How To Explain Organic vs. Paid Social Media To Your Parents

This blog is once again dedicated to my parents who are unsure how to differentiate social media marketing versus social media advertising. Now that they’ve read up on “How to Explain Digital Marketing to Your Parents,” it’s time to dig deeper. Social media can be a powerful tool for consumers, and an even more powerful tool for businesses. Whether you’re a new company looking to boost awareness or an experienced business looking to boost sales, social media can help.

What is the difference?

The simple answer: social media ads are paid and organic is not. Social media advertising is the mixture of any paid advertising efforts through social media platforms. For example: Mom, asking for recommendations for dog groomers on the neighborhood Facebook group is not paid social media marketing. Having a pair of cute shoes “follow you” around your feed all day as you scroll is.

We’ve all been there—endlessly scrolling through careful algorithms on our multiple news feeds when we notice an ad that blends in almost too well. These clothing brands, small businesses, and other companies are paying to post in a way that is camouflaged in content from our friends and family. 

Users can see these ads almost anywhere. On Facebook and Instagram, marketers have a few different ways they can go about posting—photo, video, story, and carousel are a few options. Yes dad, carousel is a type of advertising medium and a circus ride. Each social media platform is designed with suggestions that help a business reach their target audiences. In some situations, you may post on Facebook or LinkedIn and see a suggestion to “boost” the content for a small fee. This boost means the platform can increase your existing content’s visibility one time. For a lot of businesses, utilizing paid and organic can be the most helpful.

Looking past the paid social media marketing, businesses can also be utilizing organic social content. This includes all social media business strategies done with free or included tools in each platform. The first step in every organic presence is to have a business page on each platform relevant to your business. Having a business page on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., not only allows your business to be seen better—but it helps beat the competition. Organic social media can be informational (posting hours, address, payment methods), or strategic (increasing traffic, reviews, and overall brand loyalty). 

A benefit of social media marketing is the versatility. If you choose the organic route, social media is free of charge. If you have a readily available advertising budget, take advantage of paid social ads! Each route comes with its own benefits. Mom and Dad—are you still with me? Dad, do I need to walk you through how to “comment organically” on LinkedIn again? Great, let’s keep going.

Which social media strategy should my company choose?

Organic social media and social media advertising are used for different reasons. A good social media strategy will include paid and unpaid elements. However, because they each have their own benefits, here’s a quick summary that might help you decide. 

Social media ads are optimized to help you reach a bigger audience—in less time. Each platform has different targeting options for reaching those audiences such as age, location, income, or interests. Facebook even provides the ability to create lookalike audiences. This is the process of identifying common qualities between users and delivering ads to that group of people. Mom, let’s go back to the dog groomer example. If I were a dog food company looking to target curious owners—I could create a lookalike audience for people interested in dogs, groomers, dog toy subscription boxes, and more. These ads would loop you in while creating an audience similar to you to increase my customer base. Did I lose you yet? 

On the other hand, organic social media marketing is great for curating the relationships you already have with clients and customers. These are the types of audiences who care about the message and authenticity behind your posts. By posting regularly, you become an influence to those followers and therefore build their trust. There’s also the possibility that users or customers share your content on their own. The more brand loyal they are, the more likely they are to help you! A potential downside to social media stardown is the response rate. It’s vital to be responding and engaging with customers—especially those new ones. If you’re driving customers to a form submission or phone number, they’re hoping you’re on the other end.

Whether through paid or organic outreach efforts, social media remains a huge influence in getting eyes on your brand or website. 

How do I know which platform to use?

If you’re a company just entering the world of social media, congratulations and welcome. If you’re my parents, you probably refer to Snapchat as ‘SnapFace’ and put ‘the’ in front of every app. Snapface sounds like it has potential though, Mom. Anyways, here are three criteria to check before you choose a social media platform.

First, think about who your target audience might be. Build a social media presence based on what you believe your audience would engage in. The best results come from a detailed plan. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask questions like:

  • How old is my ideal market?
  • What is my target audience interested in?
  • What kinds of social media do they use?
  • How would my target audience stay in touch with my brand?

Next, look for relevance. Are the channels you’re creating relevant to the product/service you’re trying to promote? For example, if you’re trying to push informational content that is short, sweet, and to the point, Twitter would be best. If your product/service is more visually appealing—try YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook.

Finally, think about what kind of message you’re trying to push. Choosing a limited number of channels can allow you to curate an audience list. Facebook and Instagram alone have billions of followers. Keeping your messaging to 1-2 platforms can allow for greater brand growth and loyalty. Still confused on where to start? Here are the top 5 social media platforms as of 2021, and how you can optimize both for organic and paid advertising. 

Can my business create a hybrid strategy?

