Let’s cut to the chase: It’s not organic vs. paid social media—it’s organic and paid social media.
As social becomes even more of a pay-to-play game, “organic social is dead” has become a popular catchphrase for marketing thought leaders. While organic social media definitely isn’t what it used to be, it certainly isn’t dead.
The truth is you need an effective organic social media marketing strategy if you even want to succeed with ads.
For the sake of maximizing your reach while keeping your budget in check, a hybrid paid and organic social media strategy provides brands with the best of both worlds. In this post, we’ll highlight the strengths of organic and paid channels, and then show you how to combine your efforts to give you the most bang for your buck.
What are the differences between organic vs. paid social media?
The true differences between organic vs. paid social media lie not in the definitions but in the benefits.
But before we can get into any of that, we need to make sure we have the basics in place. Keep reading for quick primers on organic and paid social, plus details on how they benefit your social media strategy.
What is organic social media?
Organic social media is any post shared for free without any money spent to increase reach or conversions.
Despite the popularity of ads and constant algorithm changes, organic social media isn’t going anywhere. In fact, brands can still promote themselves and their products organically. The key is to not hit your followers over the head with sales pitches post after post.
Here are three benefits of organic social media that prove some things just can’t be bought.
It raises brand awareness
For starters, your organic presence goes hand in hand with brand awareness.
Brand awareness is the first step in any customer journey. A consistent organic social media strategy can make your business a familiar name for countless existing and future customers. It may be a long game, but that familiarity is proven to drive future sales.
Take cues from brands like Impossible Foods. Their quick video recipes provide fans with creative ways to use their entire roster of plant-based meat products. These posts take the brand’s Facebook page from a simple promotional page to a content hub of vegan and vegetarian-friendly recipes.
It powers your social customer care strategy
According to The Sprout Social Index™ 2022, more than half of all consumers expect a response from a brand within 12 hours of the initial message. In today’s world, the speed and quality of your service on social can be a major differentiator.
That’s why managing customers and communities is a vital part of your organic presence. Offering an instant, free channel for people to get in touch will always be in demand, even as paid social media grows.
Hi Josh, please send us a DM with the brand information and we’ll be happy to look into other options for you!
— Petco (@Petco) September 19, 2022
It drives more authentic customer-centric content
Questions and concerns aren’t your only opportunity to connect with your customers.
For example, social media is the perfect place to pick your followers’ brains for future content ideas. Also, it’s a prime place for curating user-generated content like customer photos and videos so your fans can see your product or service in action.
What is paid social media?
As you may have guessed, paid social media is any sponsored social advertising content that targets specific audiences.
Running social ads allows you to go beyond the confines of an algorithm to reach your target audience. Rather than get buried beneath competing content, ads put your stuff front and center in people’s feeds.
Although goals and KPIs might differ from business to business, below are three primary benefits of paid social.
It supports targeting
Facebook and Instagram’s respective ad platforms get ultra-granular in terms of targeting. This allows you to reach relevant prospects based on their activity, location, age and so on.
This Publix ad from Facebook is a good example. Given that their stores are only located in the Southeastern United States, highly targeted ads based on geography make sense. Furthermore, this particular ad is only for those 21+ and includes store-specific promotions in its CTA.
It boosts lead generation
If you have a strong piece of gated content, a paid campaign helps ensure that it doesn’t go unseen. For example, this promoted LinkedIn post from Smartsheet is driving leads by enticing people to download their latest guide to project management.
Whether it’s a case study, webinar or any other prioritized promotion, such items are brilliant ways to encourage visits from new and former fans alike.
It helps you reach new audiences quickly
If organic social is a marathon, then paid social is a sprint. A single, well-targeted campaign can bring a ton of new fans to your social profiles. It’s an ideal trick to have in your back pocket if you notice organic social media growth stalling.
Creating a hybrid strategy that isn’t strictly organic vs. paid social media
Now that we understand how paid and organic social media work on their own, let’s get into how they work together.
Below are six key ways to combine your paid and organic efforts.
Budget for social media marketing efforts
It’s impossible to maintain a hybrid organic-paid strategy if you run out of budget halfway through the year. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your social media ad budget regularly.
Set aside a designated time to check in on the performance of your paid ads. Measure the actual costs against what was initially allocated toward the campaign. That way, you can anticipate whether it’s performing reasonably or if it’s time to pivot.
Use this social media budget spreadsheet template to track organic and paid social media marketing expenses. Alternatively, if you’re using Sprout, you can keep an eye on your paid spend by toggling through the reports located under Paid By Network in the Reports Home.
Set date comparisons to see how your paid performance metrics are trending month over month and make strategic decisions from there.
Determine your most popular content
If you have a particular piece of content that converts well or enters into viral territory, it might be the perfect material for an ad. For example, you can quickly boost a Facebook post to convert your content into a promotion in a matter of clicks.
Looking at your social analytics is the first step to running any successful paid advertisement. Variables such as imagery, calls-to-action and copy all deserve your attention when it comes time to whip up a paid post. Metrics such as clicks and followers earned are good starting points for spotting top content.
If you’re using Sprout, turn to the Post Performance Report to analyze your published content across all social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok.
Remember that not all promotional posts should be paid
Your social data can help you identify which posts have the potential to work as an ad, but only some high-performing posts call for paid ad spend.
Look for content that aligns with your marketing and business KPIs to determine which posts are worth throwing some extra dollars behind. For example, if a high-priority goal for your team is to drum up registrations for an upcoming event, it makes sense to promote a big agenda announcement or a last call for tickets.
On the other hand, if your goal is to raise brand awareness or promote a new product, rely on your organic social media toolkit.
For some inspiration, check out the example from Auntie Anne’s Twitter profile. Combining the power of the cover photo and pinned tweet creates an eye-catching promo for a new menu item.
Use A/B testing
We’ve shared a bit about how your organic strategy can inform your paid efforts. Now let’s get into the reverse with social media testing.
Testing on social media—whether A/B or multivariable testing—can provide meaningful insights on what works best for your audience. The only caveat? Substantial results require a substantial audience.
Think about it: Testing creative organically within a small audience won’t give you the impressions and engagement data needed for statistically significant results. Paid, however, can give your post the reach it needs to confirm or refute a hypothesis.
You can then use these results to inform your organic strategy in the future.
Try retargeting and lookalike audiences
Retargeting via Facebook or Instagram is one of the most popular and high-converting types of social promotions. These ads allow you to create a custom audience to target former customers, site visitors, people on your email list or CRM leads. You can also create lookalike audiences to target new prospects who share characteristics with your existing fans.
And with Meta’s latest ad roll-out, you can specifically target people who’ve previously engaged your content on either network.
In other words, these tools give you the power to capitalize on organic interactions for more conversions down the line.
Monitor your data and measure results
The common thread between combining your paid and organic social strategies is data.
No matter how you slice it, social ads can get pricey. For the sake of your ROI, it’s to your benefit to have a consistent pulse on your social data both before, during and after your paid campaigns.
Keeping an eye on metrics will ensure that your paid social media strategy is working in harmony with your brand-forward organic approach. That’s precisely why Sprout’s custom reporting options are a game changer for brands. Use it to elevate the metrics that matter most for your strategy in a single, easy-to-interpret report.
Organic and paid social go hand in hand
Rather than thinking of it as “organic vs. paid social media,” try looking for ways one strategy could support the other. That’s how you’ll get to the bottom of what drives the best results for your brand.
Of course, double the strategies mean double the metrics. Use this social media analytics template to track your efforts. It provides a birds-eye view of your performance so you can easily tie it back to business goals.