Sure, you can have one without the other. But leveraging both organic and paid social strategies can set you up for maximum reach — and success.

Here, you’ll find: 

  • Reasons to use organic and paid strategies in your social media marketing plan
  • How organic and paid social media complement each other
  • Tips and tricks for leveraging both to increase your return on investment (ROI)
  • Why these strategies can be crucial to overall campaign success

More than 4.7 billion people around the world use social media, accounting for an eyebrow-raising 93% of all internet users. No matter who you’re trying to reach, chances are that you can find them on social media. 

But is it worth it to invest in paid social content, or should you take a more organic approach? An effective marketing strategy makes room for both. We’re here to tell you how. 

Paid vs. organic social media: What’s the difference?

Social media traffic comes in two forms: paid and organic. Unlike organic social, paid social media is, well, paid. 

Paid social media (sometimes called “social media advertising”) refers to advertisements or sponsored posts that your company pays to distribute to members of your target audience. 

Paid social media marketing is nothing new, and it’s not going to be going away anytime soon. In 2022, social media ad spend reached a whopping $65 billion

If you spend money to get your content in front of an audience (like with an ad or sponsored post), that’s paid social media. Alternatively, when you create a standard post or share a photo with your followers and don’t spend any money to do so, that’s organic social media. 

Woman using social media microblogging app on her phone

What is organic social media?

When you hear the term “organic” in regard to digital marketing, the thing to remember is “free.” Organic social media is no different.

Organic social media refers to social content shared for free, spreading the word about your brand without any monetary investment on your part.

When you create a post on LinkedIn, for example, your audience might like or share it with their followers. The post spreads on its own, and you didn’t have to spend a dime. 

But as Nicole Goodnough, senior paid social media manager at HawkSEM, points out, “Social algorithms will also show suggested content based on user behavior, not just reliant on followers sharing content.

She adds that, after TikTok blew up with their For You Page (FYP) by knowing what users what before they know they want it, other platforms began to beef up their AI to keep up.

Organic social media: pros

Affordability: Organic content may cost you some time and effort, but it doesn’t add to your marketing budget, which can be a huge advantage for small businesses. In terms of your finances, it’s hard to find a more cost-effective marketing strategy than organic social.

Community building: Organic posts are naturally more conversational and engaging than ads, so you have a great opportunity to interact with your audience, maintain your company’s reputation, and build trust and relationships with current and future customers. 

Organic social media: cons

Limited exposure: Organic content is first shared only with your followers on social media platforms, leaving it up to your audience to help spread the word to new potential customers.

Depends on outside elements: As Goodnough explains, “Organic social exposure is dependent upon a lot of outside elements, too: viral content that day/week, worldwide events and news, etc.” The algorithm can help get your content in the right place, but at the end of the day, you’re at the mercy of the rest of the world.

Time-consuming: Creating high-quality content to increase your organic reach can take quite an effort. Plus, the more social accounts you have, the more time you’ll need to spend creating, monitoring, and analyzing your content. 

Pro tip: Don’t forget about user-generated content. The more you engage with your audience and encourage positive conversations, the more open your followers will be to sharing their own content that you can share to your brand’s profile. 

Paid social media: pros

Greater chance of conversions: Since paid social posts are guaranteed to get to your target audience (unlike organic content, which isn’t nearly as targeted), viewers are more likely to convert into paying customers.

Retargeting: Paid social media campaigns can be wildly effective in your retargeting efforts. You can customize your ads to appeal to leads who haven’t yet converted, helping you gain those precious sales.

Paid social media: cons

Competition: No matter which social networks you’re advertising on, there’s bound to be plenty of competition. The demand for visibility is high, and constantly trying to outbid your competitors can get expensive fast.

Cost: As we just touched on, the costs of paid social can add up quickly if you’re not careful. A small business with a limited marketing budget may not be able to justify the ad spend it takes to run a viable campaign. 

How to make organic social media and paid social media work together

In the debate between organic vs paid social media, both strategies have a place in your overall social media marketing efforts. The key is balancing them.

1. Start with your goals

Before you can determine how to best use organic and paid social strategies, take some time to think about your business goals. 

If you’re focused on increasing brand awareness, for instance, you may want to lean into organic social media marketing for a while. If your goal is to increase conversions or sales, paid posts may take precedence.

Pro tip: Remember to use SMART Goals here: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. This formula can help you produce actionable goals to more easily direct your efforts, while vague goals can leave you scratching your head about where to begin.

