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Paid vs. Organic Social Media: How to Strike the Right Balance

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer
business.com Staff
Updated Mar 08, 2022

Learn the pros and cons of paid and organic social media to determine which type of social media marketing is best for your business.

There’s no question as to the importance of social media for business. What was initially a medium for personal entertainment and online socialization quickly transformed into one of the most common and effective marketing tools available for businesses. In fact, research from Statista found that nearly 92% of U.S. marketers in companies with more than 100 employees were expected to use social media marketing (SMM) in 2021. However, simply posting random product images on social media isn’t enough for a business to be successful with this type of marketing.  

Companies benefit from creating a strategic social media approach that combines both paid and organic social media marketing tactics. In this article, we dive into the pros and cons of each option so you can use them to your advantage.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing, also known as social media advertising, is when a company uses social media platforms to connect with their target audience. Popular social media marketing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok can be used to promote products and services, engage with and inform consumers, and grow web traffic and sales. SMM is also ideal for developing your brand.

There are two main types of social media marketing: paid and organic.

Paid social media marketing

Paid social media marketing is when you pay for promotional content to be posted on social media, such as advertisements and sponsored posts. This type of content can be seen by your current subscribers or followers, as well as people outside of your following.

Organic social media marketing

Organic social media marketing is when users find your business through unpaid promotions, such as social media posts you have on your company’s profile pages. Organic social media is primarily seen by your current subscribers or followers and anyone they share it with.

Marketers often find success using a combination of both paid and organic social media marketing, although the balance of the two will depend on your specific business needs.

TipTip: If you want to be successful at SMM, check out our step-by-step guide to social media marketing for small businesses.

The pros and cons of paid social media marketing

When it comes to paid social media marketing strategies, Facebook is the top choice for the majority of marketers. This comes as little surprise, due to both the platform’s sheer numbers – Facebook has more than 2 billion users – and algorithm changes. However, marketers should also consider other social media platforms for paid advertising, such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest.  

Benefits of paid social media marketing

There are several advantages to paid social media marketing. This type of marketing has quickly become one of the most popular forms of digital marketing, as it can be highly effective.

  • Paid SMM expands your audience reach. Paid social media marketing allows you to reach target customers whom you might not otherwise have had access to through organic methods. You can cast a wider net for potential customers, increasing your overall visibility. This is a great way to attract new consumers and increase your social media following.
  • Paid SMM increases brand awareness. Paid social media campaigns can increase your brand awareness among both new and existing customers. Each time someone sees your ad, your brand becomes top of mind. Providing valuable content through your paid social media advertisements can increase consumer trust and brand awareness.
  • Paid SMM can be customized to retarget consumers. Many platforms, such as Facebook, give you the ability to customize your ads based on consumer behavior. For example, if a user visits a certain webpage or product, you can target them with an ad related to that experience. This is a great way to retarget potential customers and get them in your purchasing funnel.

Challenges of paid social media marketing

There are a few potential limitations when it comes to paid social media marketing.

  • Paid SMM is competitive. Social media marketing is one of the least expensive types of advertising available, which makes it a viable option for small and large businesses alike. However, there is only a finite amount of ad space available to reach each consumer, and with a high demand for visibility, the cost for getting your ads prioritized over the competition can add up. This can be challenging for a company with a limited SMM budget.
  • Paid SMM requires a skilled campaign manager. If you’re putting business dollars into your social media marketing campaign, it’s important you have a skilled social media manager (or team) running your campaign for you. This means not only hiring someone with the skills and experience to be successful, but also ensuring they understand your target audience and the best ways to reach them. You don’t want to spend all your efforts advertising on Facebook if your target demographic is primarily on TikTok.
  • Paid SMM can become repetitive to your audience. Flooding your audience’s news feeds with ads about your product can annoy them and cause them to skip over your advertisements, diluting your paid efforts. To avoid this, it’s important to have a strategic social media campaign that finds the right balance for the posts you offer. You may want to consider the 5:3:2 rule for social media.

The pros and cons of organic social media marketing

Although paid social media marketing tends to be more effective than organic social media marketing, organic social media interactions are vital for developing relationships with current and potential customers. Companies can turn to virtually any social platform for organic social media marketing, but they should focus on the platforms their target audience uses the most.

Benefits of organic social media marketing

There are several advantages to organic social media marketing. Any organization can use this type of marketing as a way to develop an online presence.  

  • Organic SMM is free. OK, it’s not totally free; organic social media marketing will still cost you time. However, organic social media marketing is cheaper than its paid counterpart in terms of ad dollars. This is especially notable for businesses that don’t have a team in place to effectively manage a paid campaign or for companies with a limited budget.
  • Organic SMM builds your brand’s authentic reputation. Organic social media posts help build a brand’s online reputation over the long term. You can post content that is less salesy and more entertaining to keep your audience engaged. Since many consumers view organic content as more trustworthy than paid posts, it’s a great way to build your credibility, reputation and brand awareness.
  • Organic SMM allows you to engage directly with consumers. Social media is a direct line to your consumers and followers, and it can be used to personally interact with them. Organic social media actions, such as answering questions and responding to or sharing feedback, are an effective way to communicate with consumers, resolve concerns and build trust.

Did you know?Did you know? Gathering and acting on customer feedback can be an effective way to retain customers through social media and improve your business.

Challenges of organic social media marketing

Organic social media marketing also has a few limitations.

  • Organic SMM limits your audience reach. Organic social media posts reach your current audience only, which means you are relying on your current subscribers or followers to make repeat purchases and share your content with others. This limits the amount of exposure you have and reduces the chance of finding new potential customers.
  • Organic SMM isn’t targeted. Organic posts aren’t targeted in the same way paid posts are. Instead of being able to retarget consumers based on their previous searches or intent, you must take a more one-size-fits-all approach in hopes that your posts are relevant to many, if not most, of your followers.
  • Organic SMM can be time-consuming. Like any marketing effort, social media can eat up a lot of time. This is especially true for companies that want to have a presence on several social platforms. An inactive social media account is arguably worse for your brand than no presence at all, so you will need to dedicate time to keeping each profile current.

How to find the right balance of paid and organic social media

Marketers wondering when and where to spend their social media marketing dollars should have a strong understanding of the interests and demographics of their ideal audience, as well as insight into what types of content will be of interest on a particular platform.

An inclusive strategy would ideally integrate some level of both paid and organic social media marketing. For example, paid social media can be a great way to attract new customers, and then organic efforts can be used to engage existing consumers and nurture long-term relationships. Businesses new to social media or those with limited funding can also start with marketing strategies that focus primarily on organic social media and then add paid efforts when their budget allows and they are comfortable using the platform and its features.

It can be helpful to hire a social media marketing expert to manage your campaigns for you. The best social media management tools are also available to help you achieve success. It’s important to track your marketing results over time to see what’s working and what isn’t. With paid social media marketing campaigns in particular, marketers should be tracking results that justify ad spending and demonstrate ROI for the company. Then you can adjust your paid SMM and organic SMM plans accordingly.

Image Credit:

Flamingo Images / Shutterstock

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.