The Value of Paid Social

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With the decline in organic reach on Facebook, the introduction of an algorithm on Instagram and the real-time nature of Twitter, paid media has become necessary for brands to amplify content to the right audiences, at the right time, with the right message.

Organic marketing activity is only as valuable as the users it’s reaching. Followers represent a very small percentage of a brand’s total target audience, so only reaching 2 percent to 3 percent of a follower base organically has minimal impact on business objectives.

Social platforms have built features that deliver against business objectives by utilizing their huge scale, targeting accuracy and sophisticated tracking and measurement capabilities.

Paid activity acts as an extension of owned media efforts to drive campaign results and amplify content to a larger target audience. The benefits of paid media on social include:

  • Control: The advertiser has complete control over the ad format and messaging strategy and can personalize marketing to specific audience segments.
  • Scale: Paid media enables marketers to reach and target hundreds of millions of users on a daily basis.
  • High-level targeting: Leveraging first-party, logged-in data enables targeting granularity at high accuracy. Customer-relationship-management targeting capabilities mean that brands can utilize their customer data to target and create lookalike audiences. Partnerships with third-party data companies enable advertisers to target users based on offline buying behavior.
  • Bidding: Bid types enable optimization toward a variety of campaign objectives.
  • Optimization: Activity can be optimized on a specific goal–reach, awareness, offsite conversion or engagement.
  • Tracking: Each platform has its own pixel capabilities, which enable tracking of on-site actions and audiences for retargeting.
  • Measurement: Measurement studies allow brands to track online and in-store actions.

Here is a breakdown of organic versus paid activity, by social platform:


Twitter is a real-time platform where users seek out the latest news and updates. Users are able to access information in the timeline, trending topics and Moments. The release of the “while you were away” feature in 2015 introduced an element of an algorithm-based feed for the first time. It will be interesting to see how Twitter further evolves its feed algorithm, but for the moment, we don’t expect it to have a huge impact on organic reach.

There is value in engaging a brand’s Twitter audience from an organic and paid standpoint. We see that consistent amplifications help to increase a brand’s share of voice, retweets and mentions. Ultimately, consistent engagement leads to an increase in overall return on investment.

Brands should think of Twitter as a channel to consistently engage their audience. Organically tweeting two to three times per day should drive about 30 percent organic reach. Brands can reach their followers with their messaging for free, so should take advantage of this low-hanging fruit.


Organic content on Pinterest is about quality over quantity because Pins are shown to more than just your followers based on shared interests. Like most other channels, organic provides value, but only up to a certain point. We know that Pinterest is a huge driver of traffic (usually net new), and that its organic tools like the Save button are big drivers of this traffic.

Organic performance can help guide creative strategy for promoted content. We often see clients use strong-performing organic content to either influence the creation of new Promoted Pins or promote those Pins directly.

At the end of the day, paid is how clients are driving real results for their business. We’ve seen that clients with a strong organic presence tend to do the best when it comes to amplification through paid. Paid media enables brands to increase scale and reach through targeted placement. They can reach their target audiences while they are in key consideration or action mindsets. Pinterest has shown that it drives double-digit lifts in all brand metrics, and a recent study found that Promoted Pins drive incremental sales for retailers.

And Pinterest’s unique downstream value shouldn’t be overlooked: Any repins of a Promoted Pin are essentially free added value that leads to extra impressions. For instance, if a user saves a Promoted Pin, that Pin can then be discovered again by other users who can also save that Pin to their boards, leading to a multiplier effect that results in those extra, free impressions.


In 2012, Facebook started restricting the organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16 percent. In December 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more. By February 2014, organic reach hit 2 percent and has continued to decrease since then.

As these changes occurred, many marketers started asking themselves, “Is Facebook still a driver of ‘earned’ conversations, or is it just a straightforward paid channel?” The overall consensus is that yes, with the decline in organic reach, paid media has become a necessity.


Instagram is the latest to introduce an algorithm to its news feed. The platform took cues from parent company Facebook, but it has based its algorithm on distinctly different signals because of its unique feed and the way consumers use it. The order in which posts appear in a user’s feed is based on the likelihood that they will be interested in the content, their relationship to the poster and the timeliness of the content. Unlike Facebook, Instagram still serves every post to each user, just in a different order.


Overall, users are adopting Snapchat at a rapid rate and are highly engaged: 65 percent of its 150 million daily users are creating photos and videos and spending an average of 25 to 30 minutes in-application every day. Early results have been promising for advertisers sponsoring Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters or buying Snap Ads.


With the evolution of algorithm-based news feeds, organic activity is reaching fewer and fewer users. On top of that, users aren’t following or liking brands on these platforms as much as they used to. And since fans and followers only represent a very small percentage of a brand’s total audience, organic activity is likely to have a minimal impact on business objectives. Paid activity acts as an essential extension of media campaigns and amplifies content to a larger target audience.

The original article can be found on Adweek SocialTimes.