The Key to Understanding Organic vs. Paid Social Media Marketing

Logan Mayville
Logan Mayville
Facebook Ads Expert & Consultant

Social media marketing is like oxygen for your business. It doesn’t really matter your individual viewpoint on it—your business needs it to survive. That’s just how it is today. 

Consumers use social media as a way to back up claims they hear about your brand via advertising or word of mouth and to find out more info before committing to a purchase or action. 

There are a ton of details, strategies and tactics that comprise social media marketing, but at a high level you need to master two aspects: paid and organic. Each one focuses on its own goal. 

So organic vs. paid social media marketing… What is the right balance for you? 

You absolutely need both, and what follows in this post is a detailed guide to where you should be focusing your efforts to get the particular results on your way to building a community that also helps you achieve your business objectives. 

Let’s dive right in. 

Organic Social Media

Do you wash your car? Probably. 

What effect does that have on the performance of the car or the gas mileage? Absolutely none, but you still do it—why? 

Maintaining a clean car is a signal to your friends, family, and peers that you’re put together and that you care about your appearance. A clean car is branding. Cleaning your car isn’t meant to increase performance or get you results, but it’s an important component of your overall car maintenance. 

Organic social media is a part of your brand, so don’t neglect it. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the benefits you can expect with consistent use of social media for business. 

Benefits of organic social media

Organic social media provides a lot of benefits in terms of brand awareness in a few key areas. Let’s take a closer look. 

Building a community - If advertisers can’t rely on data in the manner they’re used to due to iOS 14 (more on that in just a bit), building a community of engaged followers is the next best thing. Facebook and Instagram may not have access to third party data anymore, but their own online communities generate a wealth of data marketers can use to test products, marketing strategies, and creative concepts. In fact, creating a community is a solid benefit of organic social media marketing regardless! 

Helps establish brand voice - People will hear your slogan in your advertising, but through organic social media where you have a lot more room for conversation, they can get to understand your voice. One of the all-time great examples of brand voice on social media is from Taco Bell, who created a somewhat snarky personality that resonates with their audience of young, active, and impulsive social media users. Its social accounts can often be found getting into good-natured Twitter banter with other brands and their own followers and customers. 

Creates a feedback loop with your audience - If you’re looking to test a new product or messaging strategy, social media is a great place to do it because of its two-way communication. If you unveil a new logo via social media, you will undoubtedly receive instant feedback from your followers, as Slack did in 2019. Sure, some of it might be negative, but overall, that type of direct feedback from customers, fans, and followers is valuable info for a brand.  

Organic social media does have its own set of issues, however...

Drawbacks of organic social media

First off, you’re unlikely to generate significant business results with organic social media only. On Facebook, for instance, studies show that around 5% of your total Page Likes will see your content in their newsfeeds. What this means is that for the majority of small businesses and brands that aren’t Nike, posting something organically will not drive a lot of traffic to your website or create a lot of sales. 

Secondly, organic social media isn’t going to create a lot of value overnight. You’ll need to consistently post and engage your audience for months before you start to see any of the benefits we described in the previous section. Contrary to what so-called “social media gurus” on Twitter will try to tell you in their course, there is no ‘6-Minute Abs’ for organic social media. Be patient and consistent like a solid gym routine. 

Last, it does take some time to get the ‘feel’ for it. You undoubtedly will have posts that flop, you will receive negative comments from trolls, and you will make mistakes. A lot of this is due to the algorithm and what types of content gets ‘rewarded’ with high visibility. Don’t be discouraged! Follow other brands that you want to emulate and immerse yourself in the world—you will begin to understand the nuance that it takes to have success on social media. 

Still ready to give organic social media a shot? Keep reading. 

Tips for Optimizing Organic Social Media

Follow these tips if you’d like to get the most out of your organic social media channels. 

Create systems for community management - Don’t let comments (both positive and negative) go unanswered. When done correctly, you can actually do a lot of business in the comments section of your posts. Engage your community, answer their questions, and constantly try to provide value. In order to do this, you’ll need to have systems in place to make sure you’re alerted of your comments, engagement, and direct messages. Most social media platforms have some built-in tools, such as Facebook’s Inbox, but you might consider upgrading to a tool that better suits your needs if the built-in features fall short. 

Utilize UGC from influencers - One of the best ways to increase your organic social media presence is by allowing influencers to work on behalf of your brand. This gives your brand immediate social proof because your brand messages are coming from a trusted third party. 

