Social Media Marketing Part Four: Understanding The Differences Between Paid and Organic Social Media Marketing

November 4, 2019
WHERK: Paid Versus Organic Social Media

The last time a person used the word “organic” was probably in a high school chemistry class.  While researching social media for your brand, the term may be one that you’ve heard before. Rest assured that organic social media has nothing to do with plants, animals, organisms or even science at all. It’s a term that describes one of two main categories of social media, with “paid” posts being the other.

In part four of our educational series on how small businesses can best leverage social media, we’ll discuss exactly what organic and paid social media marketing means. We’ll explain the differences between the two and how you can use either approach to your advantage.  Also, you can determine which method works best for your business.

What is organic social media marketing?

Organic social media marketing is using a platform like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to promote your brand without spending money. These platforms are all free for anyone to join and use. Whether you hire an employee or an agency to run your account, or maybe you’ll step away from other money-making duties to manage your page, there’s almost always a cost when using social media. It’s also important to note that a dedicated, organic content strategy can be time-consuming. 

What is paid social media marketing?

As you might expect, this method is more akin to traditional advertising.  A brand pays to spread its message, simple. So instead of filming a TV commercial or designing a billboard, the brand creates a Facebook or Instagram post that can reach a targeted audience. Most social media platforms have a very intuitive and scalable advertising model, which can be both cost-efficient and effective.  Depending on the platform you choose for your marketing, you may be able to target only users within certain zip codes, or those who have indicated an interest in a specific activity or lifestyle.

What are the differences between paid and organic social media marketing?

The obvious fundamental difference is that paid social media marketing involves spending money to reach more people, while the posting aspect of organic is free. The strategy and rationale behind each can vary greatly. Paid social is great for prospecting because it can put you in front of a very targeted group of potential customers. Organic posts are well, free.  If you owned a lawn maintenance company and had the opportunity to put up a billboard in an ideal part of town, but the people who see it are only those who have talked publicly about being a homeowner, would you do it? Of course, you would. That’s prime prospecting—and it’s precisely what you can do with paid social media marketing. 

Being that these advertisements are all digital, you’ll have access to just how effective your paid post was. Depending on the platform, you can see how many people engaged with your post or clicked the link.  Also, how many people visited whatever website you’re promoting. You should even be able to connect specific sales or bookings with a paid post, giving you full visibility into your return on investment.

If a paid social media post is the equivalent of loudly striking a gong, your organic strategy is like steadily and softly beating a drum. Since these updates don’t cost money to post, you can add them often and use them to build relationships.  It will also build your brand loyalty. Nurture your new fans and followers with updates about your business, products, and services.

Ask questions and invite the audience to participate by answering in the comments. Unlike your company’s website, which a potential customer has to either search for or navigate to, organic posts will show up right in their feed. Don’t ever discount the value in reaching your audience where they’re already at.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Postcard Marketing


Which method works best?

There’s no real way to answer that because there are too many variables. What we can say is that most experts suggest a blend of both paid and organic social media marketing.  However, how far the pendulum swings in either direction will largely depend on your budget.  One reason for the use of both methods is the way some social media channels filter content to users. While most platforms won’t divulge specifics around their algorithms, the goal is to deliver relevant content. Unfortunately for some brands, that can result in their organic content getting fewer impressions than they would hope.


A dedicated, organic, and consistent strategy-with a sprinkling of paid posts to reinforce sales or promotions-tends to work well for many small businesses.