Organic and Paid Social Media Are Not the Same Thing

Organic and Paid Social Media Are Not the Same Thing

Learn how the two strategies work together to drive local business

I’ve worked in digital marketing long enough to know that most non-marketers — and many marketers too — regularly confuse organic and paid social media. Franchisees ask questions about their “ads” when they are actually referring to an organic social post on their timeline, and they question the ROI of a strategy that’s meant to increase brand awareness. Consumers always seem to be thrown for a loop when they see a targeted Facebook ad on their phone relating to an email they received on their work computer. (Hint: you’re logged into sites like Google, Facebook, and email in both places!)

According to Statista, 82% of Americans use at least one social media platform a day, so organic and paid social are in most of our daily lives. Also, the amount of time spent on social media sites has increased significantly over the past two years. So let’s break down social media into simple terms and explain the difference between, and the purpose of, both organic and paid social to see how they work together in marketing.

Organic vs. Paid Social Media

Organic social and paid social are very different, and therein lies their strength to marketers:

Organic social media: includes everything free that happens on your social media pages: your own posts, posts that others write on your page or tag you in, stories, your comments, replies, and even the events you create. Any posts in your newsfeed or on business pages that do not include the label “sponsored” or “ad” are considered organic social posts. Who can see your organic social content? Your own followers and their followers are your organic social posts’ most likely audience, but they can also be seen by anyone searching for the hashtags you use or the specific keywords in your posts (Example: #foodtruckfriday or Louisville Town Festival).

Paid social media: is advertising on social media platforms. People and businesses pay social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to get their posts — meaning their ads — in front of a wider audience. These ads target consumers like you and me who have shown interest in something similar to what they’re promoting. Paid social media can range from using a small amount of funds to boost a post and increase your audience on Facebook, to full ad campaigns that last months and cost thousands of dollars. Check out this great example where one of our clients successfully used a paid social campaign to increase foot traffic and coupon redemptions in their newly opened restaurant locations.

Purpose of Organic and Paid Social Media

Organic social media exists for many reasons. Consumers mainly use it for entertainment, researching information, and communication. Marketers use organic social media to maintain and increase their online brand presence and engage with their online communities. Many consumers expect customer service support from businesses on social media also. We communicate publicly by comments and posts and privately via DMs to get fast responses to our questions and concerns. Social media exists to connect people to each other, whether those people are friends, family, or businesses.

Our team at BrandMuscle works with local stores and businesses to help them connect to their community on social media. Here is a great success story about one of our telecom clients who dramatically increased their organic social media engagements, and therefore connected with the community, by posting spotlights of local store employees.

The purpose of paid social media is to get you to do something. Consumers may run a social media ad because they want people to volunteer time at their local school or donate items to a charity. To spearhead a local initiative, they may host a meet at a local park and want a post to get other community members to attend and support of their initiative. Marketers run paid social campaigns to get you to purchase their products or to contact them for additional information. Social media advertisements’ success is measured by impressions, clicks, engagements, lead generation forms getting filled out, and ultimately, capturing new business through sales.

How Organic and Paid Social Media Work Together

As a consumer using social media, you may never have a reason to care about paid social and how it works until you are wondering how on Earth Instagram knew that you were thinking about getting outdoor furniture and showed you that amazing ad. It’s pretty cool when advertising comes together, even if it seems a little creepy sometimes.

But as a business, it’s crucial to understand both organic and paid social media and how they work together. Your organic social media presence is important to keep up to date, because consumers search social for local business information, promotions, and connections to their community. Your paid ads may directly or indirectly drive consumers to your business social pages, so it’s important that the information is consistent and represents your brand well. Additionally, organic social reach has been on the decline for years, so paid ads ensure that more people see your posts and take action on them: whether you’re looking for a click to your website or a lead form to be filled out. Paid social programs should always be supported by a strong organic social media page presence to show consumers that you are a legitimate business worth their time.

How to Measure Social Media Success

In general, organic social media is successful when you grow your brand’s presence, retain current customers, and help convert new customers. Organic social can be time-consuming, so using paid media in conjunction will help you reach more people, target the right customers, and reach your business goals.

Social media platforms each have their own analytics centers where you can review information about your audience, organic posts, and all paid social advertising. Check out each individual platform for specific reporting for your personal or business page. Or, you can access all your reporting from a single screen through the analytics section of the BrandMuscle Intelligent Local Marketing Platform.

Ready to Add Organic or Paid Social Media to Your Business?

Contact BrandMuscle to learn how we help brands reach local customers with social media content, from posting to managing entire campaigns on the most popular platforms.

About the Author

Rachel McGann

Director, Digital Strategy at BrandMuscle


Rachel has 14 years of digital marketing experience in content writing, social media management, and developing localized organic social programs for corporations and retailers. Her expertise encompasses many industries, including retail, telecom, financial services, healthcare, insurance, and automotive.