Organic vs Paid Social Media: Using Both to Your Advantage
In this article
When people think of using social media to grow their business, they might imagine making viral memes. And while this is certainly a part of a social media strategy, it isn’t the whole story. Any social strategy worth its salt uses a combination of organic and paid social media—practices that involve a bit of art, a bit of science, and a lot of data-backed social media marketing strategy.
Read on to learn more about the differences between these two types of social media marketing, and how digital marketers use them to increase engagement, reach, and conversions.
What Is Paid Social Media?
Paid social media is a form of advertising in which companies pay a social network to ensure that their content reaches a target audience. Social media marketers will spend money to either “boost” existing social media posts to a wider audience or they can craft advertisements from the ground up for paid social media.
What Is Organic Social Media?
Organic social media shows up in the feeds of people who already follow an account. It is beholden to the algorithms of social networks, which means that only a fraction of a company’s followers might see its content. Organic posts include everything a company shares that is free, such as user-generated content, images, video, and links.
Organic vs. Paid Social Media
Most social media marketing campaigns will usually have a mix of organic and paid social media because each has its own benefits (more on the pros and cons of social media for businesses).
What’s the Goal of Paid Social Media?
Paid social media lets companies cut through the noise and target both a more specific and wider audience. For brands that know they can pique the interest of potential customers if only their social media posts had a broader reach, paid social media can be a powerful tool for raising brand awareness and increasing conversions.
What’s the Goal of Organic Social Media?
Unlike paid content, which has a goal of amplifying a message for a larger audience, the goal of organic content is to reach those who are already following a company’s accounts, support and retain existing customers, and establish a brand image and voice so that newcomers to a company’s social media profiles can get a sense for what the company represents.
What Are the Benefits of Paid Social Media?
The benefits of paid social media are manifold: companies can reach a larger number of people, they can target their ideal customers based on audience demographics, and the call-to-action nature of paid social posts means that they can increase conversions.
What Are the Benefits of Organic Social Media?
Organic social content has the benefit of establishing a brand’s social media presence, building relationships and a sense of community, and highlighting a company’s personality and values. While organic campaigns might have a limited reach compared to paid campaigns, organic posts can help build trust, boost brand loyalty, and ultimately lead to conversions.
What Do You Need to Succeed in Paid Social Media?
Two key elements are required for paid social media success:
- Social media budget
- Commitment to audit and monitor the performance of paid posts. Without ad monitoring in the form of data analytics, it’s impossible to know whether the spend is working.
What Do You Need to Succeed in Organic Social Media?
While organic content doesn’t require a budget, it still requires time and data analytics to determine whether the social media marketing strategy is working. Organic strategy requires experimentation, experience, and iteration to get right.
Most companies rely on both organic and paid social media content to achieve different aspects of their marketing goals. Peloton, for example, uses both to reach current and potential customers, with a different focus for each target audience.
In the below paid Facebook post, which can be identified by the “sponsored” tag, the company is targeting potential customers by offering a discount coupled with a call-to-action. The goal is to lure in people who are curious about Peloton by incentivizing them with a reduced, limited-time membership rate and introducing them to one of Peloton’s most high-profile instructors, Ally Love.
Peloton’s organic content on Facebook typically assumes that the audience already owns a Peloton bike or treadmill. Its goal is to foster a sense of community and customer loyalty by inviting audience engagement. The post below is a good example of Peloton’s approach to organic social media marketing efforts: it poses a question to its followers, invites them to tag Peloton in their photos, and uses motivational content to build brand identity.
How Organic and Paid Social Media Can Work Together
Organic and paid social media have a place in most social and digital marketing strategies and can often be used together to great effect. Below are some of the ways a digital marketing team might use the two types of social media.
Use Paid Social to Test Different Types of Content
With a paid social media campaign, marketing teams can quickly test different types of content and gather data on the content’s efficacy. Without the hurdles of organic social media content (i.e. social media algorithms, social posts having limited reach, etc.), marketers can get quick and accurate results on how a post is performing.
Use Paid Social to Boost Your Top Organic Content
When brands have organic content that is performing well, such as a photo or video that has gone viral, they will often pay to boost their reach across different social channels. Viral content is valuable content, and paid posts offer an opportunity to capitalize on successful organic efforts.
Use Paid Social to Retarget Your Organic Users
Only a fraction of a company’s organic content is ever seen—even followers of a brand might not be shown certain posts. So, when a company has a social post that it thinks would benefit existing followers and loyal customers, it might use paid social media to retarget those users and ensure that the post is seen.
Use Paid and Organic Social to Drive Users Into Other Parts of Your Funnel
In addition to directly driving conversions and building a voice and brand, both paid and organic social content can be used to encourage users to other parts of a company’s funnel (i.e. getting them to sign up for a newsletter, visit a website, volunteer their email address, etc.) because these other areas of digital marketing can collectively help a company meet its business goals.
Where to Start With Your Social Media Strategy
If you want to incorporate organic and paid social media into your digital marketing campaign, but don’t feel confident in your skill set, consider taking an online course in social media marketing. Most online bootcamps require only a short time commitment and offer hands-on practice and instructor guidance with all aspects of social media marketing strategy.
If you’re ready to get started, check out our guide below.
Find Where Your Users Are
Before creating content for organic or paid social media, figure out which social platforms your current and prospective customers are currently spending their time. The last thing you want is to spend time and money on social posts that aren’t going to reach your target audience. If you’re unsure of where your customers are, reverse engineer the social media accounts of competitors to see where their users are active.
Build an Organic Social Media Calendar
Regular posting of relevant content will help foster an engaged following, so have a regular posting schedule, and plan for opportunities when you can capitalize on your followers’ attention (i.e. around holidays, events, and announcements).
Use Paid Social Media to Test Boosting, Ads, and Retargeting
Paid social media offers a quick and accurate way to test the types of ads and content that people will respond to. Before going all-in on a social media campaign, use paid social media to determine the kinds of posts that warrant more investment and the demographics that will be most receptive to certain types of content.
Review the Data to See What Your Users Respond to and What Drives Conversions
Whether you’re running paid ads or sticking to the organic content, always review the data to see whether your social efforts are paying off. Use data analytics to identify your most high-performing and engaging content; figure out what kind of posting schedule yields the best engagement; and track the customer journey to determine the effect that social media posts have on conversions.
Iterate, Monitor, and Improve
Organic viral moments are few and far between—most social media strategies require experimentation, data collection, performance measurement, and a willingness to learn from past attempts. Social media marketing is not a one-and-done discipline, and the use of paid and organic social media is an iterative process that requires patience, creativity, attention to detail, and a desire to constantly improve.
Since you’re here…
According to LinkedIn, social media marketing skills are the most in-demand marketing skills this year, and jobs are plentiful. Our Social Media Marketing Certificate Course will prep you for an industry job in just 8 weeks. Don’t take it from us – our student reviews are glowing for a reason. We get people where they want to go, ASAP.