Organic vs. Paid Social Media

by Jesse Leonardi & Kate Engler

Nearly half of the world’s population is considered active on social media platforms in 2019 (Emarsys). It is subsequently almost expected that both individuals and businesses alike are to be on social media channels. According to Sprout Social, 37% of consumers find purchasing inspiration on social media platforms. Additionally, 73% of marketers believe that their efforts through social media marketing have been “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for their business (Oberlo), with the overall global social media advertising spend continuing to increase significantly year over year.

Two Forms of Social Media

There are two primary forms of social media: organic and paid.

Organic social media is any post or activity that occurs on a social media platform without any form of paid promotion. Organic posts are typically utilized for building and maintaining brand image, boosting customer loyalty, providing fun value with a smaller portion of the organic effort being for direct response sales purposes. According to Hubspot, 85% of consumers prefer an authentic and honest brand personality on social networks, with these types of brand posts typically being organic.

Conversely, paid social media is any action or post on a social media platform that is paid for by an individual or an organization. Hootsuite states that over 53% of businesses utilize paid social media advertising across all channels. Paid social media functions more as traditional digital advertising, as its goal is to grow brand awareness through the strategic targeting of specific demographics or geographic locations. This garners more direct responses and lead generation to increase customer acquisition. Businesses are able to leverage paid ads to acquire top-tier audiences that they can then retarget later by gathering post engagement, video views and landing page activity information.

Organic and paid social media functions differently based on the platform you are using, so understanding each platform and its capabilities and deficits.

Pay to Play on Facebook

Facebook, for example, has a very limited organic reach. Posting from a personal or business profile on Facebook will only reach the handful of friends or followers that are immediately connected to you. Posting via paid promotion on Facebook, on the other hand, will allow for larger, more targeted audiences to be reached in ways that organic posting could never accomplish. Thus, here is a platform that is more “pay to play” oriented.

Instagram’s Organic Reach to Stay Significant

Organic reach is still immensely significant on Instagram. While individual profiles have greater room for privacy measures, business profiles are accessible to anyone using the platform. Instagram’s “Discover” tab populates a wide variety of relevant or suggested content to the user, pulling from user activity as well as demographic and geographic information. Paid social media on Instagram can be effective in that it ‘boosts’ a post to a prioritizing place on a user’s Instagram feed, but organic reach is often immensely successful in itself. Instagram is an impressively large engagement powerhouse, and that’s partially because users on Instagram are more willing to engage with brands on Instagram than they are on other platforms.

Stories are a critical differentiator when it comes to successful marketing on Instagram in particular. According to Hootsuite, stories across Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp are growing nearly 15 times faster than regular feed-based sharing.

Leveraging Paid Ads on Social

Both Facebook and Instagram paid ads can yield positive results. Facebook’s Ad Manager automatically opts users into a number of placements, including Facebook, Instagram, Audience Network, Facebook stories and Instagram stories. We recommend beginning with these automatic placements unless there is hard data that shows otherwise.

As paid ads can be used for direct response, top funnel audience building and brand strategies, users are able to leverage paid ads to test hypotheses around images and ad copy in order to find out what truly resonates with a particular segment of your audience. Uploading your user list or using pixels from top converting customers to build lookalike audiences is a common best practice that works for many brands when leveraging paid ads on Facebook or Instagram.

Key Takeaways

To summarize, there are many advantages to both organic and paid social media. The choice between the two is based primarily on the intent of the brand and the intention of the post. For fun, authentic and honest brand posts, organic is generally a more successful option. For lead generation and customer acquisition, paid social tends to garner more results. Depending on long term goals and intended outcomes, paid or organic social media are great avenues to explore.