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If you’re getting started with social media for your business, you might wonder whether to focus on organic or paid social media.
The short answer is you should use both, as both help you accomplish different goals: paid social media can help you expand your reach and capture new leads, while organic social media can help you build relationships with followers.
With this in mind, let’s explore the differences between organic and paid social media, the pros and cons, and the best practices for incorporating both into your social media strategy.
Organic social media marketing refers to the posts you share on your social media account for free, meaning you don’t put any budget behind them for expanded reach.
These posts reach your followers, friends of followers who share your posts, and people who follow or search for the hashtags you use. Additionally, as social media algorithms evolve, it’s become more common for users to see organic posts from accounts they don’t follow because these relate to the user’s interests. For example, I follow and engage with a lot of pastry accounts, so the algorithm serves me pastry content from accounts I don’t follow.
Organic content is ideal to showcase your brand personality, try new trends, and share interesting content without being too self-promotional.
Let’s look at the pros and cons and some examples of organic social media.
Let’s take a look at a few brands that create engaging organic posts and the elements to implement in your organic social media strategy.
The federal agency in charge of all national parks, the National Park Service, does well striking a balance between funny and informative with its social media posts. This inspires users to share organic posts, expanding their reach far beyond immediate followers.
Dog grooming expert Jess Rona promotes her business through fun posts that appeal to her dog-loving audience. Her fun videos feature adorable pups (like her dog Meemu) while offering a peek into the dog grooming process.
Paid social media refers to advertising on social media platforms, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. This strategy allows you to target specific audiences and expand your reach quickly. It’s a great way to advertise your products, services, or events.
There are 2 types of paid social media:
(There’s a third paid strategy, influencer marketing, that falls somewhere between organic and paid. We’ll discuss it further below.)
Now, let’s look at the pros and cons of creating paid ads on social media.
Let’s take a look at some of the tactics social media advertisers use to help their paid posts stand out in the feed.
Sustainably certified sandal and shoe retailer Birkenstock catches the eye with its simple design featuring a purple sandal in this Instagram ad. The white space highlights the product, and the color-coordinated CTA reinforces the monochrome theme.
URL-shortening service Bitly uses this LinkedIn ad to raise awareness of another service it offers: QR codes. The ad lets a customer do the talking, showcasing a testimonial from Modus Brewing on how the business used QR codes to gather customer data and inform product development.
Organic and paid social media help you achieve complementary goals, so implement both in your social media marketing strategy. But how do you get the right balance? Here are 5 ways to leverage the best of both worlds.
If an organic post performs particularly well with your existing audience, this could be a sign that it would resonate with a wider audience too. So boost your organic post to extend its reach and engage new audiences. This saves you time because you don’t need to create new content, and you already have proof that the content performs well.
The data you collect from existing followers gives you insight into your audience’s common traits. Use this data to create look-alike audiences—audiences with similar traits and interests to your followers—for your paid advertisements. This helps you refine your targeting and reach audiences likely to engage with your content.
Your organic posts give you more freedom to try new formats, such as short-form video, before you commit to an advertising budget. It’s a low-stakes way to experiment without a lot to lose if it doesn’t work. And if it does work, you can apply your learnings to create effective paid ads.
Why is experimentation important? Followers’ preferences evolve, and the algorithm evolves with them, making it vital to keep up with content formats and trends. For example, Instagram used to be all about static images, but the platform now emphasizes short-form video—a format that leads to wider reach and higher engagement.
No matter what type of content you post, stay connected with your community on social media.
When you create an ad, don’t just set it and forget. Instead, monitor the comments and respond to users frequently to keep them engaged and help move them toward a conversion.
For example, in the comments section of their ad for a filtered showerhead, the Jolie social media team responds to most customers’ questions and comments, acting as real-time customer support and helping customers get ready to buy.
Influencer collaborations blur the lines between paid and organic content. For example, you can work with an influencer to create sponsored content that appears as an organic post on their feed. However, the influencer will disclose that the post is an ad.
You can also boost your public relations strategy by sending new products to influencers, hoping they post about it and help build hype. Influencers typically announce the product as a gift, but they’re posting because they liked it, not because you paid them to do so.
Influencer marketing requires a budget, like paid social media ads, but it has some of the benefits of organic posting, like a more authentic and personal feel.
For example, influencer Katie Budenberg communicates transparently with her followers about her sponsored posts, which helps keep her community engaged with ads.
Social media is an effective way to reach new audiences, but the ever-changing algorithms and competitive ad landscape can make it challenging to provide ongoing customer engagement.
That’s why social media should be one part of your marketing strategy, working alongside more direct channels, like email marketing.
Email enables you to stay in touch with your customers after you acquire them on social media. For example, you can use social media to drive subscriptions to your newsletter, then nurture customers with weekly newsletter content. Plus, you can use data from social media to boost your email campaigns.
Ready to use social media and email together to create better customer engagement? Check out how Twilio SendGrid can help you get started.