Social media started as an organic marketing tool with an emphasis on creating engaging and interesting content that people actually liked. Over the past three to five years, paid (or sponsored) content has become a staple of most social media marketing efforts. While Facebook has been the clear leader in driving paid social media content by actively reducing the exposure of organic content, most other social networks are testing paid content (including newer networks like Pinterest and Instagram).
The Future of Social Media Is Paid
There is no doubt that the future of social media includes paid as a significant component for a number of reasons:
- Social networks have to pay their bills, and ad revenue is the primary way that they do it.
- The growing popularity of social networks and their rise as the number one activity online makes them the place that businesses can go to achieve mass awareness. Big brands are paying for social (and driving up the price of advertising).
- Most social networks will have paid content in the future.
Paid Requires a Different Strategy vs. Organic
Organic social media is based on the assumption that you have to earn your way into the newsfeed with great content that people love. Most organic social media posts aren’t directly selling, because selling is rarely interesting enough to drive engagements. The premise of organic social media content is permission-based marketing, which means that your marketing must be good enough for people to opt-in.
Paid is a different animal. Paid is about creating posts that both grab attention and stand out in the cluttered social media newsfeed, but also clearly build your brand. Paid social media marketing is often closer to interruption marketing, which is when you pay money to interrupt people with your marketing message.
Each of these approaches requires a different strategy. The best social ads include the elements of interruption marketing as well as permission marketing. They are interesting posts that people would choose to share and look at, but are also clearly building business value. Not every social media update is appropriate for paid support, and not every paid post would make a great organic post.
The search industry has been divided into these buckets for years, with search marketers specializing in paid or organic search. Both require different skills and approaches to getting attention in search engines. While they are strategically linked, the skills to execute each strategy are different.
Social media, over time, will evolve to have specialists in both paid and organic since both require different skills.
How to Prepare
To prepare for the future of social media, there are a few things that you can do:
- Establish BOTH a paid and an organic strategy. Clearly define the type of content that you’ll promote.
- Determine which people on your team have the skillset for organic vs. paid and treat them as related and linked, but not necessarily requiring the same skills.
- If you are a social media marketer, determine which (if not both) skills you want to hone.
- Start experimenting with paid sooner rather than later. Paid social ads (perhaps with the exception of Facebook ads) are still in their infancy. By experimenting now, you will be better positioned as it grows.
Image via Shutterstock.
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