Organic vs Paid Social Media: What is the difference?

Organic vs Paid Social Media: What is the difference?

Like many other areas in the digital world, social media marketing has vastly evolved in recent years. Earlier marketing strategies focused solely on improving engagement, but now they cover everything from customer acquisition and remarketing to retention and service. 

Many of them are executed with paid social, which provides a wealth of opportunity when it comes to improving the consumer journey. But how do you know when to post organically or when to use paid promotion to get your content in front of a wider audience? Find the answers in the following article.

What is the difference between organic and paid social media?

The difference between paid social and organic social is quite simple. Organic social content is posted for free without a paid promotion. It is commonly used by brands to build and engage with an online following, establish their personality and voice, and enable more efficient customer service. The more your audience engages and shares with your organic social posts, the more they will be visible on the feeds of others, such as your followers' followers, as well as people following any hashtags you use.

Paid social content, on the other hand, involves brands paying money to social networks such as Facebook and Instagram in order to have their content shared with specific audiences, usually either through boosting their organic content, designing unique advertisements, or through sponsored posts. Paid social posts will show up in the feeds of whichever audience you decide to target and can be filtered by the likes of demographics, location, interests, and more. Cost-per-click (CPC) is one of the most common methods of charging for this type of promotion. Most often, paid social advertising is used by brands to raise brand awareness and attract new followers, generate leads, and drive conversions.

While paid social and organic social vary in their scope, for a hybrid strategy that balances awareness with conversion, it's useful to know the benefits and drawbacks of each.

The benefits and drawbacks of organic social media

Businesses use organic social media because it's free, but its benefits stretch far beyond that. For starters, the fact that you can reply to consumers directly allows you to nurture your relationships with them, while at the same time boosting their trust and confidence in your brand. By listening to your audience's concerns and answering their questions, you can also make improvements to your brand. This allows you to support and retain existing customers and offers you the chance to convert new customers. One of the other great benefits of organic social media is that you can invite consumers to submit their own content, known as user-generated content (UGC) through blogging or posts. This not only saves your marketing team the job of creating additional content but also shows customers that their opinions and values are important to your brand. 

The downside of an organic social strategy is that it will usually take you longer to achieve your business goals as well as more time-consuming and testing required. Even if all major platforms use ranking algorithms, only a small percentage of your followers will see your organic posts. On Facebook, organic posts only reach about 2 percent of followers ‐ a figure that is steadily declining.

Pair this with platform CEOs prioritising ‘meaningful' and ‘responsible' user experience and the wider problem of declining attention spans. It's tougher than ever to get your content seen by your own audience, let alone by new consumers. That's where marketers use paid social media.

The benefits and drawbacks of paid social media

One of the main benefits of paid social media is that it allows you to connect with new customers or audience members. If organic reach declines, paid social enables you to reach people outside of your audience who are unlikely to discover your content otherwise. By applying filters to your paid campaigns, you can also target your ideal customer more precisely, resulting in an instant boost in conversions and allowing you to meet your business goals more quickly.

However, it does require a budget. With social media marketing becoming an increasingly competitive landscape, gaining the attention of consumers and new audience members will likely mean dealing with higher pay-per-click (PPC) rates. Paid social media also requires a lot of time, attention, and expertise in terms of posting, monitoring, and analysing ads. After all, the most effective ads have usually been changed and adjusted along the way.

Hybrid approach

If you're weighing the options between organic and paid social media, you're probably going to want to do a bit of both. To simultaneously engage with and nurture your followers while extending the reach of your brand to a broader audience, we recommend adopting a hybrid strategy. 

By monitoring your organic social metrics, you can better determine which content is most popular with your audience before running it as a promotion. For example, if an organic social post on your new 2-for-1 offer is performing particularly well, it may be worth paying to ‘boost' the post to get it in front of more people. But it's important to remain conscious of your budget, which means starting small.

To improve your online presence and take your social media marketing skills to the next level, book on to our Social Media Marketing Advanced course.

by Emma Gibbins | 27 Sep 23

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