Social Media Marketing: Paid or Organic?

Social Media Marketing

Social media is a powerful marketing channel. You can engage potential customers throughout every stage of the buyer’s journey, from awareness and acquisition to customer service and retention. 

But social media marketing involves two different strategies: paid and organic.

So which one delivers the best results and ROI?

In this guide, we’ll explore what each strategy involves, look at examples, and help you work out which is right for your business. 

Social Media In-Depth

With the global pandemic confining people to stay at home, the growth of social media has accelerated. There are now over 4.48 billion social media users worldwide – almost 57% of the world’s total population. 

Let’s take a look at the key stats for two of the most popular social platforms, Facebook and Instagram:


  • 2.8bn monthly users
  • 25-34 make up the largest age group
  • 56% male
  • 38 minutes per day spent


  • 1bn monthly users
  • 25-34 make up the largest group
  • 51% female
  • 53 minutes per day spent

Whatever your business sells, your customers use social media to communicate, share content, and research products. According to GlobalWebIndex, 54% of social media users research products on social media. 

Social media marketing is an excellent opportunity for brands to increase their reach and connect with customers. 

But it’s not as easy as posting a few updates and waiting for prospects to come flooding into your inbox. There are several mistakes to avoid when conducting social media marketing.

Let’s take a closer look at the two different types of social media marketing.

Paid vs. Organic

The strategy and content for paid and organic posts are often similar. Before you can push for a sale, you need to educate your audience about your product. For both paid and organic posts, visual content (images and videos) also performs best. 

However, there are also some big differences.

What is Paid Social Media?

Paid social media works in a similar way to paid search advertising. You pay a fee to promote your product, service, or content.

Most paid social platforms use a pay-per-click (PPC) model where you pay a fee each time a user clicks on your ad. However, Facebook Ads and some other platforms also offer a pay-per-impression model where you pay a fee every time a user sees your ad. 

You can use paid social to “boost” your organic content or to share custom-built ads.

Example of Paid Social: HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a great example of a brand that uses paid social to increase its reach and generate sales. It uses high-quality, appetizing image and video ads featuring its product to inspire cravings. 

HelloFresh also uses video ads to explain its product and demonstrate what customers can expect in each delivery when they sign up. The videos make it look easy to prepare a meal and highlight the quality ingredients that HelloFresh provides. 

How to Use Paid Social

Paid social works great for a B2C product like HelloFresh, but it can also be super effective for B2B companies. 

You can use paid social to:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Generate leads
  • Promote a specific deal
  • Boost organic content
  • Drive conversions

One of the most significant benefits of paid social is the precise targeting that platforms like Facebook Ads offer to advertisers. Paid social targeting is much more granular than paid search. 

You can use lookalike audiences and custom audiences to narrow in on the users that are most likely to be interested in your products and services. Many paid social advertising platforms offer automated targeting to help you get your content and offers in front of the right audiences. 

You can use advanced audience segmentation to target multiple buyer personas with ads focusing on specific pain points and interests. 

What is Organic Social Media?

Organic social media is the posts, photos, memes, and stories content you share that appears in your followers’ feeds. It can also include organic user-generated content (UGC) campaigns that encourage your followers to share content under your branded hashtags. 

It doesn’t involve any paid promotion. 

When you post organically, you can expect your content to reach:

  • Your followers
  • Followers of people that share your content
  • People following the hashtags used in your posts

Organic social often forms the foundation of a social media strategy. For example, many brands use organic social media to build their presence and then paid social to extend their reach. 

Example of Organic Social: Apple

Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign is an excellent example of a successful organic social media campaign. 

The campaign encouraged people to share images they had taken using an iPhone under the branded hashtag #shotoniphone.

Over 22 million posts on Instagram are currently shared under the hashtag. The campaign successfully demonstrated the capabilities of the iPhone camera and increased Apple’s reach on social. 

How to Use Organic Social

Social media can be an effective channel to amplify your content and reach a larger audience. Most businesses use organic social media to share content that is initially posted on their websites.

You can use organic social media to: 

  • Maintain a presence on social
  • Build awareness
  • Provide information to current and prospective clients
  • Develop your brand

Over the past few years, there has been a shift in how Facebook and other social media platforms operate. Social media firms want to keep users on their platforms for as long as possible. 

As a result, it’s harder for brands to drive traffic to their website using organic social. The brands that have achieved the most success with organic social create content for the specific social media platform. 

If you share content with a link back to your website, you will struggle to reach users beyond your immediate followers. 

The Golden Balance

The most significant appeal of organic social is that it’s free. You don’t need to spend any money on ads, and you can amplify your content and increase brand awareness.

However, social media platforms have increasingly become “pay to play.” The average research for an organic post on Facebook is around 5% of followers. If you have 1,000 followers, your post will be seen by around 50 users. 

If you rely solely on organic promotion, it will take much longer to reach your goals. You can also take advantage of the precise targeting and reach a much larger audience with paid social. 

That’s not to say that you should focus all of your time and resources on paid social. For example, if you run ads but don’t maintain an active organic presence, it can make your business look untrustworthy or inactive. 

The best strategy is to find a balance between organic and paid social. You can use organic to strengthen your relationship with existing customers and followers and use paid ads to increase your reach and attract new customers. 


You need both organic and paid promotion to succeed with social media marketing. Your paid ads will be stronger if you have an active organic presence, and you’ll be able to reach more people and achieve your goals faster with paid social. 

As with any marketing tactic, you should adopt an always learning approach. Social media provides a huge amount of data. Measure your results and make continual optimizations to make the most of social media marketing for your business.

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