Organic vs. Paid Social Media - Should you use one or both?

Mark Zollner

Mar 9, 2022

Whether you’re starting out or are an established business, you’ll face a critical, strategic question.

Where are your ideal customers spending time?

What are the marketing channels you should use to attract them?

They’re almost certainly on social media - Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, TikTok, and many more.

Social media has unquestionably pervaded deep in society. In the USA today, over 80% have at least one social media account - that’s more than 234 million people.

And people are spending a lot of time there. In 2021, the average American spent over 2 hours 22 mins scrolling, posting, and sharing.

Over the following years, both numbers and time are set to grow.

That presents a huge opportunity to engage them. But it can also be a perplexing challenge both for marketers and businesses.

First, there are many platforms within social media with their own rules and opportunities.

Second, you can have the choice of how to reach them. Should you use the platforms for free (relying on organic reach)? Or should you pay for ads and access?

We'll look at both sides, when you should use either - or how you might use them together.

Average daily amount spent on social media is 2hrs 24 mins.

What is Organic Social Media Marketing (with Examples)?

What is organic social media marketing?

Great question. It's just like organic food - the good stuff.

An organic social media strategy includes activities and tactics to reach social network audiences without paying for it. Like creating content, participating in discussions, and authentically engaging with your followers. This means that you're getting real human eyeballs on your brand without spending a dime. 

An example could be Jen’s handmade jewelry business.

Jen uses Instagram to share photos of her latest exciting designs. It lets her followers know about her latest work which may lead to sales. But others who are not her followers will discover her designs when people comment or share her content. Over time, Jen builds up an ever-larger set of followers and audience.

Meanwhile, Jen’s friend Kate recently quit her job at a multinational bank to become an independent Financial Consultant.

Kate knows many successful executives spend time on Linkedin building their professional network. So she starts posting content on how to make your financial independence. Kate’s content quickly becomes popular and eventually lands her clients.

So what is common between the strategy used by Jen and Kate?

Both are using Organic Social Media Marketing to grow their business. 

Pros and Benefits of Organic Social Media Marketing

1. It’s probably the cheapest way to acquire customers in the long term

It can take a long time to build a significant audience and followers. But once you do, you can see steady and increasing sales from this audience.

If you’re already blogging, you will be re-using content you created - making it more cost-efficient. Organic social media is an important part of successful content marketing.

2. Organic social media is an effective way to build lasting relationships and nurture your audiences

Even if you have your ideal customers among your audience, the truth is not everyone is ready to buy in one moment. They may need days, weeks, or even months before they're ready.

Posting organic content is an excellent way to keep your audience engaged. You can stay top of mind so that when the moment arises, they remember and buy from you (also how you can use email marketing).

3.Cultivating loyal fans who end up becoming ambassadors for your brand

Word of mouth marketing (where your customers recommend you) may be the holy grail of marketing. Social media makes it incredibly easy for your audience to recommend you to their network - and for you to tap into this powerful type of marketing.

4. A quick way to get noticed is Organic Social Media Marketing

While organic Social media marketing is a long-term strategy that takes time to pay off, advertising on social media can be a quick way to get seen.

You just need to know where your audiences are in the different networks. Having high organic authority and visibility, as well as paid ads, means you won’t be relying on one single channel to reach your audiences.

For example, Facebook; for all we know, it could suddenly stop working or just get too pricey. 

A successful organic strategy gives you more options and can keep your business growing even if other channels don’t perform as well.


Cons and Challenges of Organic Social Media Marketing

1.Your audience might not see your organic posts

Back in 2012, it was easy for your Facebook post as a business to show up on your followers’ newsfeeds.

Today it's near impossible.

For businesses, Facebook has become 'pay to play’. Only if you pay will your post or ad be seen - that includes even your own followers on Facebook.

While Facebook might be the most extreme example, social media platforms limit how many people will see your organic posts over time.

As more content is posted on a specific social media platform, it becomes saturated. As a result, your content has to compete with all of the competitors' content. It’s a ‘competition for eyeballs’ - people's limited time on the channel.

And when a business is willing to spend money and use ads, the social network will prioritize those that pay.

How much this is an issue depends on the platform. But there are still many great opportunities out there to explore.

2.The competition is rather high in Organic Social Media Marketing

Organic social media marketing is one of the best strategies for building your community, finding customers, and driving sales. But there is a problem - everyone else is doing it too! People are investing more time to get better at content creation. They are starting to pick up fancy cameras, and the video quality you see on Facebook and Youtube keeps getting better (time to pull up your socks and learn strategies to make top-notch content!). The rising competition has made it quite challenging to pave the way for oneself on social media (but it is still worth it, but you have to start now).

3.Limited formats

You may not be able to tell your story exactly how you want, and in the format you want it (this is a little challenge and depends on the platform.

4.Cost of Organic Social Media Marketing

While organic social media tactics don't require you to pay the social network, it would be wrong to assume it is entirely free.

The jewelry maker could pay a photographer for great product photos, and the financial consultant might pay a content writer to craft the posts. In both cases, there is a payment that needs to be made! 

