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

Sarah Patrick
Sarah Patrick

Nearly 80 percent of enterprises say it’s the most important factor in digital marketing

There’s no question as to the importance of social media for businesses. In fact, nearly 80 percent of enterprises say it’s the most important factor in digital marketing success, ranking it higher than search engine optimization, content creation, email – even a website.

But, with more noise on popular networks than ever and organic reach dwindling, what’s a marketer to do? The answer of course, is paid social media.

According to a new study from business-to-business (B2B) research firm, Clutch, 86 percent of marketers are now using both paid and organic tactics as part of their social media strategies. In this post, we dive into the data to see how marketers are using paid social media and the key tactics that should be part of your strategy.

Choose the Right Channel

When it comes to paid strategies, Facebook is the top choice for the majority (66 percent) of marketers. This comes as little surprise, due to both sheer numbers – Facebook is closing in on 2 billion active users – and algorithm changes.

With organic reach on Facebook down to a 2 percent, marketers hoping to reach anyone on the network have little choice but to invest in paid advertising there.

And Facebook makes that easy to do, with an extensive range of advertising objectives, robust targeting features, and low-cost options.

Still, it’s not the only choice, and depending on a marketer’s goals and audience, Facebook may not even be the best choice. YouTube and Twitter – at 34 percent and 33 percent respectively – both draw a good chunk of marketers’ ad spend, with LinkedIn not far behind at 30 percent.

Social media channels enterprises use for paid social media

Marketers wondering where to spend ad 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.

“People spend time on Facebook looking at pictures of their grandkids and interacting with friends and family,” says Scott Rogerson, CEO of Community Elf. “They don’t want to see work brought into this social network, as other networks, such as LinkedIn or Twitter, may be perfect for thought leadership around their professional lives.”

Planning to share a special offer? A sponsored Facebook post could be a great option. But, if the post promotes a white paper, it may be more successful as a promoted tweet or LinkedIn sponsored content.

Don’t ignore organic

According to the same Clutch survey, 60 percent of marketers agree that paid social media is more effective than organic. However, that doesn’t mean that organic efforts aren’t important.

In fact, organic social media interactions are vital for developing relationships with current and potential customers. Organic posts – answering questions, engaging with your audience, responding to or sharing feedback – all help build a brand’s online reputation over the long term.

Effectiveness of paid vs organic social media

Paid social media campaigns, on the other hand, are ideal for brand awareness, lead generation, and driving conversions in the short term. However, even with a large budget, an appealing offer, and a carefully targeted audience, paid efforts may fall flat without organic content.

“If a company runs a paid social media campaign, the first thing that may happen is someone will click on the company’s profile,” Rogerson explains. “If the company doesn’t have organic content on its Facebook page, then the customer can’t learn anything about the company’s character. They most likely won’t click through to the company’s website or download its content.”

Are you tracking the right metrics?

Tracking results is a core component of any social media strategy. How else will you know if what you’re doing is working? But, when it comes to metrics for paid campaigns, many marketers are looking at the wrong things.

Clutch’s survey revealed that 27 percent of marketers said audience growth was the most important metric to track, followed by website clicks (19%), and engagement (17 percent).

The problem? Two of those stats – audience growth and engagement (likes, shares, and mentions) – are vanity metrics.

Most important metrics to track for paid social media

These metrics make the marketer feel good – who doesn’t like to see the likes and followers roll in? – but they’re not actionable. They don’t reveal whether social media efforts are driving revenue goals or increasing leads and customers.

With paid campaigns, in particular, marketers should be tracking results that justify ad spending and demonstrate ROI for the company. These include conversions, click-through-rate, reach, and cost per conversion or cost per click, to name a few.

Final thoughts

As organic social media reach continues to decline, those businesses that haven’t incorporated paid tactics – or haven't done so strategically – will be forced to reassess.

As Steve Pearson of Friendemic bluntly puts it: “A better solution for not being able to do paid social media is not to do any social media. Doing organic social with zero paid is a very inefficient use of resources. … You’re paying a lot to produce the content, but very few people are seeing it.”


Photo credit: Roobcio/Shutterstock

Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images
Sarah Patrick
Sarah Patrick Member
Sarah Patrick is a senior senior content developer and marketer at Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews firm in the heart of Washington, DC. She’s the digital marketing lead, focused on developing data-driven resources about social media, email marketing, content marketing, and marketing automation.