Additionally, content creators are going to increase the variety and diversity of the posts you’re featured or tagged in. Some content may be focused on the unboxing of the overall experience of using your products, others might be how-to or tutorial-style posts, while still others might focus more on the lifestyle aspect that goes along with your product. If you’re going to go the UGC route (which we highly recommend!) you might be interested in whitelisting your creators

However, if you’re counting on a single UGC post from a single creator to directly result in sales and conversions, you might be surprised to learn that it’s rarely the case. While you can definitely get a spike, organic social is not very predictable, reliable, or scalable in this sense. Most relationships with creators take a considerable amount of time and consistency to deliver results, and you’ll likely need to add in some paid social media in order to generate the types of business results you’re looking for. 

This brings us to the other end of the social media spectrum, which is advertising. 

Paid Social Media

Paid social is where the money is—both in terms of revenue and expense. If you’re looking to drive measurable business results, you’re likely going to need to implement a strategy for social media advertising. 

So what types of benefits can you expect?

Benefits of paid social media

The #1 benefit of using paid social is that it gets predictable results—conversions, traffic, video views, etc. When you invest in paid social and you execute at a high level, you can achieve business results in a relatively short time span. There are a few key sub-benefits of paid social that you’ll be able to achieve once you start advertising. 

Targeting - As opposed to organic content, you get to specify who will see your paid posts. You can use an interest or demographic-based audience, or you can target people who have been on your website or see your other content. This gives you a lot more control over who is seeing what message at what time, which drives the business results we mentioned. 

Scale - Once you find a funnel that is working, you can add more marketing budget into your campaigns to scale your results. This is especially useful when sales volume is the key to your success or you have a hot product with a lot of inventory. 

Testing and optimization - As opposed to organic posts where you only get one shot to nail the graphic design and copywriting, social media advertising allows you to mix and match different ad creatives via A/B tests to help you find the perfect match of art and copy. Ingrained in the testing framework of paid social platforms is the ability to measure almost everything at an extremely granular level—you can measure the effectiveness of your campaigns by ad content, by audience, and even by post type (video vs. graphic, for example). 

While we are huge proponents of paid social advertising, it does come with its own set of challenges. 

Drawbacks of paid social media

While most of the challenges are manageable, here are a few issues to look out for when running paid social campaigns.

One of the major issues with social media ads right now is the platforms’ reliance on cookies and mobile IDs. When Apple released iOS 14, it allowed users to turn off this type of access to advertisers which threw many of their campaigns for a loop. We’re not going to go into too much detail here, but you can read more about how the iPhone update affected the ability to target on Facebook and Instagram here. Long story short, many advertisers are having to adapt quickly from the strategies they used successfully for years due to poor performance and unreliable reporting. 

Additionally, an inherent problem with all advertising is that when you turn it off, your results drop off almost immediately. Advertising doesn’t tend to create self-sustaining traffic or results—you need to keep paying to continue to drive conversions. There are a few things you can do to keep up your results with paid social, however. 

Tips for Optimizing Paid Social Media

There are many blogs and resources for how to run effective social media ad campaigns, so we’ll just briefly cover a few advanced tactics here. 

Utilize UGC - As we discussed briefly, paid social campaigns depend on a variety of content to test what works best. This includes mixing up video and images, but you can also vary the source of the content. By sourcing UGC from your audiences and using it in your ad campaigns you can give yourself a better chance of converting your clicks into customers. In this way, your UGC efforts from the organic side of your social media marketing strategy can be repurposed for use in your paid campaigns. 

White listing and dark posting - For advanced marketers, you can not only utilize the content you get from creators, you can use their profiles and audiences! By whitelisting your influencers, you get access to run ads from their accounts with the content that they created for your brand. Leading social media advertisers like Savannah Sanchez have long advocated for this practice and use it for their own clients. If you’re new to the concept of whitelisting, we highly suggest checking out this related blog post: What is whitelisting on Instagram?

In social media, as in life, balance is key. It’s also important to understand how each strategy (organic social vs. paid social) maps to your goals. Yes, you will likely need paid social campaigns if you want to drive sales and conversions on your website. But, if you have an existing community that you’ve built up through organic social media marketing, you’ll likely find that your paid campaigns are far more effective. 

The same goes for UGC. If you’ve taken the time to build a network of creators who are regularly contributing UGC to your brand, you’ll be able to utilize their content (and audiences) in your paid campaigns and boost your results! 

Point is, it’s unlikely you’ll have the optimal success with either strategy if you use them in isolation.We hope that you now see how you can use both organic and paid social media to optimize your marketing campaigns.

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Logan Mayville

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