Organic vs. Paid Social Media: What’s the Difference?


Organic vs. Paid Social Media: What’s the Difference?

If you’re getting started with social media for your business, you might wonder whether to focus on organic or paid social media. 

The short answer is you should use both, as both help you accomplish different goals: paid social media can help you expand your reach and capture new leads, while organic social media can help you build relationships with followers. 

With this in mind, let’s explore the differences between organic and paid social media, the pros and cons, and the best practices for incorporating both into your social media strategy. 

What is organic social media marketing?

Organic social media marketing refers to the posts you share on your social media account for free, meaning you don’t put any budget behind them for expanded reach.

These posts reach your followers, friends of followers who share your posts, and people who follow or search for the hashtags you use. Additionally, as social media algorithms evolve, it’s become more common for users to see organic posts from accounts they don’t follow because these relate to the user’s interests. For example, I follow and engage with a lot of pastry accounts, so the algorithm serves me pastry content from accounts I don’t follow.  

Organic content is ideal to showcase your brand personality, try new trends, and share interesting content without being too self-promotional. 

Let’s look at the pros and cons and some examples of organic social media.  

Pros 

  • It helps you create brand awareness, especially through fun or informative posts that inspire followers to engage and share. Additionally, it’s a great way to establish your brand voice on social media. 
  • It allows you to build a direct and authentic connection with your followers. Being active in the comments section and asking followers to share their stories or content are surefire ways to build authentic relationships. 
  • It enhances customer support. Social media is a good place to support customers by responding to their messages or comments in real time. 
  • It’s cost effective. If you have a limited marketing budget, organic content can help you reach audiences without a large advertising spend. However, it does require time and resources to build your brand and engage your audience constantly. 

Cons 

  • It offers limited visibility. Social media algorithms are tricky to navigate, and organic posts often only reach a small percentage of your followers. That’s why it’s helpful to complement your strategy with paid social media, which we’ll discuss below. 
  • It can take a long time to build organic social media growth when relying solely on your existing followers. However, you can try to expand your reach by leveraging social media trends (more on that shortly). 
  • It gives you little control over who sees posts and which posts get the most traction. Plus, social media algorithms change constantly, and it takes time to understand how those changes affect your reach. So what works today may not work tomorrow. 

Examples of effective organic social media

Let’s take a look at a few brands that create engaging organic posts and the elements to implement in your organic social media strategy. 

National Park Service makes nature fun 

The federal agency in charge of all national parks, the National Park Service, does well striking a balance between funny and informative with its social media posts. This inspires users to share organic posts, expanding their reach far beyond immediate followers. 

National Park Service Tweet about otters

Jess Rona knows what dog lovers want

Dog grooming expert Jess Rona promotes her business through fun posts that appeal to her dog-loving audience. Her fun videos feature adorable pups (like her dog Meemu) while offering a peek into the dog grooming process. 



What is paid social media advertising?

Paid social media refers to advertising on social media platforms, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. This strategy allows you to target specific audiences and expand your reach quickly. It’s a great way to advertise your products, services, or events. 

There are 2 types of paid social media: 
  • Social media ads that you create specifically for advertising 
  • Boosted posts or organic posts that you later add money to expand their reach
(There’s a third paid strategy, influencer marketing, that falls somewhere between organic and paid. We’ll discuss it further below.) 

Now, let’s look at the pros and cons of creating paid ads on social media. 

Pros

  • It expands your visibility by allowing you to reach a wider audience, helping you grow your followers quicker than organic content. That’s because paid posts are likelier to appear on your audience’s feeds. 
  • It drives precise audience targeting. When you create ads, you define the specific audiences you want to target, ensuring you reach people likely to engage. You can define audiences based on demographics, interests, and behaviors on the platform. This helps you drive qualified leads to your business. 
  • It gives you flexibility to test and optimize. Once your ads are live, you can track performance and adjust elements as needed, like allocating more budget to the ads that perform best. Plus, you can run A/B tests on smaller audiences before you publish an ad for a larger audience, helping you optimize ad components.  
  • It helps drive conversions through direct links to the landing pages where you want to send customers. Some social media platforms like Instagram don’t allow users to place links in posts, but paid ads allow you to create calls to action (CTAs) that drive audiences toward conversion. 