Some may argue that you always have the option of creating your content. However, even when you do, you need to consider the monetary value of your time. 

Another cost that an organic social media plan might incur is the cost of tools. There are a lot of great paid tools available that help you with various tasks such as identifying trends, automating the posting process, and gathering engagement insights. While budgeting for your organic social media strategy, it would make sense to consider the cost of tools.

benefits and challenges of organic marketing

What is Paid Social Media Marketing

Paid social media marketing is where you pay to get your message in front of your audience in the form of an ad or sponsored post.

If we look at Facebook (which we're all familiar with), it could come in the form of banner ads, carousel ads, video ads, or story ads.

Similar formats are available on Instagram as well. For example, on Youtube, it means video ads that may be at the beginning of a video or during it. They may be short, which you can't skip, or long.

Youtube Advertising

Fun fact, in 2021, the total amount that brands worldwide spend globally on social media marketing was a staggering $153.7 Billion! 

And, well, there are 156 countries in the world whose GDP was lower than that in 2021.

For those who are still in doubt - social media advertising is still growing at 10% yearly, so it is time for you to start your social media marketing game.  

When it comes to Social Media advertising, one needs to keep in mind a process: 

1. Set a clear objective for each campaign

The aim could be brand awareness, getting people to your website, generating leads, or even landing sales. Predefining an objective increases your chances of success.

2. Not all products will achieve the same results from Social Media campaigns

While for e-Commerce, the purchase-optimized campaigns can directly lead to sales, the possibility would be different for other industries. It’s unlikely that you would end up buying a car from a social media ad. However, social media can work wonders for automobile companies when it comes to increasing brand awareness and lead generation. 

At SanityDesk, most of our clients (coaches, consultants, and experts) use social media marketing to generate leads, grow brand awareness, and show their credibility and level of expertise.

Pros and Benefits of Paid Social Media Marketing

1. Get Traffic and start selling faster with Paid Social Media Marketing

In Organic social media marketing, you need first build an audience the hard way before you can start selling something. Paid Social Media Marketing works differently. You can start selling from day one. 

2. Predictable Revenue with Paid Social Media Marketing 

With time, you will be able to easily predict your expected sales for a  certain amount of ad budget spent. You can better prepare for upsides and downsides and plan your ad budget.

3. Accurate Targeting with Paid Social Media Marketing

Social Media users share a lot of information about themselves, their likes, and interests. And there's quite a bit of data that the platforms can identify based on user behavior.
Advertisers can tap this data for precision targeting people they need. Creating target personas, defining them online, and then using creatives to inspire them individually is probably the most effective way of using social media ads.

4. In terms of formats, there is quite a bit of flexibility available

In fact, by integrating payment methods into social media profiles and using native lead collection methods - businesses can generate revenue even without a website.

5. In recent years, artificial intelligence has been used by platforms such as Facebook (Meta)  to develop features such as smart bidding

“Smart bidding” has eased the campaign management process substantially. Using smart bidding, an advertiser can run campaigns without managing and controlling each minute detail. Set an objective and target. Share your creatives. And the platform will do the rest! 

Cons and Challenges of Paid Social Media Marketing

1. You don't get any new traffic, leads, or sales as soon as you stop paying

You thus need to fuel your paid campaigns constantly. 

2. Costs are typically rising

The rate of increase in social media advertising spending is much higher than the growth of the user base. Every year new businesses start to advertise on social media. Large companies have also been moving ad spending from traditional to digital channels. These trends add to social media advertising becoming more expensive every year. For small businesses, social media advertising has become increasingly difficult. 

3. Your audience could be difficult to target

Many ad platforms work best when there is a large audience on them. However, if your target audience is small in size, social media advertising could prove to be an expensive affair. 

4. Scalability and cost-efficiency

Spending 3x, 10x, or even 30x on ads won't mean you will get the same increase in leads or revenue. It’s almost like driving on the motorway. Your fuel efficiency falls as you drive fast. While there are strategies to navigate around this, unfortunately, it is rarely commensurate. 

5. Other ongoing costs 

Businesses typically have to pay a media buyer to manage their campaigns. That typically starts at a few hundred dollars but can be thousands or even more than 10 thousand at the very high end per month.

6. In recent years, governments worldwide have called out major social networks for breaching user privacy

As a result, there is much more restriction on what marketers can target. For example, laws such as GDPR have also made paid campaigns more challenging. Instead, it sets limits on how a company can target or retarget a user. We can only expect the laws to tighten further in the coming years.

Organic Vs. Paid Social Media - The Final Verdict

As mentioned initially, the ideal social media strategy is a hybrid one.  A mix of organic content and paid advertising - that's what we've seen works the best. 

We would also highly recommend a funnel strategy, whereby a business progressively guides the buyer from awareness to purchase, walking the person through a specific set of steps. 

A mix of organic posts and paid advertising can be used in the upper stages (beginning) of the funnel strategy, where the goal is to maximize awareness and drive consideration. 

Once the user is already aware of the brand and is at a lower-funnel stage - one can use paid ads to seal the deal. 

Written by:

Mark Zollner


Mar 9, 2022


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