2. Learn more about your audience

Your overall target audience might be well-defined, but your followers on different social media accounts might not always fall into those neat boxes. 

For example, you may know that your company appeals to mainly to customers in their teens and 20s. However, your followers on TikTok will be most interested in short-form video content, while the same may not be true for your Twitter followers. 

Separate your overall audience based on the platform, then learn more about the demographics that are present in that particular space. Having these individual segments of your audience can make it easier to produce effective organic content and ensure your paid ads get you the highest return on investment (ROI) possible. 

3. Work with the algorithms

Each social media platform has its own unique algorithm to determine what content gets shared with certain users and when. To make the most of your marketing efforts, it’s crucial to understand how each network’s algorithm handles content. 

For example, Instagram’s algorithm highly values relationships, meaning users are more likely to get content recommendations based on the accounts they follow and engage with the most. But when you hop over to LinkedIn, the algorithm prioritizes content based on its quality. 

Hootsuite has an excellent introductory guide to all the major social media platforms and the key focuses of their algorithms. Understanding the biggest priority of each social network can help you zero in on what each particular audience is looking for and how to get your content in front of them. 

Our top 3 best practices for social media marketing

Your social media efforts are sure to be different depending on the type of content and the platform you’re using. Still, there are some best practices that can be applied to any business’s overall social media strategy. 

1. Be genuine

Regardless of whether you’re creating paid content or organic content, audiences can see right through you when you’re not being genuine. 

One of the main benefits of organic social is its inherent engagement potential. To make the most of that potential, you have to approach your audience in a relatable way. Remember: organic social is meant to inform or entertain, not strictly to pitch your business.

It’s still important to be sincere when you use paid social. Audiences can tell when you’re simply trying to get a sale. But when you come from a place of authenticity, new customers will feel valued and connected to your business.

2. Experiment with formats

Your social media posts likely run the gamut from photos and videos to infographics and case studies. To integrate both paid and organic social efforts, play around with different formats to see what gets the most traction. 

For example, more visual content is infinitely sharable, which is why infographics and short videos do so well organically. Text-based content, on the other hand, may be better suited for paid campaigns.

3. Conduct A/B testing

A/B testing your social media content, whether paid or organic, can provide valuable insights for your business.

When you test content that’s slightly varied, you can easily see which version suits your audience best. You can learn more about your audience’s preferences on each social media platform you use, and you can more easily determine the types of content that are worth investing in. 

Consider A/B testing for social media elements like:

  • Post length
  • Tone of voice
  • Use of pictures or videos
  • Post/ad format
  • Hashtags
  • Calls to action (CTA)

Remember to keep an eye on your marketing campaigns and track your performance metrics to determine which version of your content is more successful.

More insight from our social media experts

At our agency, we’ve got years of experience in the more traditional digital marketing channels. But we’re also working to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the newer avenues as well — and that includes social media.

“While paid social allows you to place brand messaging in front of key audiences, organic social is also a key component of your overall social media strategy,” says Magnolia Deuell, associate director of social media at HawkSEM. “Organic social allows brands to engage authentically with their core audience — usually, loyal customers — to deepen relationships and increase CLV [or customer lifetime value].”

She adds that these are the types of audiences that supplement word-of-mouth advertising. Having a solid content strategy and high engagement scores are not only important to your core audience, but also to prospects who may see an ad and visit your profile.

“If your business page is lacking or your competitors have a larger, more engaged following, a prospect may have reason to search elsewhere for a product or service,” Deuell explains. “And, as social media evolves its user experience to include more search functionality, social SEO is crucial to being discovered in search results.”

The takeaway

Content marketing (and digital marketing in general) is a complex world, and your social media marketing strategy is just one facet. Balancing your paid and organic strategy may take some trial and error, but it’s more than worth the effort. 

Social media is changing every day. Working with an expert in social media management can help you make the most of your efforts and quickly adapt to the ever-shifting market.

HawkSEM can help you evaluate your paid and organic social strategies and improve your performance thanks to our stellar team of experts and our proprietary ConversionIQ technology. 

HawkSEM offers organic social consulting that can seamlessly fill the gaps within a brand’s social media strategy. From social SEO to a relevant and consistent content strategy, we are here to be an extension of your brand team and improve your social media presence across the board.

Contact us  to learn more about how we can help move your business forward. 

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