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Updated Apr 19, 2024

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

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations

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Today’s businesses need a robust social media presence to boost brand awareness, create an identity and increase sales. Social media was initially a medium for personal entertainment and online socialization, but it has transformed quickly into a ubiquitous and effective business marketing tool. According to Statista, businesses in the United States spent $72.3 billion in 2023 on social media marketing and advertising. 

However, posting random product images on social media isn’t enough for a business to be successful with this type of marketing. Companies must create a strategic social media approach that seamlessly combines paid and organic social media marketing tactics.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing, also known as social media advertising, is the practice of using social media platforms to connect with your business’s target audience. Popular social media marketing platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, X and TikTok, can be used to promote products and services, engage with and inform consumers and grow web traffic and sales. Social media marketing is also a crucial element of a successful e-commerce marketing strategy.

The two primary types of social media marketing are paid and organic:

  • Paid social media marketing: Paid social media marketing is when a business pays 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 and people outside your following.
  • Organic social media marketing: Organic social media marketing is when users find your business through unpaid promotions, such as social media posts on your company’s social accounts. 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 paid and organic social media marketing, although the balance will depend on your specific business needs.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how these methods compare:

Paid social media

Organic social media

Costs money each month


Can expand reach quickly

Slower growth

One-way interactions

Highly interactive



Can be customized for retargeting

Not as data-driven

Ability to target an audience

Followers self-select


Grows on its own

Requires a skilled campaign manager

Grows with less supervision

Quicker results

Can be time-consuming

Can become repetitive

Thrives with varied content

FYIDid you know

Whether paid or organic, successful social media marketing requires high-quality content, a genuine audience connection and innovative ways to gather leads.

The pros and cons of paid social media marketing

Facebook’s marketing strategies are robust, making it the top social platform for most marketers. However, marketers should also consider other social media platforms for paid advertising, such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, X, Snapchat and Pinterest.

Benefits of paid social media marketing

Paid social media marketing can be highly effective and brings several advantages: 

  • It expands your audience reach: Paid social media marketing allows you to reach target customers you might have missed with organic strategies. You can cast a wider net for potential customers, increasing your overall visibility. It’s a great way to attract new consumers and increase your social media following.
  • It increases brand awareness: Paid social media campaigns can increase brand awareness online for 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 also increase consumer trust.
  • It can be customized to retarget consumers: Many platforms, such as Facebook, let you customize ads based on consumer behavior. For example, if a user visits a specific webpage or product, you can target them with an ad related to that experience. This function is a great way to retarget prospects and get them in your sales funnel.

Challenges of paid social media marketing

Paid social media marketing presents several challenges, including the following:

  • It is competitive: Social media marketing is one of the least expensive types of advertising available, making it a viable option for small and large businesses. However, there is only a finite amount of ad space available to reach consumers. With a high demand for visibility, the cost of getting your ads prioritized over the competition can be significant. Rising costs can be challenging for a company with a limited social media marketing budget.
  • It requires a skilled campaign manager: If you’re allocating funds to your social media marketing campaign, you must have a skilled social media manager or digital marketing expert (or team). In addition to the necessary skills and experience, they must be able to identify your target audience and know where to reach it. For example, you don’t want to pour money into a Facebook campaign if your target demographic is primarily on TikTok.
  • It can become repetitive for your audience: Flooding your audience’s news feeds with ads about your product can annoy them; they may skip your ads, diluting your paid efforts. 
TipBottom line

Use the 5:3:2 rule for social media to ensure your content isn’t repetitive and strikes the right balance between selling and being informative and entertaining.

The pros and cons of organic social media marketing

Although paid social media marketing can be effective for sales, 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

Organic social media marketing brings distinct advantages. Any organization can use this type of marketing to improve its social media presence:

  • It is free: OK, it’s not totally free as 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 notable for businesses with a limited budget and those without a team to effectively manage paid campaigns.
  • It builds your brand’s authentic reputation: Organic social media posts help build a brand’s online reputation over the long term. You can post less salesy and more entertaining content to keep your audience engaged. Since many consumers view organic content as more trustworthy than paid posts, it’s a great way to build credibility, strengthen your brand reputation and improve brand awareness.
  • It allows you to engage directly with consumers: Social media is a direct line to your customers and is a great way to personally interact with them. Answering questions and responding to or sharing feedback are effective ways to communicate with consumers, resolve concerns and build trust.
Did You Know?Did you know

Gathering and using customer feedback from followers can help you retain customers through social media and improve your business.

Challenges of organic social media marketing

Organic social media marketing also has a few limitations, including the following:

  • It limits your audience reach: Organic social media posts reach your current audience only, which means you rely on your current subscribers or followers to make repeat purchases and share your content with others. This limits your exposure and reduces the chance of finding new potential customers.
  • It isn’t targeted: Organic posts aren’t targeted like paid posts. Instead of retargeting consumers based on their previous searches or intent, you must take a one-size-fits-all approach and hope your posts are relevant to many, if not most, of your followers.
  • It can be time-consuming: Like any marketing effort, social media can take up a lot of time, particularly for companies on multiple platforms. An inactive social media account is worse for your brand than no presence at all, so you must dedicate time to keeping each profile current.

When to use organic, paid or a combination in your social media

Each type of social media marketing has strengths. Here’s when to use each type. 

Use paid social media when …

  • Launching a social media account: In the beginning, you will have no followers, so you will want to get the word out to people quickly who are likely to be interested in your brand. If you have the funds, use paid social media to create initial brand awareness and attract organic followers.
  • Promoting your products or services: People expect paid posts to have a more commercial theme, so most of your promotional posts should be paid.
  • Expanding to new markets: Your existing followers were drawn to your brand because of your products and services. When you launch new offerings or want to attract a different target market, paid social media can help. 
Did You Know?Did you know

According to Statista, 58 percent of consumers say they’ve purchased a product after seeing it on a brand’s social media platform.

Use organic social media when …

  • Trying to engage followers: Strengthen and grow customer relationships by interacting with followers via comments and posting content that interests them. 
  • Seeking market feedback: Getting feedback from your followers is a great way to identify opportunities. They’re already interested in your product and may even be customers, making your organic social posts excellent places to get free market insights.
  • Expanding customer service channels: Providing customer service via your social media accounts can be faster than other methods and has the benefit of showcasing your customer service excellence to potential customers.
TipBottom line

When your marketing budget is tight, consider encouraging user-generated content (USG). USG is free and effective, with a higher click-through rate than many other marketing strategies.

Use both paid and organic social media when …

  • You have established your business and social media accounts: Once you have built a significant following organically and have the budget to hire a campaign manager and pay for ads, you can use your social accounts to accomplish multiple goals.
  • You want to maximize your reach: By combining organic and paid social media marketing, you can encourage current followers to share your content while also attracting new followers and customers via paid ads.

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 understand their target audience’s interests and demographics. They should also know what content is best for each social platform.

An inclusive strategy would integrate paid and organic social media marketing at appropriate times. For example: 

  • When focusing on lead generation: Use paid social media marketing to attract customers and organic social media marketing to engage existing consumers and nurture long-term relationships.
  • When expanding to new social platforms: Focus on organic efforts to learn the platform’s intricacies and tendencies and add paid efforts when the budget allows and you are comfortable using the platform and its features.

No matter what social media marketing method you use, tracking your results and measuring your digital marketing is crucial to determine what works and what doesn’t. Social media management tools can help you and your digital marketing team justify time and money expenditures and focus on effective platforms and strategies.

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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