When marketers first started selling bottled water, they competed with free tap water by evoking images of pristine mountain streams. Over time, it became clear that bottled water was simply municipal tap water polluted with BPA from the plastic packaging. People were better off switching back to the tap.
Is the same true for paid social media? Is paid social any better than the stuff you can get for free? Or is it simply marketing hype?
The Benefits and Shortcomings of Organic Social
The answer lies in the benefits and drawbacks of organic social.
When marketers first adopted social media, one of the biggest advantages was that it was a wide open frontier. You didn’t have to compete for attention. Better yet, once you developed an engaged following, you owned that audience. If you created content people loved, you could reach your followers directly, without fees and middlemen.
Social continues to offer free access. But now it’s horribly overcrowded. As a result, response rates for organic social have plummeted, with average conversion rates for Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest standing at 2.3%, according to eMarketer.
Some marketers can continue to profit from an all organic strategy—if they provide unique value. For example, Interactive Intelligence’s research found that it was unique among its closest competitors in providing educational content, while competitors mostly delivered promotional content. Because of the unique value of its offering, Interactive Intelligence has been able to achieve success with an all-organic strategy. Nonetheless, the company takes special care as it develops its content. As Denise Meyer, Social Media Strategist, Interactive Intelligence says, “An all organic strategy forces us to be more creative with timing, placement, images, and copywriting.”
The Benefits of Adding Paid Social to the Mix
But many other B2B marketers are finding that a paid strategy is an essential complement to their organic social strategy. Paid social delivers three types of benefits:
1. Greater reach.
Paid brings your message outside your network. It puts your message in front of people even if they’re not following you so you can expand your audience and reach. Then, if they find your content valuable, they have the opportunity to become more engaged.
2. Better targeting.
Paid search channels offer more flexible targeting. On Twitter, promoted tweets let you target followers of accounts similar to those of your company’s competitors. You can also target campaigns using keywords based on known customer pain points. LinkedIn’s sponsored updates options provide a number of options, such as the ability to target sponsored updates to your customer’s key decision makers, based on, say, job function and seniority. The Skill keyword option pinpoints individuals who list particular skills in their LinkedIn profile.
3. Better Conversion.
Marketers are coming to the consensus that paid in combination with organic yields much higher conversion rates than organic alone. A recent study found that conversion rates for paid Twitter advertising are twice as high as for organic Twitter ads (3.9% versus 1.5%).
Paid social—hype or help? The answer is clear. Paid social does provide real advantages. But the key with paid social, as in every other type of marketing is to know your markets, create the right content, test, and measure results.