Cons

  • It requires a dedicated budget, which also means you may need to report on the return on investment to continue to justify the spend. While you can start with a small budget, the social media advertising landscape is competitive, so a higher budget leads to better results. 
  • It may turn away some users who prefer to scroll past ads to get to organic content, which they view as more authentic. This is especially true if they keep seeing the same ad. So limit ad frequency to avoid overwhelming your audience. 
  • It requires frequent monitoring. When an organic post doesn’t work, you can try again with a new post. But when you put money behind paid ads, there might be more pressure to see results. This requires constant monitoring and optimization to make the most of each campaign.

Examples of effective paid social media 

Let’s take a look at some of the tactics social media advertisers use to help their paid posts stand out in the feed. 

Birkenstock banks on eye-catching colors 

Sustainably certified sandal and shoe retailer Birkenstock catches the eye with its simple design featuring a purple sandal in this Instagram ad. The white space highlights the product, and the color-coordinated CTA reinforces the monochrome theme. 

Birkenstock Instagram ad featuring purple sandal

Bitly highlights customer testimonials 

URL-shortening service Bitly uses this LinkedIn ad to raise awareness of another service it offers: QR codes. The ad lets a customer do the talking, showcasing a testimonial from Modus Brewing on how the business used QR codes to gather customer data and inform product development.

Bitly LinkedIn ad

How to combine organic and paid social media 

Organic and paid social media help you achieve complementary goals, so implement both in your social media marketing strategy. But how do you get the right balance? Here are 5 ways to leverage the best of both worlds. 

1. Boost top-performing organic posts 

If an organic post performs particularly well with your existing audience, this could be a sign that it would resonate with a wider audience too. So boost your organic post to extend its reach and engage new audiences. This saves you time because you don’t need to create new content, and you already have proof that the content performs well. 

2. Create look-alike audiences 

The data you collect from existing followers gives you insight into your audience’s common traits. Use this data to create look-alike audiences—audiences with similar traits and interests to your followers—for your paid advertisements. This helps you refine your targeting and reach audiences likely to engage with your content. 

3. Experiment with organic posts before creating ads 

Your organic posts give you more freedom to try new formats, such as short-form video, before you commit to an advertising budget. It’s a low-stakes way to experiment without a lot to lose if it doesn’t work. And if it does work, you can apply your learnings to create effective paid ads.

Why is experimentation important? Followers’ preferences evolve, and the algorithm evolves with them, making it vital to keep up with content formats and trends. For example, Instagram used to be all about static images, but the platform now emphasizes short-form video—a format that leads to wider reach and higher engagement. 

4. Build community 

No matter what type of content you post, stay connected with your community on social media. 

When you create an ad, don’t just set it and forget. Instead, monitor the comments and respond to users frequently to keep them engaged and help move them toward a conversion.

For example, in the comments section of their ad for a filtered showerhead, the Jolie social media team responds to most customers’ questions and comments, acting as real-time customer support and helping customers get ready to buy. 

Jolie Intagram ad comments section

5. Try influencer marketing

Influencer collaborations blur the lines between paid and organic content. For example, you can work with an influencer to create sponsored content that appears as an organic post on their feed. However, the influencer will disclose that the post is an ad. 

You can also boost your public relations strategy by sending new products to influencers, hoping they post about it and help build hype. Influencers typically announce the product as a gift, but they’re posting because they liked it, not because you paid them to do so. 

Influencer marketing requires a budget, like paid social media ads, but it has some of the benefits of organic posting, like a more authentic and personal feel. 

For example, influencer Katie Budenberg communicates transparently with her followers about her sponsored posts, which helps keep her community engaged with ads. 

Katie Budenberg Instagram story about ad breaks

Katie Budenberg ad for Asda

Boost your social media strategy with email marketing from Twilio SendGrid

Social media is an effective way to reach new audiences, but the ever-changing algorithms and competitive ad landscape can make it challenging to provide ongoing customer engagement. 

That’s why social media should be one part of your marketing strategy, working alongside more direct channels, like email marketing. 

Email enables you to stay in touch with your customers after you acquire them on social media. For example, you can use social media to drive subscriptions to your newsletter, then nurture customers with weekly newsletter content. Plus, you can use data from social media to boost your email campaigns.

Ready to use social media and email together to create better customer engagement? Check out how Twilio SendGrid can help you get started. 

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