Over the past few years engaging in organic or unpaid social media
marketing has gotten a bad rap.
As Marshall Manson, the CEO of Ogilvy UK, recently put it in
an eMarketer report: “You might as well take your [organic social media] budget to the bank,
cash it out in greenback $20s, pile it up in the parking lot and light the
money on fire.”
While that take may be particularly harsh, it fits with the belief held by
a number of experts that brand managers should abandon their unpaid efforts
and only engage in paid advertising on social.
There are good reasons for this opinion. Over the past decade, social
networks have increasingly moved from being open places where brands have
unfettered access to audiences, to closed platforms that often require
payment to get content in front of viewers.
Though this shift to a pay-to-play model is indisputable
and continuing, it does not mean that brands should only use social networks for
Here are six reasons that justify brands continuing to engage in organic
social media tactics:
Social media is a customer care channel.
When talking about the role that social networks play for brands, the focus
is often on how they serve as content/advertising platforms. What’s
sometimes overlooked is that they serve another role that is equally as
important: customer service.
Over the past few years, consumers with service issues have become
comfortable with using social media as a way to reach brands. Sometimes
this happens in a one-on-one format—via a direct message or chat—but it can
also happen via comments on posts, public replies and a host of other ways.
Having a robust customer care social strategy has to be a high priority for
any brand—especially one that has a significant following.
It’s essential to have the right people in place when using social as a
customer service channel. Have a plan in place and smart individuals on the
ground (or at the keyboard) to maintain the externally-facing elements of
your brand voice while also servicing your customers’ needs.
Social media is where consumers go to talk about brands.
Whether the experience is good or bad, people want to be able to share
their consumer experiences with others.
This, of course, may not always be pleasant, and you may wish it were not
happening on social media. Regardless, consumers will use social media to
vent about your organization—and sometimes to also give positive
shout-outs—and you should embrace it.
If you don’t give your customers a place to share their feelings, you’ll
simply force them to go where your brand can’t respond. By devoting
resources to dealing with public comments on social media, you can manage
the situation. Most of the time consumers just want an apology if they feel
they’ve been wronged, and by acknowledging their issues and treating them
with respect, you can turn a detractor into a lifetime supporter.
Organic content resonates with engaged communities.
Time and again, you can see the difference a passionate audience makes on
the engagement metrics for organic brand posts.
For example, take firearms manufacturers. Although these types of brands
cannot promote their posts on platforms such as Facebook, their fans still
engage with their content at a very high rate. The platform becomes a forum
for experts, where people ask questions and give responses, and generally
share their thoughts on a given subject—all under the umbrella of the
When there is a will from a motivated consumer, he or she will find your
Social media allows brands to engage in public conversations.
There are all sorts of things happening on social media that cannot be
responded to with advertising. These range from debates about news topics
to riffs on fresh memes.
Social networks, especially more open ones such as Twitter, serve an
important role in allowing brands to participate in these public
discussions. Chiming in on a trending topic or responding to a mention from
a consumer can build buzz for your organization and build relationships
These conversational interactions serve a significantly different role from
that of rigid advertising campaigns (which still have their place, of
course). Quick quips and short shout-outs also require less effort and
fewer resources than longer content pieces.
However, you should only do what’s natural for your brand. Don’t be sassy
or take stands on issues if that’s not what you—or your customers—want. If
a trending topic fits your brand, and your voice will add to the
conversation, then go ahead and post. Otherwise, don’t jump on the
Social networks are good for listening, too.
Sometimes forgotten in the debate over organic vs. paid tactics is this
simple fact: listening is free.
While connecting content to individuals often does require spending money,
seeing what consumers are sharing publicly isn’t gated. With any number of
software tools, you can easily receive detailed information about reaction
to specific products, services, locations and even employees.
This data is invaluable because it gives you a direct pipeline to
consumers’ feelings about your offerings.
That said, it should not be used in isolation. Social insights help to get
a feel for the zeitgeist of the moment, but they should be paired with data
from research and customer interactions so that you can get the full
Content can be both paid and organic.
It’s important to recognize that paid and organic are not mutually
exclusive when it comes to content on social media.
For example, you can post a piece of organic content to your social media
accounts and later promote it to the right audiences. A potential customer
might see it a number of times as they move from awareness to purchase.
The question isn’t whether you should use paid or unpaid social
tactics—every company should use both. The more important debate is what
specific mix of tactics is right from your organization.
Michael Del Gigante is the founder of MDG Advertising, a full-service
advertising agency with a leading reputation for developing effective
branding strategies. A version of this article originally appeared on
the MDG blog.