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organic vs paid social media

Organic vs Paid Social Media: The Ideal Hybrid Strategy

In this article, we'll explore the unique characteristics of organic and paid social media, how they complement each other, and why incorporating both into your social media strategy is essential for achieving your business goals.

Apr 24, 2024 10 min readFlow
Photo of Tamilore Oladipo
Tamilore Oladipo

Content Writer @ Buffer

Spoiler alert: it’s not organic vs paid social media – it’s organic and paid social media.

Businesses often grapple with which to focus on, but that mindset ignores the value of both organic and paid social media to enhance the success of your overall marketing strategy significantly. Both approaches require different methods but will be equally effective overall.

Organic social media involves creating and sharing content that resonates with your target audience, fostering genuine engagement, and building a loyal community around your brand. On the other hand, paid social media allows you to target specific demographics, expand your reach beyond your existing followers, and drive more immediate results through strategic ad placements.

In this article, we'll explore the unique characteristics of organic and paid social media, how they complement each other, and why incorporating both into your social media strategy is essential for achieving your business goals.

What is organic social media?

Organic social media is all the freely posted content that any user can post to social networks. It’s the text, images, and videos that come across your feed and are served by the people, brands, and businesses you follow or are served to you by the all-seeing algorithm.

​​The primary goal of organic social media is to build a genuine connection with your audience by providing valuable, entertaining, or informative content that resonates with them. It’s the easiest way to build brand awareness as a brand. Some of the activities that define organic social media are:

  • Sharing non-boosted or sponsored content 
@semrush

Meet our (one man) digital marketing team! #digitalmarketing #marketingdigital #digitalmarketingagency #marketingteam #theoffice

♬ original sound - Semrush
  • Reposting relevant content from your audience or employees
  • Engaging with mentions, replies, comments, and direct messages (DMs) to build community and provide customer support

However, just because organic social media doesn’t cost anything to post doesn’t mean it’s free to make. You can get started by creating an account on any social media platform, but scaling requires paying for tools and personnel to really make it worthwhile. 

Benefits of organic social media

With organic social media, you can create a cohesive and recognizable presence across social media platforms by consistently sharing content that reflects your brand's values, personality, and aesthetic. That consistent presence is what builds loyalty and helps you generate revenue, as in the case study of Contour Cube.

  1. Nurturing community and engagement: Regularly sharing content that resonates with your audience and actively engaging with their comments and messages, you can build a loyal and engaged community around your brand.
  2. Sharing timely and relevant content: Timely content, such as industry news, behind-the-scenes glimpses, or user-generated content, helps keep your brand top-of-mind and demonstrates your commitment to staying connected with your audience.
  3. Providing value and education: Use organic posts to share valuable and educational content with your followers, such as tips, tutorials, or insights related to your industry, to build trust and credibility with your audience.
  4. Testing and refining content strategies: Testing different content types, formats, and strategies to see what resonates best with your audience can give insights that inform and refine your overall content strategy.

Where to find organic social media inspiration

Organic social media is every other post on your feed, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. However, knowing where to begin a specific search can be difficult, so here’s what I recommend.

Check out Thingtesting, a review platform for direct-to-consumer, e-commerce brands, then visit the social media platforms of relevant brands to kickstart your inspiration.

Or, if you make software or offer a related service, G2 will probably be your best bet.

Once you find and follow a decent number of relevant brands, each platform's algorithm will quickly start recommending similar content, and voila!

What is paid social media?

Paid social media is what it says on the tin – paying social platforms to place ads or, more simply, social media advertising.

As a social media user, you’ve likely encountered posts with a little note stating ‘Ad’ or ‘Sponsored’ in the top or bottom, right or left corner.

Unlike organic social media, which relies on just posting content to engage followers, paid social media allows brands to pay to put their message in front of users who may not have discovered the brand otherwise (aka potential customers). Paid social media can take various forms, such as sponsored posts, display and video ad campaigns, or influencer partnerships.

💡
Note: Influencer marketing requires another separate skillset from paying a social media platform to get your posts in front of the ideal audience segment.

Paid social media serves many purposes for brands:

  • amplifying reach
  • driving targeted traffic
  • increasing website visits
  • generating leads
  • boosting conversions
  • …and so on 

With the advanced targeting capabilities offered by social media platforms, brands can reach their ideal audience based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and more.

Benefits of paid social media

With the right paid social media strategy, businesses can reach beyond their existing followers and target users most likely to be interested in their products or services. With the targeting options provided by social media platforms, brands can ensure their content is seen by the right people at the right time. In addition, paid social offers:

  1. Quick, measurable results: Unlike organic social media, which can take time to build momentum, paid social media can generate quick, measurable results. Brands can track the performance of their ads in real time, allowing them to optimize their campaigns for better results and calculate their return on investment (ROI).
  2. Increased engagement and conversions: Paid social media can help brands drive more engagement and conversions by putting their content in front of a highly targeted audience. With compelling ad copy and visuals, brands can encourage users to take specific actions, such as clicking through to their website, signing up for a newsletter, or making a purchase.
  3. Scalability: Paid social allows brands to scale their marketing efforts based on budget and goals. Whether a brand wants to reach a small, niche audience or launch a large-scale campaign, paid social media provides the flexibility to adjust ad spending and targeting to achieve the desired results.

Where to find paid social media inspiration

These days, you’ll find a wide range of paid social content – from the stuff that’s clearly an ad to posts that feel far more organic.

Thanks to Ad Libraries, finding inspiration for your social media posts is easier than ever. Using either one, you can narrow down using industries, location, audience, results, and more, to find paid social examples that can spark your creativity and help you create the best ads for your business.

