Organic vs. paid social media – what works best for brands?

By Isabel Medrano

 

As it was widely reported at the beginning of April, cosmetics retailer Lush announced it was quitting social media, citing the constantly changing algorithms on social networks as one of the main reasons.

Unsurprisingly, the debate quickly turned to paid vs organic growth on social media – is one better than the other? What’s the way forward for both brands and creators?

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Let's start with organic growth; naturally, there are many positives to it. First and foremost, organic reach is unobtrusive and relevant for the user. You’re talking to people who are interested in your brand, who actively want to hear from you. They’re probably your current customers – some might be potential ones.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Ah, well, it used to be great when business profiles were a rarity on social media platforms, but that’s not the case anymore. With the introduction of increasingly complex algorithms organic has become a random science, almost impossible to scale.


To give you an example, the average organic reach on Facebook sits at 2%. That means only 2% of your followers will see your posts – and to make things worse, you don’t have any control over who comprises that 2%. It could be someone who is a regular client, someone who liked your page four years ago to enter a competition, or a colleague’s grandma.

And this seems unlikely to change. In fact, at this year’s F8 Facebook announced its pivot from ‘town square’ (a public place for discussion with anyone, from your best friend to complete strangers or businesses) to ‘living room’ (a private spot for intimate conversations). Organic reach is clearly on the wane

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As a brand, there are several ways to react to this. One is shutting down your social media presence, as Lush did.

The problem with leaving social media altogether is that your audience isn’t. They’re still there. They might miss you, but they’ve got other things on their feed to keep them entertained – and they’re very unlikely to want to move to your proprietary channels.

You can still try to reach them through influencers; however, it’s tricky to deliver an effective strategy without having your own social presence. Influencers can be a great complement to it, but they’re not a substitute for a brand’s own profiles. Plus, in an era where brand safety is an increasing concern, it can arguably be a risky move to put all your eggs in that one basket.

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The other alternative? Paid social media.

Just like with any other traditional marketing channel, a paid social strategy involves paying for reach and distribution. And there are many benefits in comparison to traditional media – for starters, you can choose with surgical precision how, when, where and who to target with your advertising.

Not to mention the amount of data and analytics available to track the performance of your campaigns – also unmatched by any traditional marketing channels. And with concrete measurements you can track performance and behaviour in a far more precise way, leading to new opportunities for retargeting.

Plus, as we mentioned, your audience is already there; there’s no need to waste resources trying to drive people to your proprietary channels (as Lush is try to do at the moment). As Marketing Week puts it, it’s quite hard to justify walking away from arguably "one of the largest and most democratised forms of communication".

The downside to this is that running social media ads can be complex, time-consuming and inefficient without the right expertise. However, in today’s world it’d be naive – not to say disastrous – for brands to base their digital marketing strategy purely on organic social media marketing. While important for community management purposes, it’s fast becoming an outdated plan of action as social networks increasingly move towards a pay-to-play model.

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As long as brands have got a solid content strategy to match their social media efforts, the move towards paid is actually good news; more control, more clarity, more precision and stronger results.

And if you’re unsure as to how to achieve all that, get in touch with us – we’ve got over 10 years of experience in helping advertisers make the most of paid social.


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