Understanding: Role of organic vs paid social media
Every marketer knows the importance of social media in today’s world. But there seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to paid versus organic strategies.
As of 2018, there are 3.196 billion people using social media on the planet, up 13 percent from 2017 to 2018. In the present era, social media landscape is constantly evolving. New networks rise to be noticable (e.g. Snapchat), new technology increases user participation and real-time content (e.g. Periscope) and existing networks enhance their platform and product (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram launching ‘buy’ buttons). Organic reach is also shrinking as the leading networks ramp up their paid channels to monetise platform investment.
If the first era of social was engagement, the new era is acquisition and conversion. Social commerce is growing much faster than retail ecommerce, although it’s early days. PwC’s Total Retail 2017 survey concluded that 59 percent of global consumers use social media as a source of inspiration for purchases; 34 percent of global consumers use social platforms to receive promotional offers; and 16 percent of global consumers will click on an ad that is relevant to them. Many retailers I work with are seeing social driving bigger % increases in retail traffic than any other channel.
Social is no longer just about conversation and content; it’s now an established channel for customer acquisition, remarketing and engaging existing fans/customers to support retention programs. It may be relatively immature compared to search and email marketing but it’s a channel in which most ecommerce teams are ramping up investment on people and tools.
This article discusses how organic and paid social media fit into your social strategy.
A Quick Vocabulary Lesson
So what does “organic” really mean? How is it different from a “paid” or “promoted” post? Let’s take a moment to understand the terminology.
Organic reach on social media refers to the number of people who come across your post without boosted distribution. These are people who happened to be on Twitter when you posted about your sale and saw it organically. Unfortunately, social platforms like Facebook use an algorithm to prevent business posts from inundating people’s feeds, making organic reach very limited — but we’ll get to that shortly.
Paid or promoted posts refer to content that businesses have voluntarily boosted the reach of by using one-time or ongoing payments. These posts can be targeted toward specific demographics and reach a much larger audience than organic content.
Do people really buy from social content/offers?
Social media advertising revenue is forecast at $51.3 billion USD for 2019. That’s $17.24 per user. Revenue is set to grow 10.5 percent annually.
Research from Crowdtap revealed 64% of 3,000 people surveyed use social media to find inspiration for shopping (up 51% vs. prior year). This is driven by retailers targeting consumers with personalised offers and deals on social networks:
- Nearly half (46%) of social media users are already using social platforms while thinking about making a purchase.
- 40% of users are actively deciding what to buy based on what they have seen on social media platforms, including reviews and recommendations, and this is only set to grow.
Yes, this is only one bit of research and there are no guarantees, but social commerce is the present, not the future. It’s expected that buying through social media will only increase.
So let’s look at how organic and paid support 4 key social media marketing activities.
1 . Listening, learning and responding
Organic is ideal for community management. You don’t need paid campaigns to listen to what people are saying about/to you.
However, you can use paid campaigns to reinforce core messages that you’ve shared via organic posts. For example, if the company has been involved in a public crisis (think Skoda and the emissions crisis), then information you’ve provided to people who have contacted you can be used as part of a wider educational marketing program with paid ads to extend the message reach.
What’s important is that the listening and learning elements are part of your organic approach to social media; they should happen naturally by being actively involved with your community. If you’re not responding effectively on a personal level to enquiries and complaints, a paid program may attract further criticism.
2 . Creating conversations based on a unifying thread
Social marketers look for ways to engage groups of people based on a shared interest/passion. While one-to-one communication is the much-touted holy grail of social marketing, the impact and efficiency of communicating to a wider audience simultaneously is important to understand.
Hashtags are a great example. You can create a hashtag for free, or simply dovetail with an existing hashtag if what you’re doing/saying is relevant to that audience.
By using a hashtag for a specific conversation, you can unify all posts into a searchable thread that helps individuals to be part of the conversation and follow what others are saying. It also helps foster new connections, as like-minded people can find each other based on a shared interest/passion.
Here is a great example of this. Along with ecommerce consultant Dan Barker, launched EcomChat in 2013, a weekly Twitter chat on all things ecommerce based around the #EcomChat hashtag. It has achieved the following:
- Provided a great way to connect with ecommerce and digital marketing specialists
- Built a community that wants to share knowledge and learn from others
- People now use the hashtag to share interesting ecommerce news outside the chat and ask questions/share information
- People have made new connections and this has led to collaboration for ecommerce projects
- More than 1,450 ecommerce and digital marketing followers.
It doesn’t cost a penny to run the chat, other than our time, and it has created a highly engaged mini-community on Twitter.
3 . Using social for content marketing
A content plan should sit above all your marketing channels, defining the key stories and when they play.
Social media can then be used to help tell these stories, whether it’s through one-off announcements (e.g. Facebook post), or a series of short posts that build the story over time (e.g. series of blogs, each being shared on key networks).
You can also use organic to increase audience engagement with your content. For example, let’s say you’re a ticketing website for sporting events and you know that some of your followers are Cricket fanatics. If you have a new blog interviewing Virat Kohli (current Indian captain), then it makes sense to personally contact them (or at least key influencers) via their preferred social network and tell them about the blog, and ask them to comment/share. It’s personal and increases the chance they’ll see/read your content.
Of course, you need to be practical about how many people you can contact individually. There is a resource implication but the scale of this can grow overtime as you learn what impact it has. Typically, this is a core organic marketing competency of a Community Manager.
You don’t need to pay to share, but you do need an audience. When first starting out, you’ll have few people to talk to via social, so the relative impact of your content will be low (unless you have a few amazing influencers whose sharing of your content resonates with a far larger audience).
Paid social can help amplify organic content, using social network advertising tools to target the audience. Using the Cricket example, on Facebook you could target people who like other leading cricket fan pages. I recommend testing paid social campaigns to promote key content assets like reports and highlight important news/announcements. With a small budget you can quickly measure amplification impact.
I’ve done this successfully myself, for example using sponsored Twitter ads to promote events for a crowdfunding startup, which helped sell tickets and increase followers. I started with a INR 5,000 budget and then expanded based on results.
4 . Micro targeting people using paid campaigns
Targeting based on interest
You can target people based on self-identified interests. For example, if you are selling car accessories, you can specifically target social media users who have expressed an interest in car. Marketers doing this typically experience higher CTR and conversion for social ads than for blanket campaigns.
You should get to grips with Remarketing lists. Remarketing involves marketing to people who have already visited your website, then promoting relevant content/offers based on the context of their visit.
A good example is Facebook Custom Audiences. Within this Facebook supports email targeting, the ability to upload customer email addresses and then target those users on Facebook with tailored ads. This lets you micro-segment based on your existing customer database. One application is customer loyalty marketing, promoting offers to existing high value users via Facebook ads.
The challenge here is to know your own audience. If you have a good CRM database and can profile and segment meaningfully, then you can export highly targeted lists to social media for advertising.
Look alike audiences
The ability to upload customer lists into social advertising accounts lets you create look alike audiences – so targeting other users on the social network who closely match your existing customers.
This taps into a core acquisition marketing principle, the aim to understand core audience profiles and then invest in campaigns that appeal to others matching those criteria.
So to Wrap up, Whether or not putting a little marketing spend toward social is in your budget, one thing is true across the board: you need to be social in today’s digital world. Take some time to test out content with organic posts and see what your followers respond well to. Once you feel you really understand what your followers want to see, give paid posts some serious consideration.