In Meta’s Ad Library, you can filter by language, platform, media type, activity status, and location to find relevant inspiration.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s Ad Library has even more specific filters to help you get extremely specific in your search for inspiration.

Its filters go as far as letting you sort by industry and objective and as shown in the Bumble example, it provides even more detail and insight into what made an ad successful.

LinkedIn’s Ad Library is a little less detailed but can still provide a lot of inspiration for your paid content. After searching for a company or industry, you can click through to see metrics from an ad’s performance. 

Source

What's the difference between organic and paid social media

While both are immensely valuable parts of any digital marketing strategy, organic and paid social media have many differences.

Reach and targeting

One of the most significant differences between organic and paid social media is the reach and targeting capabilities. 

Organic social media relies on each platform's algorithm to determine your content's reach, often limited to your existing followers and their networks. 

In contrast, paid social media allows you to target specific audiences based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and more, ensuring your content reaches users most likely to be interested in your brand.

For example, this Bumble ad on TikTok, of a comedian mentioning the app in their set, can be classified as user-generated content that’s been turned into an ad. However, the original post only received a few thousand views, while the ad had over 300,000 likes.

@bumble

If you call me on the phone, we're basically married. #dating #interested

♬ original sound - Bumble
Source

Here are some of the results from that ad, with TikTok’s helpful Creative Assistant providing context on what made the ad so successful, with over 300,000 likes.

Cost and resources required

Organic social media is generally considered "free," as there are no direct costs associated with posting content. However, creating high-quality, engaging content still requires time, effort, and often the skills of a dedicated social media team.

Paid social media, on the other hand, requires a budget for ad spend and may also involve costs for ad creation, management, optimization, and retargeting.

It's important to note that organic and paid social media require different skill sets. Organic social media requires strong copywriting, visual design, and community management skills. Paid social media, however, involves more technical know-how, focusing on audience targeting, ad optimization, and performance tracking. This requires skills in data analysis, A/B testing, and campaign management.

organic vs paid social media

While some may argue that organic social media's focus on awareness makes it difficult to tie directly to revenue generation, it plays a crucial role in building brand recognition and trust, ultimately supporting paid efforts. 

Conversely, paid social media marketing can drive more immediate, measurable results but relies on the foundation of a strong organic presence to be truly effective. Put simply, if someone’s been engaging with your organic content, they will likely be more open to your paid ads. 

It's a common misconception that social media managers should be responsible for organic and paid social media. While these roles may overlap in some organizations, it's important to recognize that they require distinct skill sets and should be treated as separate disciplines. Expecting a single person to excel at both organic and paid social media can lead to suboptimal results and may not effectively leverage the unique strengths of each approach.

Short-term vs. long-term goals

Organic social media typically focuses on long-term objectives, such as building brand awareness, fostering community engagement, and establishing thought leadership. These goals require consistent effort over time to see significant results. 

In contrast, paid social media is often used to reach new audiences and for short-term goals, such as driving website traffic, generating leads, or promoting specific products or events. Paid social media ads can produce quick, measurable results within a defined timeframe.

Content types and formats

Organic social media content often focuses on storytelling, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and user-generated content to build a connection with followers. This content is typically created in formats native to each platform, such as single images, carousels, or short videos.

@sovegan

Welcome to WE GUT YOU 😋 This is the series where I’ll show you the TASTIEST ways to give your gut what it needs to look after your body and mind ✌️ Supporting your gut is one of the most important things you can do to maintain overall good health. Gut health is linked to our immune health, digestive system, energy levels and much more! I’ll be showing you how to cook colourful, nutritious and delicious meals which are filled with fibre and packed with important probiotics - these are dishes I’ve designed to help you maintain glorious gut health and help you live healthy and happy lives. The first episode drops next week! Let us know in the comments which dish you want to see the most 🙌 Big love! Roxy + Ben #vegan #guthealth #series #gut #healthyfood #healthyrecipes

♬ Tears In Brasil - Piero Piccioni

Paid social media content, however, is designed to grab attention and drive action. This type of content often means eye-catching visuals, compelling ad copy, and clear calls-to-action (CTAs). Paid content formats may include single images, videos, carousels, collections, or stories, depending on the platform and campaign objectives.

You need a paid and organic social media marketing strategy

While organic and paid social media have distinct differences, they complement each other. To maximize the impact of your social media marketing efforts, it's crucial to develop a strategy that incorporates both organic and paid tactics.

Here's how organic and paid social media support each other in a marketing strategy:

  • Organic efforts help build brand awareness and credibility, making paid campaigns more effective by increasing recognition and trust among your target audience.
  • Paid social media campaigns can drive traffic to your organic content, increasing its reach and engagement and potentially attracting a larger audience to your brand.
  • Insights from your organic social media performance can inform your paid strategies, helping you identify top-performing content, audience preferences, and optimal posting times.
  • Paid promotion can help amplify your organic content, ensuring that your best posts reach a wider audience and generate more engagement.
  • Organic social media allows you to build a long-term relationship with your audience, fostering loyalty and advocacy, while paid social media can help drive short-term conversions and sales.
  • A consistent brand voice and visual identity across organic and paid content creates a seamless experience for your audience and reinforces your brand's messaging and values.
  • Organic social media provides valuable insights into your audience's interests, pain points, and behaviors, which can be used to create more targeted and effective paid campaigns.
  • Paid social media can help fill in the gaps when organic reach is limited, ensuring that your content continues to reach your target audience even as social media algorithms evolve.

Remember, it's not about choosing one approach over the other but finding the right balance to achieve your marketing goals.

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