In the game of social media, paid ads is often treated like the quarterback and organic like the water boy. Paid shows off with its conversion rates and unique targeting capabilities, all while organic lingers in the background watching the game from the sidelines.
But if we’ve learned anything from Ted Lasso, the water boy might just be your team’s mastermind and the key to success for your social media campaigns.
First, it’s important to be crystal clear on the differences between paid and organic social media content and what they both bring to the table.
What is Paid Social?
Paid social is advertising. More specifically, paid social is the content on social media that you pay for in exchange for a guaranteed audience (either new or existing). Paid social can include sponsored/boosted posts, pay-per-click ads, targeted in-feed campaigns, and influencer generated content.
Why Paid Social Works:
- Paid social provides your nonprofit with guaranteed reach: Paid social is an almost foolproof way to gain exposure to a specific audience. Social media platforms have become sophisticated enough to accurately target audiences based on age, hobbies, location and even occupation. This type of smart targeting ensures that paid social is highly focused on your intended market, leading to more traffic, engagement, and ultimately increased donations.
- Increases Campaign Stability: Paid social analytics are much more detailed than organic and can provide invaluable information on your NGO’s campaign performance. When you have a clear understanding of what’s working and who is responding to your content, you can adjust and create even stronger campaigns each time.
- Speed to Market: In some cases, nonprofits must deliver their appeals swiftly and directly. In times of crisis, for example, there isn’t always time to allow social media algorithms to do their work and communicate to the right audience. Paid social gives you priority access to a targeted audience who may not see your message in time otherwise.
As you can see, the benefits of paid social media cannot be argued with. However, nonprofits are often looking for ways to make their budget stretch, and this is where a solid organic social media strategy can make all the difference.
What is Organic Social?
Organic social media refers to content published on various platforms without any payment. This is the type of content most users are posting on social media and how many nonprofits start out.
Why Organic Social Works:
- Organic Social Increases Brand Validity: Posting high quality organic content gradually develops trust with your audience in a way that advertising alone cannot. Many of us are now fully aware when we are being sold to, and if this is all we associate with your brand, it could potentially harm your credibility. Potential supporters of your cause want to see authentic engagement and feel like they are interacting with real people and personalities behind each post.
- Organic Social Builds Community: Building a genuine relationship and connection with your followers is essential for creating a strong community. NGO’s can nurture these relationships through authentic interactions like messages, comments, questions, and seeking feedback. These interactions require a real-time investment that can’t be replaced by an ad or artificial intelligence. A study by Hootsuite found that social media has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing! So this relationship must be nurtured and supported through your organic social strategies.
- Organic Social is Cost-effective: While organic social media does require time and energy, your NGO doesn’t need a large budget to execute a successful organic strategy. The key is to create innovative, clear, and attention-grabbing content that your followers enjoy and want to engage with and adjust as necessary to meet the needs of your audience. Since organic social media is free, it may be easier to try new things you wouldn’t otherwise risk.
Why Organic and Paid Social are Great Together (+ Success Story)
When paid and organic social work hand in hand to create a holistic social media strategy, it’s the best of both worlds.
Paid social may seem like a short-cut to more engagement and revenue, but by combining it with quality organic content, you can increase your nonprofit’s chances of success online.
I witnessed this recently on a 6-month campaign with a human rights organization. Their ultimate goal was to increase donations through social, but we dedicated the first month of the campaign to posting killer organic content (shout out to the creative teams who get it!).
We kept organic a priority throughout the campaign and created unique content for the ads to run simultaneously (different creatives, more urgent messaging, same target audience in mind).
Things were humming along pretty well – CPC was about average and donations were trickling in, and then we had an organic post take off…
One of the Instagram Reels we posted received over 500,000 views organically within 48 hours (the average for this organization was about 8,000 views per video). Without making any changes to the ad campaign, we saw ad spend drop by 30% and donations increased by 45% over the next few weeks.
The campaign ended at the lowest CPC the organization has seen in five years, and they hit their fundraising goal by month five.
Why did this happen?
Creating consistent organic content on a topic we knew this target audience would be interested in established a playbook for the algorithm when it came to ad targeting. Sure, it helps to get specific with your targeting when building your ad campaign, but one of the top indicators Meta looks at when delivering your ads is how your organic content is performing.
If your organic audience is engaged without even having to spend money to get their attention, it signals to the platform that this is something people genuinely care about and want to see more of, making it MUCH easier to know who to deliver your ads to.
Algorithms are smart, but they need instructions. A strong organic strategy can not only become a key player, but the coach of the entire game – calling the shots to make sure your message goes to the right audience at the right time.
There are thousands of brands competing for attention on social media, and it may be tempting to think that “paying to play” through advertising is the only way to stay relevant and effective.
But the reality is, even the biggest ad budget can’t replace great content, and great content is ultimately the secret to social media success.
To build an effective social strategy, your nonprofit must focus its efforts on creating strong organic content and then supplementing with a well-thought out paid strategy.
Focus on getting in front of your ideal audience with content they can’t get enough of in order to build a great relationship with them.
When they’re ready to donate, you’ll be at the top of the list.
About the Author
Brynne Krispin is a social media strategist for nonprofits and small businesses. Working with NGOs, thought leaders, and policymakers in DC for the last decade, she specializes in getting people to care about complex issues that might otherwise get ignored. Her team at Cause Fokus uses empathy-based marketing to turn passive audiences into loyal advocates.