Your business absolutely can. According to a report from SEJournal, here are the top 5 social media platforms to optimize for in 2021:

  1. Instagram
  2. Twitter
  3. LinkedIn
  4. YouTube
  5. Facebook

Each platform provides its own unique benefits. While it’s ideal to use a hybrid strategy for all, here’s an analysis on whether organic or paid is better suited for you.

Why should I use a hybrid strategy for the ‘gram?

First on the roster, Instagram (or ‘the Gram’ as my parents call it) yields about one billion followers. Friends, family, influencers, storefronts, and more gather to endlessly scroll, engage, and shop. Paid advertising is almost impossible to miss. Instagram ads can be located between friends’ stories, hidden within your feed, or now even in Reels. Mom and Dad, Reels are basically like Tik Tok. When a brand chooses to pay to advertise on Instagram, it casts a wide net for conversions and brand awareness. If a user likes, comments, saves, or interacts with an Instagram ad in any way—the platform uses that data to keep serving the ad to you. With the new Instagram algorithms and updates, it’s easy to ‘add to cart’ or ‘save to collections’ with one click. 

Another huge benefit of Instagram for paid social media is its connection to Facebook Ads. Perhaps the smartest of each platform, this allows marketers to customize campaigns, audiences, and appearance. 

Organic marketing through Instagram is more useful for creating strong brand loyalty. According to Facebook Business, over 200 million Instagram users visit at least one business profile every day, and 90% of Instagram profiles follow at least one brand. Start by posting in the Instagram feed, on your Instagram stories, IGTV (Dad, it’s like cable and YouTube for the internet), or Instagram Live. Mom, Instagram Live is what you accidentally joined and thought you were FaceTiming. It was a pretty close guess. 

How can I tweet my way to the top?

Twitter (or as my Dad calls it, Tweeter) is a one-stop-shop for news, humor, messaging, stories, and more. This app created a quick and easy way to interact with audiences, respond to customer feedback, and ultimately promote a brand’s products/services. We all remember this beef (pun intended) between Wendy’s and McDonald’s. These simple tweets that went out in 2017 left an impression on customers for years! 

Although shy of Instagram’s following, Twitter comes in at about 330 million. With a massive audience base, businesses who take advantage of regularly tweeting and hashtag-ing are more likely to increase their visibility. The best way I can explain just how much effect a tweet can have on someone or some brand—Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Mean Tweets’ segment. One organic tweet from one random person can go viral in just a few hours. Imagine what a not-so-mean tweet could do for your business. Twitter Ads have the same goals and benefits as organic: staying up to date with trends, boosting engagement, greater message reach, and curating your business’ personality. Any questions about Twitter or paid Twitter ads? We can help you stay trendy.

Is LinkedIn for more than just job applications?

Still falling short of Instagram but higher than Twitter, LinkedIn has over 740 million users on its site. This platform is highly recognized for it’s networking and relationship building. To Mister-Five-Hundred-Followers, Dad I think you can skip out on this lesson. This platform provides both B2B and B2C advantages. LinkedIn marketing allows you to target by location, industry, or even job title. If you’re focused on curating relationships and building connections, stick with organic LinkedIn. You’d be surprised what you can find. If you’re looking to quickly collect a lead list, try LinkedIn Ads. Their biggest challenge is the cost per click—it can be higher than other platforms. However, once you jump that hurdle, data shows LinkedIn Ads can reach a high-quality audience in a way other platforms cannot.

Why do I see so many YouTube Ads?

YouTube, a brand well-known since 2006, is the second most searched platform only behind Google. According to FinancesOnline, YouTube users now watch over 1 billion hours of online video per day. Yes Dad, those 15 0r 30-second unskippable videos that pop up before the actual video you’re trying to watch. The biggest advantage of YouTube advertising is the range of formats ads can be in (display ads, overlay ads, skippable, non-skippable ads, bumper ads). Speaking of organic YouTube marketing, it’s one of the easiest ways to get your foot into the marketing door. The more content you create, the more authority you build for your brand.

Why do Facebook Ads follow me around?

Facebook, the massive social network of about 2.7 billion users, is one of the most powerful and influential social media apps in the world. Facebook Ads are getting smarter, allowing marketers to target more than just location, age, and time of day. Interest targeting includes the following the following categories:

  • Business and Industry
  • Entertainment
  • Family and relationships
  • Fitness and wellness
  • Food and drink
  • Hobbies and activities
  • Shopping and fashion
  • Sports and outdoors
  • Technology

Remember, anyone within your targeting bubble can see your ads. You can always broaden or narrow that bubble. A lot of businesses find this hyper-targeting useless because it can result in better curated audience lists. Mom, this is usually why you ‘want to buy the ads you see’ so often, because you fall into their target audience.

Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube each have their pros and cons to organic and paid social media marketing. For my parents who got this far, thanks for tuning in. Hopefully you’ll think twice before yelling at a YouTube ad for not skipping or Facebook Ads for following you around. Until the next lesson!