.

Here we outline the fine print of how to do it.

1. Not all advertising postings have to be paid for

First things first, only pay ads if they will actually help you meet your KPIs and ultimately meet your business goals. Ads aren't always the answer to social questions. (And even if you do, never forget the power of a well-designed organic post that people want to share.)

For example, whenever you announce something new – be it a partnership, a pivot, or a new iteration of your flagship product – your existing followers need to be informed. A creative, original, organic campaign creates enthusiasm. Create a compelling post, pin it to your profile, or add it to your Stories Highlights when it's big enough.

Though Disney paused Facebook spending in June as part of #StopHateforProfit, they announced Beyonce's new Lion King-inspired film as an organic post:

Experience a new visual album inspired by the Lion King: The Gift. #BlackIsKing, a Beyoncé film, will be streamed exclusively on Disney + on July 31st.

Posted by Disney on Sunday 19th Jul 2020

However, if your organic activity is not getting the range or impressions you were hoping for, it may be time to open your (corporate) wallet.

2. Increase your best organic content

Your top performing posts aren't just there to puff up your vanity data. Probably the easiest way to dip your toes in the pool of paid advertising is to identify content that really resonated with your audience and pay to show it new eyes.

This is generally considered an entry tactic as the risk is low. You don't need to create an ad, let alone an advertising campaign. However, most social media professionals will tell you it is time to consider supporting them with spending when they realize they have a hit on their hands.

For example, you can start allocating a small budget to the top weekly or monthly publication when you run your analytical report. Pay attention not only to likes, but also to conversions, profile views, etc.

Pro tip: Hootsuite's Boost tool lets you customize triggers to automatically boost snowballs (e.g. if your post is shared 100 times). This video shows you how:

3. Optimize all of your posts using A / B testing

We say it all the time, but in our experience, split testing is a step that is skipped far too often.

Before allocating your entire social media budget to an ad, run versions of it on a smaller audience to see if it's good. Test your CTA, copywriting, graphics, placement, format and even targeting of the ad. You can also test it on different audience demographics (age, location, etc) before committing to higher spend. There are two advantages to this: A more memorable, fun, and successful ad for your audience is also a cheaper one for you.

In the meantime, for organic posts, you can set up manual split tests and track results by using UTM parameters in your links. Our full guide to A / B testing on social networks can be found here.

Pro tip: You can also use Hootsuite to split test your Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns.

4. Target your ads to people who are similar to your organic audience

The more you have organically expanded your social presence, the more data you have about your ideal customer or your ideal target group. Where do you live? How old are they? What are you interested in? What problems do you face in your life? How do you help them

Make use of all of this information as you create your ads. This is the place where all of your hard work in building quality relationships with your audience pays off.

For example, most social platforms offer the ability to create similar audiences based on your best customers, as you describe them. Perhaps these are your newsletter subscribers, or people who looked into your profile or content, or people who bought a product in the last year. A like audience is made up of people with similar demographics and behaviors but who haven't been introduced to your brand before.

5. Use retargeting ads to stay connected with your organic audience

Retargeting campaigns can be very effective at a relatively low cost because you reach out to people who already know your company. Often these are people who have come to your social or web presence organically. Perhaps they visited your profile or website, or even left a shopping cart.

The idea here is that they might just need a reminder to come back and convert and the right ad can convince them.

Pro Tip: For more tips on how to get the best ROI on your Facebook ads, check out our own social media team's steps when they could only spend $ 100 on ads.

6. Look at your data and measure your results

Watching a campaign flop is equally painful, whether it's organic or paid. However, if you keep an eye on your social analytics tools, it will tell you where to make changes for better results.

If you are running paid and organic campaigns at the same time, make sure you measure apples versus apples and oranges versus oranges. To do this, Hootsuite Impact lets you break down your data into paid and organic data and visualize it so your ROI is crystal clear for both areas of your strategy.

Pro tip: Hootsuite's ad dashboard also shows you up-to-date data on the performance of your ads, so you can pause and readjust a campaign if it's not performing well.

7. Automate as much as possible

The bottom line when combining paid and organic social networks is that it's more: more money, more time, more know-how, more assets and simply more posts.

Whether you're a team of twelve or a lone wolf consultant, the key is to keep the work to a minimum so you can focus on what's important. To do this, automate as much of your daily workflow as possible:

Use Hootsuite to easily integrate your paid and organic social marketing efforts. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts, grow the best performing content, create ads, measure performance, and much more. Try it for free today.

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