Is Organic Social Media Dead? The Rise Of Paid And The Future Of Social Media Content
17th November 2016
Social media has reinvented itself in many guises over the years. Be it MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, the point of commonality between all of these networks can be reduced to a single word: connectivity.
Social networks offer their users the opportunity to connect with people all over the world. As mobile technology and internet access has become more internationally prevalent, we have seen the way we engage, interact and disseminate information with one another migrate to a predominantly digital medium.
It was only a matter of time before brands hatched a plan to leverage the unparalleled access to global audiences that social networks provide and the ‘Social Media Marketer’ was born.
The commercial foray into social media was, initially, purely organic. Brands created online personas to reach beyond the parameters of more traditional media and communicate with their audience ‘face to face’. Before long, social networks sought a way to monetise this commercial interest. Facebook led the way, launching an advertising platform as early as 2005, with LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter to follow suit over the subsequent 5 years.
In 2016, social advertising has become so sophisticated that it has sparked a growing consensus among social media marketers on the ‘death’ of organic reach. The pervasiveness of social networks allows them to collect rich data on their users. Data which brands can use to target their consumers, to an almost scary degree, with paid advertisements about their products and services.
In a short space of time, social advertising has become big business - recent reports project it to raise $11billion in revenue by 2017. But is organic reach really obsolete, or does this shift indicate an opportunity for marketers who adapt their strategies to the current climate? We’ve weighed up the pros & cons of paid and organic social media below.
The overarching positive of social media advertising is not difficult to see; highly granular targeting criteria allows businesses to place advertisements about their products and services directly in the eye-line of their desired audience. Besides the comparatively much lower costs of social advertising against traditional media such as TV, print and radio, the specificity with which businesses can define their advertisement’s audience plays a big part in refining where their media spend is allocated.
Social advertising is great for driving qualified traffic to your page and, as a general rule, paid media reach on social networks is vastly more substantial than its organic counterpart. Moreover, businesses are able to analyse data from previous campaign performance and use these findings to optimise future campaigns and feed these into a well planned social media calendar and plan. This makes the job of social media marketers much easier, but what is easiest isn’t always what is best.
With a large volume of traffic being driven to your page, a question needs to be asked about the lifetime value of this traffic. For short-term wins, paid social is a costly, yet effective, means to drive mass awareness and conversions - but building a loyal fanbase of repeat customers is more than just a numbers game.
Besides driving traffic to a website, an advertising campaign on social will also drive traffic to the company’s profile. A great paid strategy is one that is supplemented with strong organic content to help form a robust consumer-brand relationship. Organic content is a quick and easy way for a potential customer to learn about a company’s character. Paid social may get them through the door, but if your organic content isn’t informative, captivating and helpful or, at worst, is non-existent, they won’t stay there.
Your company social media profiles are an ongoing opportunity to tell a rich media story about your brand and connect with customers in a meaningful way. Infographics, images, video content, blog articles, reviews and customer service - all of these should be part of your organic mix.
And you won’t be alone - Facebook’s 1.09 billion users alone share more than 4.75 billion items of content every day. However, there is a drawback in the form of Facebook’s new algorithm which seeks to make its users’ newsfeeds more friend focused and less brand focused. In short, prioritising posts from other people over brands.
But far from the popular postulations that Facebook is algorithmically weeding organic brand content from people’s newsfeeds, this can be seen, on Facebook’s part, as an exercise in quality control.
There’s no denying social networks have become awash with brands that flocked to social media in search of streets paved with gold and, once they arrived, proceeded to churn out poor-quality, un-engaging content that is of little value to anyone. A recently introduced geo-targeting feature and an algorithm which favours content people actually spend time reading suggests a move by Facebook to improve the relevance and authenticity of content their users see.The stage appears to be set for brands to get ahead by publishing high quality content.
We recently caught up with Pilar Barrio, Managing Director of Barrio Digital, on the problem with Facebook organic reach. She shared her thoughts on what brands need to do to get ahead on this platform.
"We were used to social media being 'easy' as it was all about building an audience and pumping content to them organically. As organic reach decreases, brands and agencies rely more and more on promoting every single piece of content, without expecting more than a mere 1% of the reach, if that, to be organic."
