Organic Social Media vs Paid: Key Differences

It’s easy to think that paid social media and organic social media are the same. However, while they can work together to provide great benefits for your business, they should be treated as two separate channels that can help you to meet different business goals.

To make sure you get the most out of the social media marketing strategy you use, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that more people than ever around the world are using social media which has increased the number of people available to reach. There are now 4.2 billion social media users worldwide.

Paid social media spending in the UK is predicted to increase from 6.73 billion US dollars to 12 billion in 2025. Spend is increasing, despite Apple’s iOS 14.5 update which meant substantial targeting limitations for Facebook and Instagram iOS users.

Over the last few years, social media strategies have evolved. Social media strategies used to be about engagement and creating a personal brand presence online. It’s now used across the full customer journey, including customer acquisition, remarketing, retention, and service.

If you’re not using social media as part of your digital marketing strategy, you could be missing out on huge opportunities to reach new audiences and drive traffic and sales. Social media is not just about creating conversation and content any more, it’s become an advertising channel to support business goals and growth.

What Is Organic Social Media?

Organic social media is any free content (posts, photos, videos, memes, or Stories) that all social media users share on their feeds.

This is the perfect way to grab the attention of potential customers without having to pay for the space. Whether you write and share blogs, share helpful posts or share other people’s posts, organic social media allows you to build and engage with both potential and existing customers.

As a business, when you post organically to your page, you can expect the following groups of people to see it:

  • A percentage of your followers (organic reach)
  • Your follower’s followers (if they share it)
  • Anyone who is following the hashtags you use

Businesses use organic social media to:

  • Establish a brand personality and voice
  • Build customer relationships by sharing interesting, informative or inspiring content
  • Engage customers at different stages of the buying journey
  • Support with customer service

Pros of Organic Social Media

The key benefits of using organic social media include:

More Cost Effective

It doesn’t cost you anything to post organically on social media. The only costs you’ll have with organic social media is the work it takes to create posts and content and engage with your target audience.

Engage with and Assist Customers

Social media is a great place to offer customer service and interaction with your potential and existing customers. Keeping your profile active and well maintained provides customers with somewhere to go to post concerns, complaints and reviews, and have them answered. Dedicating time and resources to respond to customers on social media will help you to get better results from your organic social media efforts.

Establish a Brand Personality

Social media allows you to build personality and show customers that your brand has something they can relate to. This can provide an additional layer to your marketing strategy and allows you to create the qualities you want your prospects and customers to associate with your brand.

Cons of Organic Social Media

Alongside the benefits of organic social media, there are also cons to consider to make sure you find the right strategy for your business.

Time Consuming

Creating content on a regular basis and responding to customers can take time so you will need dedicated time or resources to commit to it. This can be a huge drain on your time if you don’t have a team or an advertising agency to help you.

Changing Algorithms

The content you see on social media channels is dictated by algorithms that are designed to sort posts by relevancy and how interesting is it considered to be to users, rather than when it was published. As a result, the success of your campaigns will depend on the ability to get the posts in front of the right people, at the right time.

Less Flexibility for Immediate Reach

The immediate reach of your organic content only goes as far as your followers take it. This means it will only reach your immediate audience and the people they share it with. You have to hope that the right people are following you and hope their friends share similar interests. You can’t select and distribute your content to specific demographics or types of users in the same way as paid social.

Best Practices for Posting Organically

Posting organically is slightly different from the paid ads you’ll run on social media, here are a few best practices to follow to make sure your posts are as engaging as possible:

  • Minimise promotions – leave sales messages for your paid ads. When posting organically, you should focus on sharing content that your followers will find informative or interesting.
  • Show your brand personality – social media provides you with a channel to showcase your brand and your values. You can show the people behind your business as well as your company values and passions.
  • Reinforce your brand – what do you want people to know about your brand and culture? Make sure you create content that shows what you do and make sure it’s clear and consistent across all of your social media profiles.

What Is Paid Social Media?

Paid social involves paying to boost your content or adverts on social media channels so that you can reach a wider audience. You can pay Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to share your content or adverts with specific audiences who are likely to be interested in your brand.

You can pay for adverts in various different formats including videos, text, images or carousel posts. Social media channels allow you to target your ideal audience by choosing from a range of demographics, locations and interests. 

