• Bright Black

Organic vs Paid Social Media: A changing landscape

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

What is organic social media?

Organic social media is the free content (posts, photos, video, memes, stories, etc.) that all users share with each other on their feeds. Your posts will be shown to more people as your audience shares and engages with them.

Organic content is seen by:

  • A percentage of your followers (your ‘organic reach’)

  • Your followers’ followers (if people choose to share your post)

  • People following any hashtags you use (especially relevant for 'search' pages)

Organic content is the best way to nurture a connection with your customers. Your organic pages are like a social website that validates your brand for potential customers who are deciding to do business with you. People are looking to social more and more to learn about brands.

Use organic social content to:

  • Establish personality and voice

  • Build relationships by sharing informative, entertaining, and/or inspiring content

  • Engage customers at every stage of their buying journey

  • Provide support with customer service

You don’t need paid campaigns to listen to what people are saying about/to you. However, you can use paid campaigns to reinforce core messages that you’ve shared via organic posts. What’s important is that the listening and learning elements are part of your organic approach to social media; they should happen naturally by being actively involved with your community.

What is paid social media?

Paid social media is just another term for advertising. Paid social posts will show up in the feeds of whichever audience you decide to target, in order to connect with those who are likely to be interested, either through “boosting” your organic content, or designing unique advertisements.

When done well it works best for reaching new audiences and shuffle them down the sales funnel until converting them into customers.

Use paid social to:

  • Raise brand awareness

  • Attract new followers

  • Promote your latest deal, content, event, etc.

  • Generate leads

  • Drive conversions and e-commerce sales

You can target audiences based on demographics, location, interests, and may more across all forms of social media eg. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and more...

Paid social guarantees that you'll get seen not only by your current audience but by new audiences as well. Whereas, with organic social, you post and wait for things to happen.

Updated algorithms changed the game

Posting and waiting for things to happen is the downside of organic content. And it’s only getting more challenging to do so as Facebook and all social media platforms continue to change the way their algorithms (how Facebook decides which posts users see, and in what order, every time they check their feeds) function.

In 2018, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm changed to prioritize “posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions.” Intended to increase the quality, rather than the quantity, of the time that people spend on Facebook. The more people see the content that they want to see the likelier they are to stay on the platform for longer. And more screen time = more ads seen = more money for Facebook’s shareholders.

As a business, you used to be able to post something organically to your audience (say it was 100,000) it would hit a good chunk of that 100,000. The changes in the algorithm have meant that brands could reasonably expect their posts to be seen by about 5.5% of their Page’s followers. A large decrease, that effects bigger brands with a massive following more so, as they can expect even lower averages. This is because Facebook is showing people content from their friends and family first, rather than prioritising advertising and spam from businesses.

The algorithm is now set to prioritize posts that earned a lot of high-value engagement (eg., comments, reactions, comment replies and sharing posts via Messenger as well). How it now works for a brand, is Facebook will push content out to a percentage of your audience to test it and then if they engage with it, it will then be pushed further out.

The change in the algorithm achieved what Facebook wanted. One study found that engagement had increased 50% year over year. However, the algorithm changes also increased divisiveness and outrage as it tended to promote posts that got people worked up and rewarded fringe content (a.k.a. fake news) from unreliable sources that knew how to game the system.

Combatting fake news

This may not seem to impact brands directly but does highlight the importance of trust and transparency needed on the platform. Brands need to engage with their consumers in a more genuine and authentic manner now more than ever, as anything perceived to be needlessly controversial or spammy could quickly earn you a strike.

Facebook’s fight against “fake news” and misleading content is well-documented. In April 2019, Facebook elaborated on its manual efforts to fact-check content to fight misinformation.

There’s also now a button to click if you want to know why a post is showing up in your feed. The “Why am I seeing this post?” button does exactly as it says: it helps people understand why the algorithm has surfaced that post. Introduced to build more transparency and to give the user more control over the content shown in their newsfeed.

Via surveys, Facebook also began directly asking users questions to get more context on what content matters to them. Using the feedback to further update the algorithm to better reflect users activity. Asking:

  • Who their close friends are;

  • What posts (links, photos and videos) they find valuable;

  • How important a specific Facebook Group that they’ve joined is to them;

  • How interested they are in seeing content from specific Pages that they follow.

And as of 2020, Facebook has stated that its focus is on helping users understand the algorithm, and take control of those ranking signals to give it better feedback.

Facebook mentions three major categories of ranking signals:

  • Who a user typically interacts with

  • The type of media in the post (eg., video, link, photo, etc.)

  • The popularity of the post

What does this mean for brands?

“Paid posting is the new organic.”

- Brendan Kane, One Million Followers

This means two things for brands.

To perform well on an organic level they need to focus on creating content that is serving their audience rather than selling to their audience e.g. funny viral videos that people will share. The digital ‘word of mouth’ so to speak. The strategy being here to serve serve serve sell assuming that the algorithm will start favouring that brands post in the algorithm. The only issue is that it can be time consuming, and not guaranteed.

This leads them to their second option to strategically invest in paid posts, which means that they put a portion of money into boosting their post to their current audience virtually guaranteeing that their content will land in front of their audience.

With an increasing amount of ‘content clutter’ on our feeds and an ever-changing algorithm that leaves you feeling like you are clasping at thin air, investing into paid posts will inevitably become part of our online future.

Organic and paid social strategies each have their own advantages and disadvantages which is why understanding your end objective is essential. Organic is great for reaching existing customers, but is often slower to reach business goals, and takes a lot of time, experimentation and/or experience to get right. Paid content is the way to go as ensure that your content will be seen by new audiences and customers. But requires budget, and the ads don't manage themselves, an experienced social media manager is needed to maximise your efforts through testing and developing a strong brand message of posts that work. And ultimately, a blend of the two strategies is the way to go to be best promote your brand on social media now, and in the future.

So, do you want to lead the way? Get in touch for a customised strategy from our team of experts to use the algorithm to your advantage and excel on social media.


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