Pilar explained, ‘Social networks’ algorithms have been improved to benefit users, and so the job of content marketers has become increasingly scientific.’ To adapt, she suggests content and social media professionals ought to think more like search experts - running experiments and updating strategies in line with updated algorithms. What does this mean in practice? More A/B testing and targeting experiments.
From running experimental campaigns with a number of content publishing clients, some of which had relevance scores of 9 or 10, Pilar has identified a relationship between relevance score, engagement and organic reach. By experimenting with variations of content - running several tests with different copy, formats, lengths, thumbnails, call to action etc - Pilar has been able to achieve up to 25% organic reach on some of these campaigns. In order to find the right balance between organic and paid, social media marketers should run similar tests with their campaigns and apply the findings to future content. Pilar cites Buzzfeed and Now This as examples of successful social content publishers who do exactly that.
Twitter also recently introduced a new opt-out algorithm which curates users’ timelines based on interactions, engagement, interests and network activity. Beta tests of the new timeline garnered some interesting findings for brands - the update caused people to tweet or retweet more than they previously had, and brands saw an increase in organic reach.
Last year, Twitter reported a 20% increase in organic search traffic over 6 months - a boost of more than 35 million monthly visits. This increase can be attributed to a deal Twitter made with Google to make real-time tweets display in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). A report by SimilarWeb, identifies the predominant driver of these searches as branded keywords and names of people. This growth in organic search traffic is substantiated by a 6.5% drop in bounce rate, which suggests visitors found what they were looking for and, moreover, indicates that users have an interest in what brands have to say on Twitter. This, combined with the new timeline algorithm, places higher importance on engagement levels and relevancy in organic content.
The short answer is: whatever you want it to. Both organic and paid methods have their respective benefits and drawbacks, and either can be the more appropriate choice depending on a particular objective.
A successful social media strategy is one that treats organic and paid content equally and amalgamates the two to create one powerful whole. Paid social is a highly effective way to drive traffic, and most of your content will need a paid push to reach the right audience in the beginning. However, delivering quality content that is relevant to your target audience is key to driving engagement and organic reach. This is particularly the case on Facebook following recent updates to the newsfeed algorithm.
Facebook’s relevance score is a useful indication of how well your content resonates with your audience. The higher the relevance score a piece of content has, the more likely it is to attract an audience that will interact with it. Although attracting this audience will require an initial paid boost, the higher your content’s relevance score is, the more likely it is to garner engagement. In turn, the more people who engage with your content, the more it will be shown on the newsfeed. This has the double benefit of reducing Cost Per Click and driving engagement more likely to translate into organic reach.
- Quality control is key. Ask yourself, ‘Does this post provide value to the reader and/or will it receive high engagement?’. High quality and relevant content stays in a user’s feed for longer, so aim for quality over quantity.
- **Identify any opportunities to engage. Is there a calendar event coming up that’s relevant to your industry? Or a trending topic you can engage with? Stay engaged, but ensure it is in a way relevant to your audience, to hit the social media sweet spot.**
- Review your content split. If 80% of your posts are about your product and only 20% for engagement purposes, consider levelling out the split to prevent audience drop-off and boost your presence in their newsfeeds.
- **Mix it up. All the main social networks now support a wide range of media formats, and users of these channels expect this in their feed. Invest some time and resources in a variety of creative vehicles such as video, infographics, images and .GIFs**
- Watch and learn. Make a point of researching social media trends within your industry. Is there a particular time of day your audience is more engaged? Or a certain kind of content they’re more likely to interact with? Your competitors are your greatest resource for this, so take note.
When it comes to social media, you get out what you put in. If brand awareness and customer loyalty is part of your strategy - and it should be - the rewards of a strong organic social media presence is worth putting the work in for.
An intelligently balanced approach of paid and organic methods can help grow a loyal customer base with high lifetime value and positive word of mouth, whilst generating wide exposure for your business. Organic content can also serve as a cost-effective means to road-test content you may later decide to put budget behind. Identifying trends in engagement and interaction with your organic content can inform your paid strategy.
The first step in mastering organic content creation is using a tool that facilitates team collaboration and allows great ideas to flourish. Take a look at some of the brands whose social media marketing you admire - their success hasn’t happened by accident. It’s a result of teams working together in a structured way to create, plan and nurture a social presence people want to follow, while always having a well planned social media and content calendar in place.