624: Is Organic Reach Dead? Exploring Pay-to-Play vs. Organic Social Media Strategy | Master Training Series

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Are you struggling to navigate the changing landscape of social media?

With declining organic reach and platforms favouring paid advertising, finding the right balance for your brand is crucial. Our latest Master Training Series explores the pros and cons of pay-to-play versus organic reach, equipping you with insights to make informed decisions.

Discover the power of paid social strategies, from boosting posts to influencer collaborations. Increase your reach, target specific audiences, and track measurable results. But don’t overlook the benefits of organic social media content. It’s cost-effective, builds trust and loyalty, and feels authentic.

Jeff Tomlin shares how you can create a comprehensive social media strategy that strengthens your online presence, boosts brand awareness, and delivers optimal results. Don’t let the changing social media landscape leave you behind, so tune in to boost your strategy and social media presence!

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Is Organic Reach Dead? Exploring Pay-to-Play vs. Organic Social Media Strategy

Jeff Tomlin: On today’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, we’re tackling the topic of pay-to-play versus organic reach on social media. With Twitter making headlines recently for their highly criticized move to monetize verified account status on their platform, it has business and marketing professionals everywhere questioning whether or not organic reach is becoming extinct.

People like Rand Fishkin for example have been showing graphs for years of how over time, more and more search traffic is coming from paid search results

So if you’ve been in the game for a while, you know that boosting social media posts has become almost essential to reach a target audience. The reality is, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn want businesses to pay for exposure and reach. 

But here’s the thing – it’s not just about having a solid budget to boost your posts. Creating a business page and posting may not immediately require a budget, but social media platforms are kicking out more and more organic content from their feeds in favour of sponsored content. And that means fewer impressions and less engagement for businesses. It’s becoming increasingly challenging to get your message across without paying up. To lean on some of the data, the average organic reach for Instagram in July 2022 was 13.5 percent, down from 19 percent a year earlier. For Facebook, it declined from more than 10 percent to 8.6 percent during the same period. These are significant drops.

While organic reach is on the decline, social media advertising spend continues to climb. This year, it’s projected to grow nearly 19% to more than $268 billion worldwide.

Boosted posts, ads and sponsored content represent the primary revenue stream for social media platforms. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re strongly encouraging businesses to pay up. You’ve probably already received notifications and recommendations to do just that. But for all of you out there in the B2B space, those experts who are working hard to support local businesses with their social media strategy, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of pay-to-play versus organic reach to ensure the brands you manage are realizing the best results.

First, let’s explore some of the different options for creating paid social media content. Boosting or boosted posts is perhaps one of the most simple ways to put some budget behind the content you’re creating. By boosting you’re taking content that you’ve already posted organically and paying to have that content reach more people with a targeted set of interests. Boosting can help brands surface their content to the feeds of the users already following them and it can also extend exposure to new audiences. 

Ads can be a more involved and expensive option when it comes to developing paid content for a brand’s social channels. They’ll often include a visual, like an image or video ad, paired with a short snippet of written content and a button CTA driving users to a landing page, website, sign-up form or another piece of branded content. Ads are typically launched in a campaign, monitored closely, and paused from continuing to run if their cost-per-click exceeds the targetted budget. Average ROI can vary depending on the industry but a good benchmark for social media ad spend should be three dollars of revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising.  Social media advertising remains one of the most cost-effective methods for businesses to gain attention and brand engagement online.

Influencer marketing is another form of paid social media content. In most cases a brand can choose to engage with an influencer who has an established following that aligns with the target audience. So the brand will enter into a contract with that influencer who agrees to post a specific type of content promoting the brand. And this type of content must also be identified as sponsored content when published. 

The last type of pay-to-play on social media that I want to touch on today is a verified account status. As we mentioned earlier Twitter has come under fire recently for changes to its blue subscription program. Once upon a time, having that blue checkmark next to your name meant you were a pretty big deal, but now it seems anyone can buy their way into the club.

It all started back in 2009 when Tony La Russa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, filed a lawsuit against Twitter over an impersonation account that was sharing insensitive tweets. This led Twitter to launch its account verification process, which aimed to make impersonation harder by giving notable businesses or public figures a blue checkmark.

Fast forward to late 2022 when Elon Musk announced the revamp of Twitter’s Blue subscription program, offering subscribers a blue checkmark among other features for $8 per month. In February, Meta (formerly Facebook) announced a similar subscription called Meta Verified, offering users a blue checkmark for increased visibility on Facebook and Instagram for $11.99 per month.

Users have been quick to push back on these subscriptions. Some security concerns were raised, and Twitter only offered two-factor authentication to its paying users. This makes non-paying accounts less secure. Meanwhile, Instagram users may need to pay for basic customer support.

As social media platforms evolve to include paid subscription models to generate revenue, it remains to be seen whether or not ponying up for verification and increased reach is the right move for brands.