People are using social media channels more than ever and they are now more accustomed to online shopping through e-commerce or social media stores. Ads have become more of a natural part of the overall social media experience, especially when they’re carefully thought out and are designed to look like natural posts.

Many businesses use paid social media to:

  • Raise brand awareness and attract new followers
  • Promote a new product deal, new content or an event
  • Generate leads
  • Drive conversions

Pros of Paid Social Media

The benefits of using paid social media include:

Connect with New Audiences

As organic reach plummets on social media channels, paid social allows you to break through the noise and find people who are unlikely to find you any other way. You can specifically target your ideal audience based on where they’re located, their demographics, and their interests to make sure you’re not wasting budget on people who are unlikely to engage with your brand.

If you find that your organic content converts well, you can use paid social to widen the offer out to more of your ideal audience and get a boost in conversions.

A Receptive Audience

Many people now use social media to find shopping inspiration so the majority of your audience might be receptive to your promotional messages and be more likely to convert.

You can sort your target audience through categories such as location, age, gender, or interests and place targeted advertisements on their social media feeds.

Cost Effective

Social media platforms follow a pay-per-click (PPC) model which means you only pay when someone engages with your content. An engagement is based on the goal of your ad, whether it’s conversions, likes or building brand awareness.

Most platforms allow you to put a spending cap on your paid social efforts so you will never go over your budget and be left with an unexpected bill. Some audiences cost less to target than others so, if it suits your brand, you can target a more niche audience for a lower cost.


You might already have a significant following on your social media channels and want to keep previous or current customers engaged. You can do this by retargeting them with ads to remind them of your brand and promote your latest offers or news.

Cons of Paid Social Media

The main disadvantages of paid social media include:

May Not See a Good Return on Investment

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on paid social media, if you don’t get the targeting right or monitor and improve your paid campaigns, you might have ineffective ads that don’t drive conversions and waste your budget. If you’re always experimenting and failing with ads, you will be burning through your budget without getting a good return on investment.

Competitive Landscape

If your business operates in a competitive market, you might find that costs are high for paid social media and you’ll need to continuously develop high quality and attention-grabbing content to get the results you’re looking for.

Takes Time to Analyse and Measure Campaigns

If you’re running paid social media adverts, you will need to monitor, analyze and adjust your campaigns to get the best results. Most platforms provide you with analytics so you can see how your ads are performing in real-time. This should influence how you tweak your messaging and targeting on an ongoing basis to get the best results.

Best Practices for Your Paid Social Campaigns

Here are some of the best practices you should follow with your paid social media campaigns to get the best return on investment.

  • Target the right audience – pairing the right messaging with the right targeting will help you to get the best return on investment from your campaigns.
  • Provide a clear call to action – tell users what you want them to do next by including a strong and clear call to action. If you’re looking to drive sales, encourage them to buy now. If you want them to have a look at a specific piece of content, encourage them to learn more.
  • Keep it short – your ads will be displayed in users’ news feeds and they might not know who you are yet. These people are not actively looking to engage with content from your brand so keeping it short and engaging will help to increase the chances that they will interact with your brand or remember you next time they see an ad.
  • Test campaigns – test different messaging, different imagery, and different calls to action to improve the results of your campaigns.

Is Paid and Organic Social Media Right for Your Business?

Not all businesses will find that a paid and organic social media strategy is effective. To decide which option is best for your business, you’ll need to have a look at what you want to achieve and whether you’re willing to invest the time and money.

Paid social media can provide instant results at a cost but organic social media can provide great results over time without any spend involved, apart from your time.

Think carefully about what you want social media to help your business with.

It can help with a number of goals and organic and paid social media can help you to meet different goals:

  • Generate sales and leads
  • Build brand awareness
  • Drive traffic to your website

Here are examples of goals and the best strategy to use:

  • Reach a large audience quickly – paid social media
  • Engage with your audience for a long period of time – organic social media
  • Build relationships with existing and potential customers by providing valuable content – organic social media
  • Reach a new demographic – paid social media
  • Provide customer support – organic social media

If you’d like to find out more about using social media for your business, you can get regular tips by signing up for our newsletter.

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