Organic vs Paid Social Media: What They Are the Differences, and Why You Should Use Both

Social media is the digital marketing channel that everyone uses in their daily lives without necessarily understanding how it can support their business objectives. Here, we’ll look at organic vs paid social media and explain why, in fact, you need both if you want to leverage the enormous benefits of the wider social media landscape.

Although the social media marketing landscape is constantly changing, there are two aspects that remain consistent: you can post for free or you can pay to post. And, while you can have one without the other, the secret to success is to utilise both, something you’ll discover if you read on!

We delve into the two, organic and paid social, in this blog.

As paid social experts we know a thing or two about organic and paid social so if you’d rather not worry about the difference between paid and organic social media then why not give us a call and let our award-winning paid social deliver you the results your business deserves? Call us on 0161 327 2635 or email our team at [email protected].

What Are Paid and Organic Social Media Marketing?

Many users post organically without even understanding that is what they are doing. Put simply, organic social media refers to free content. When you post a photo, video, story, status, or whatever it may be, that is you posting organically. Individual users or brands/businesses can post organic content and it is entirely free to do so.

When you post organically, your content is usually seen by a mixture of the following:

  • A percentage of your followers/page likes (note: not all of your followers will see your organic posts)
  • The followers of anyone who shares your posts
  • People who follow the hashtags that you use

Organic social media is the shop window of your business (or life) and therefore a lot of brands will use it in that way. You will see bios filled with open hours, website links and contact information, posts detailing new products and promotions, and community engagement pieces to engage the audience.

Your organic social media accounts, as a business, will usually also turn into a customer service platform too.

Paid social takes the principles of organic social media and amplifies them. In direct contrast to organic, paid social media is when you pay for your post to reach your target audience. The fundamentals are roughly the same – you post an image, video, story etc. but rather than just doing it on the platform, you create it within an ads manager, input who you would like it to reach, assign it a budget, press publish et voila!

Paid social media can fall into two key categories that have some clear differences:

  • Boosted/sponsored posts – with a boosted post, you take something that has already been posted organically and then turn it into a paid advertising campaign. You can still choose from the same targeting options and it still costs you the same to advertise, but any likes or comments that you get on the post will remain on the organic post.
  • Paid/dark ads – paid ads don’t utilise existing organic content, with the entire advert being built within the ads manager. Here, the ad that you create will only be visible to your target audience for as long as the ad is live. As soon as your ad ends, your ad will disappear along with any likes or comments it received. This disappearing act is why some refer to them as dark ads.

Do I Need Both Paid and Organic Social?

A question that social media marketers get asked quite often is “why do I need organic social if I’m already investing in paid social?” and vice versa. Let’s delve into the benefits of each approach and understand their use cases:

Benefits of Organic Posting

In the main, there are around five key advantages to posting organically, the main and most obvious one is that it’s free to post, you can post all the reels, TikToks and images as you like without using your paid media budget. Secondly, organic posts go directly to people who are following you. If they’re following you, it’s likely they enjoy your content/products and thus your content is more likely to convert them because the intent is already there. The community-building aspect of organic posting is becoming relevant each year as people align themselves with businesses that match their beliefs/ethics, your organic social media provides a space for customers to interact with each other. Content posted organically stays on your page or feed forever too so no need to worry about archiving things, and finally, a thorough organic plan just adds that level of legitimacy and trust that people expect from brands nowadays. Not posting organically isn’t something that serious, trusted businesses do.

Negatives of Organic Posting

A disadvantage of sorts is that organic reach is limited, for example, the average organic reach for a Facebook post is about 5.5% of your follower count. Secondly, posting organically is a long process that doesn’t have immediate returns, especially if you’re starting at zero. Similar to search engine optimisation (SEO), organic posting is an investment and an exercise in growing your brand aesthetic and tone of voice. A specific negative of organic posting is the fact you can’t track or report on, in any depth at least, people’s actions after seeing posts. Let’s say you post something on Instagram and then an hour later your sales increase, there is no way of knowing if those sales should be attributed to that post. Finally, as with a lot of things to do with digital marketing, you’re at the behest of tech companies and social media giants. One algorithm change or the introduction of a new platform can, at a moment’s notice, alter your entire plan and performance.

Benefits of Paid Advertising

Now onto the paid side of things, as ever, there are good and bad parts, though let’s start with the positives! A *big* advantage of paid social advertising is the array of targeting options at your disposal – not only can you target people that have bought from you in the past but you can also aim ads at recent website visitors, people who have interests that align with your product (e.g. you sell hiking equipment, you can target people who explicitly show an interest in hiking), as well as users in a certain area. Unlike organic, paid social comes with it a raft of analytics tools that can show you the performance of specific pieces of content which is ideal for understanding which content worked well, what didn’t and most importantly, why! You also have more control over when people see your paid and at what time.

Negatives of Paid Advertising

As the title suggests, paid advertising involves paying fees. Additionally, the nature of this channel means that you need a substantial budget to feel the impacts of ads due to the competition and sheer volume of ads out there. Without proper investment, you’ll be outbid. Speaking of outbid, paid ads run on an auction model which is another reason for substantial investment, competitors with bigger budgets will simply gazump your ads with theirs because they afford to bid more. And finally, as with everything, you’re not guaranteed results and you could spend a lot and not see the return on investment you thought you’d see.

Using Organic and Paid Social Together

The most important thing to consider when looking at organic vs paid social media is understanding that they are different and should be used to achieve different objectives. For example, organic social media is great for building relationships with your audience but paid social ads are effective for driving website traffic and purchases.

That is why when considering which channel to invest in, I will always recommend both. Let’s consider two scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Paid ads with no organic social marketing

You’re running paid social ads with highly effective targeting, fully optimised creative and using a substantial budget. You reach a target customer and they click through to your Instagram profile and see that you post infrequently, have very little engagement and don’t have any reviews or visible key information. This user then loses trust in your brand and starts to question the legitimacy of your business.

Scenario 2- Organic social media ads without paid ads

You have a really well-crafted organic social media presence. You’re posting regularly, achieving high levels of engagement, and sending a significant amount of traffic to your website. Your potential customers are landing on your website, browsing products but not checking out. Without paid ads, you’re unable to retarget customers and therefore lose out on a large number of sales.

As you can see from the scenarios above, there are multiple situations where it is beneficial to be running both paid and organic social. Additionally, it is reported that marketers who integrate their paid and organic strategies are more confident in their social ROI. By utilising the strengths of both platforms to compensate for the weaknesses, you can create an integrated marketing strategy to drive the best results.

If you’re interested in finding out more about paid and organic social media marketing, please get in touch and one of our experts will be happy to help.


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