On the flip side of the coin, brands can choose to deploy an organic social media strategy, which involves creating and sharing content without paid advertising. This approach can still be particularly effective for businesses that already have a strong online community and want to connect with their audience in a more authentic and personal way.

The other side of course, if a business does not have a community or following, it is going to be more challenging in building that audience organically without a paid boost. 

One of the benefits of organic social media content is that it can be more affordable than paid advertising. Instead of spending money on ads, brands can create engaging content that resonates with their audience and encourages shares, likes, and comments. And this type of content can include posts featuring user-generated content, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brand’s day-to-day operations, or thought leadership articles that demonstrate the brand’s expertise in the industry. But engaging content is very key here.

Another advantage of organic social media content is that it can help build trust and credibility with the audience. By sharing valuable, information, and entertaining content, brands can position themselves as voices of authority in their industry and establish themselves as a reliable source of information for their followers. This, in turn, can lead to increased engagement, brand loyalty, and of course sales.

Organic social media content can help brands build relationships with their followers. And by engaging with their audiences, responding to comments and messages, and sharing content that resonates with their followers, brands can foster a sense of community and loyalty among their audience. And this, in turn, can lead to increased brand advocacy, as loyal followers share and recommend the brand to their own networks.

So here are some examples of organic social media content that are particularly effective:

  • How-to videos or tutorials that showcase the brand’s expertise
  • Behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brand’s operations, employees, or culture
  • User-generated content featuring customers or fans of the brand
  • Interactive content, such as polls or quizzes, that encourage engagement and participation
  • Influencer partnerships or collaborations that align with the brand’s values and audience.

While paid social media strategies can be effective in reaching a wider audience, organic social media content is really a critical pillar in a brand’s marketing mix.

Let’s lay it all out there now and run through some of the pros and cons of both pay-to-play and organic social strategies to help you all out there decide what might be best for the brands that you’re managing.  Whether you’re laying this out for a client or you’re figuring this out for yourself, here we go:

When it comes to paid social strategies the benefits are the following:

  • Increased reach: Paid social advertising allows businesses to reach a larger audience beyond their organic reach. This is super useful for new businesses or those looking to increase brand awareness.
  • Another benefit is the targeted Audience: Paid social media allows businesses to target specific demographics and interests, ensuring that their ads are seen by the right people.
  • Next up, measurable results: Paid social provides businesses with detailed analytics and metrics, allowing them to track the success of their campaigns, individual ads and adjust their strategy as they go.
  • Also, you can see quicker results: Paid strategies can produce results more quickly than organic content, as businesses can reach a wider audience in a shorter amount of time.

Of course, we also want to touch on some of the pitfalls when it comes to implementing a paid social strategy:

  • Cost is number 1: Paid social media advertising can be expensive, particularly for businesses with limited marketing budgets. Be sure to test, target and refine.
  • You can suffer from ad blindness: With so many ads being shown on social media, users may become blind to them and scroll past them without paying attention.
  • There’s also some steep competition: With so many businesses using paid social media advertising, it can be difficult to stand out and reach the desired audience that you’re looking for..

Now onto organic. We know reach for organic content is steadily declining so you might be left wondering if the juice is still worth the squeeze. Here are some benefits to think about

  • It is most certainly cost-effective: Organic social media content is free to post, making it a cost-effective way for businesses to reach their audience.
  • Organic builds trust: This type of content builds trust with customers by showing the human side of the business and providing value through informative and engaging content.
  • It’s all about community building: Organic social media content can help businesses build a community around their brand, creating a sense of loyalty and advocacy among customers.
  • It’s authentic: Organic social media content can feel more authentic than paid advertising, as it is not designed solely to promote a product or service.

And finally the downside to organic. 

  • It can have a limited reach: Organic social media content may not reach as wide of an audience as paid advertising, as it is subject to the platform’s algorithm and may not be shown to all followers.
  • It’s time-consuming: Creating high-quality organic social media content can be time-consuming, and requires research, planning, and execution.
  • Results are slow: Organic social media content may take longer to produce results than paid advertising, as it may take time to build an audience and see engagement.

Those are some of the cons that you should be aware of. 

Brand managers should consider leveraging both paid and organic social media tactics to maximize their impact on social media. While organic content can help build trust and community with customers, it may not reach as wide of an audience as paid advertising. On the other hand, paid social media can help businesses reach a larger audience and achieve more immediate results. By leveraging both tactics, businesses can create a comprehensive social media strategy that utilizes the benefits of both organic and paid content. This can lead to a stronger online presence, increased brand awareness, and ultimately, greater results for the business.

If you’ve enjoyed this Master Training Series revisit some of our older episodes. Episode 610: ChatGPT for Sellers: Useful Tool or More Meaningless Buzz? Or Episode 524: Top 10 Sales Metrics 

Until the next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome! 

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