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Social Media for Small Businesses:
Organic, Paid or Both?

Published: March 19 2019

The question is no longer whether or not you should use social media to promote your small business — it’s how you should use it. And it’s been like that for awhile now, so if you’re not already on the social media train, it’s time to jump in. All aboard!

But before you get started, you may have a few questions, like whether or not you should use organic or paid social media posts (and maybe even what the difference between the two is). 

For those looking to get right to it, here is a quick summary of the differences between organic and paid social media:

Organic social media 

  • “Free” to use
  • Great way to connect with your existing followers
  • Post reach is based off engagement
  • Cannot target specific users

Paid social media

  • Requires a budget
  • Great way to reach a wider audience, beyond your followers
  • Post reach is based off budget and shares
  • Ability to target specific audiences

We’re going to dig a little deeper into these difference in this article, but first we’re going to talk about why you should be using social media to promote your small business (in case you aren’t already convinced) and some things to consider before diving in.


Using social media to promote your SMB

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are arguably the most prominent social media platforms for businesses. With over 2.2 billion active users, Facebook is still in the lead as far as users go. YouTube isn’t far behind with over 1.5 billion monthly active users. Instagram is growing quickly with over 1 billion monthly active users, LinkedIn is sitting pretty with over 500 million members, and Twitter with over 300 million monthly active users.1

That’s a lot of eyeballs. And in a 2018 Global Consumer Insight Survey2, 37% of people stated that social media was their main source of online inspiration when it comes to making purchases. As a matter of fact, social media was the leading source. In another survey3, 76% of consumers said they have already purchased a product they had seen in a brand’s social media post.

Now, how do you get those eyeballs on your content? And not just any eyeballs, but the right ones (your target audience and potential customers)? It’s time to strategize.

First, choose the right social media channels for your business. Small businesses typically have limited resources to spend on social media efforts, so spend them wisely! Many small businesses make the mistake of trying to post everywhere, rather than focusing on the most effective channels and making them awesome.

Next, decide how you are going to promote your business on those social media networks. One important decision to make is whether you will use organic posts or paid ads.


The difference between organic and paid social media posts

If you’re newer to the world of social media advertising, you may be asking yourself the difference between an organic and a paid social media post. You may also be wondering which type of posts would be most beneficial for your business.

Organic social media posts

When someone talks about organic posts on social media, they are simply referring to a regular ol’ post. They’re not ads, and they will show up on your followers’ feeds based on that platform’s algorithm. Organic posts are a great way to connect with your current followers.

The best thing about organic social media? Using organic posts to promote your brand is free — well, kind of. Let us explain.

Social media channels will not charge you anything to make organic posts. However, a proper organic social media strategy will still cost you in other ways, like your time.

Successful brands make a point to create multiple organic posts per week, but most importantly, their posts are of a certain quality. They know what appeals to their audience, and they create and post content that helps build relationships with their current followers. They have a plan, a purpose, intent. Simply posting for the sake of posting doesn’t cut it.

The challenge? Organic posts will only reach so far. Reach refers to how many people will see your post. No matter what platform you’re using, your organic posts will only be viewed by a percentage of your followers (and possibly their friends, if they engage with your post).

Take Facebook for example. Before 2012, brands could reach 16 - 20%4 of their audience with organic posts. Due to increased competition and changes to the algorithm, this dropped to 6.5% in 2014, and is closer to 2% today. 

This number isn’t dropping as dramatically on every platform, and we should be clear that you can increase your brand’s organic reach by creating great content that your followers engage with and share with others. But it’s always true that the audience you will reach with organic posts is limited.

This is where the importance of paid posts comes in.

Paid social media posts

If your goal is to reach a larger audience, spread brand awareness or gain followers, paid posts on social media are your friend.

Paid posts on social media often look similar to a regular post, but will say something along the lines of ‘sponsored’ on the post. Some will also have call to action buttons or other features.

There are two different types of paid posts on social media — boosts and ads.

Boosted social media posts

On certain channels, you can make a regular post and then choose to ‘boost’ it. This means you put money towards the post, allowing it to reach a larger audience. It will even appear on the feeds of people who don’t follow you. This is an especially common practice on Facebook, Instagram (which is done through Facebook), and sometimes Twitter.

You can choose how much money you wish to put towards a boosted post, and across how many days. There is a minimum dollar amount, but it’s quite reasonable. 

Social media platforms are constantly collecting data about their users, allowing advertisers to create targeted paid posts. For boosts, you can use some targeting information, such as location.

Boosts are popular because they are easy to use and provide helpful analytics. They’re simple, and all you need to create them is a business profile and a credit card.

Social media ads

Ads on social media are a bit more complex, but the rewards are often worth it. While they are a bit more work to create, you can use more targeting data and gain additional insights.

We will use Facebook as an example, as it’s one of the most popular social media platforms for marketers. As a matter of fact, a recent study found that 83%5 of social marketers claimed that they pay for Facebook ads. To create a Facebook ad, you must first have a Facebook ads manager account, where you will build and monitor your ads. This is also where you can create Instagram ads, since Facebook owns Instagram.

On Facebook, you can target your ads based on a variety of demographics and interests, and you can also create custom audiences and use retargeting. You’ll receive plenty of analytics which you’ll want to check regularly so that you can adjust your ads as needed. 

Social media ads are pay-per-click, or PPC. Essentially, this means that you will only pay when your ad is clicked. You can learn about how PPC ads and the benefits of using them across different social media channels here.

The best things about paid ads on social media? You have control. You can set your price and target audience, and gain useful insights for future marketing efforts. 

Also, although paid ads do cost money, they deliver some of the best marketing ROI you can find, and they’re on of the easiest ways to get your message out there.

The challenge? The clutter. It can be tough to stand out, and because you are advertising to people who may not have any current relationship with your brand, you have to find a way to grab their attention and pull them in. Why should they care about what you have to say? Give them a reason.

So, where should I place my focus? Organic or paid social media?

Should you put your efforts into organic or paid social media? The short answer is both.

One is a place to nurture your current followers, while the other is a great way to spread brand awareness and gain new followers.

Without paid ads, how will you reach a larger audience and gain followers? How will you stand out and be heard in the saturated world of social media marketing?

On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of putting too much focus on gaining new followers through paid ads and forgetting about your existing ones. You don’t want people seeing your ads and visiting your page just to be disappointed by a lack of valuable content.

86% of marketers6 use both paid and organic approaches in their social media strategies. Using a combination of both is becoming almost essential for businesses of all kinds who hope to stand out online.

Have a question about advertising on social media? Contact us, we’d be happy to help! We also encourage you to sign up for our Csek with Benefits eNewsletter, where we dish out lots of helpful marketing info and inspiration.

Want to learn more about social media marketing?

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