In the constantly evolving world of social media, it can be difficult for businesses to stay on top of trends and connect with an audience that can be just as fickle as the social platforms themselves. It is no longer optional for businesses to have some kind of social media strategy – but a strategy alone is not enough. Businesses need to have reasonable expectations for the return on social media efforts and really understand the results and reporting to gauge success.
The Stagnation of Organic Growth
The way most social media platforms operate today is very different than it was even two or three years ago. Social media has permeated the lives of almost all internet users and has become a part of everyday life. Facebook and other leading networks have since become masters of monetizing their platforms and leveraging their users – and their data – to sell advertising to businesses.
What this all boils down to is a pay-to-win social media landscape where paid activity is specifically designed to deliver the reach, engagement and conversions that organic content did in the past. Meanwhile, organic activity struggles to deliver even a fraction of the results most marketers are hoping for.
Does this mean organic activity has no place in your social media strategy? Definitely not. Organic activity is a great opportunity to develop a more personal connection with your audience than is possible through traditional marketing channels. You can share behind-the-scenes photos, company and employee achievements, and other content that gives users a better idea of your company’s personality, culture and values. However, it does mean you have to adjust your expectations of what organic social media activity can achieve for your business.
Organic posting is unlikely to deliver much in terms of reach and engagement with your audience. Organic posts on Facebook, for example, typically only reach about 3 to 6 percent of your audience – with an even smaller fraction likely to interact. This reduced reach will also limit your ability to generate leads, drive website traffic and drive conversions from organic posts alone.
Most of the return you can expect from an organic strategy is not quantifiable, unfortunately. The value in organic activity is in creating a better experience for customers viewing your page and the personal link it creates with your followers.
Think of a social media account without any organic activity as you would a physical storefront. If the lights are off, the door is locked and the shelves are empty, that would likely give a bad impression to anyone passing by. The same can be said for your social presence. If your info isn’t up to date, your feed has no content and your messages are left unanswered, it creates a bad impression to users – which is especially detrimental if they are discovering your brand for the first time.
Money Talks on Social Platforms
If your business is fairly active on social media, it’s likely that none of this has been a revelation so far, but if you can’t expect much of a quantifiable return from all your hard work on the organic front, how can you get the results you want from a social media strategy? That’s where paid activity comes in.
Paid social media advertising is an indispensable tool that allows marketers to reach very specific audiences on platforms used by billions of people worldwide while delivering measurable and trackable results. However, paid social media campaigns aren’t magic. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, and your expectations should be in line with what is realistically achievable based on your budget and the tools provided within each platform.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter all offer some advertising tools to business or brand accounts, each with varying costs, options to set goals, acceptable formats and targeting options. However, the results you can expect from any given paid social media campaign will depend on a variety of factors. Budget is often the biggest factor in determining the outcome of a paid campaign, which is not to say a smaller budget can’t be effective, but rather that a larger budget will allow you to reach more of your customers on any given platform. Targeting specificity, audience size, ad placement, bidding competition and several other factors will also affect your ad performance and cost.
In general, you can always expect better results from a paid campaign than an organic campaign – even one with a modest budget. However, it’s important to also consider the cost and return you can expect. For example, it’s entirely possible to run a campaign to an audience with a low cost-per-click or CPM – cost per thousand impressions – but that doesn’t mean that it will drive sales or leads. Targeting more actionable audiences, like high-income earners, C-level employees or other business or family decision-makers will cost more to advertise to because they are in greater demand. But targeting these users will mean your placement reaches a more actionable audience. So even if that means fewer total impressions or reach and a higher cost, you’re paying for more qualified leads – quality over quantity.
The final, and perhaps most important thing, to consider with paid social media activity is that you shouldn’t expect a single campaign to transform your business overnight. You should always be testing your ads, looking for ways to improve their performance and adapting your social strategy to capitalize on successful campaigns.
Different Platforms, Different Results
New social media platforms can enter the cultural spotlight seemingly overnight and many disappear almost just as quickly (RIP Vine) or build up slowly but still never reach mass success (RIP Google+). But a select few have become staples in most marketers’ tool kits – namely Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. While it might be tempting to establish your brand on as many platforms as possible, not all social media is created equal, and it’s important to understand how each can work for – and against – your business.
Facebook is the granddaddy of modern social media, with the most active users of any platform in the U.S. and most of the world. With such a large user base, chances are your customers are on Facebook. According to research conducted by Hootsuite, Facebook’s audience skews slightly older than Instagram or Twitter – only about 35 percent of its users are younger than 25 – but about half of all American teens still use Facebook.
The trend of diminishing organic returns is especially prevalent on Facebook. Facebook heavily controls how content is shown, who it’s shown to and when it’s shown. Content from brands is severely restricted in favor of user-based content, making it much harder for marketers to reach their audience organically. While some content, such as videos and livestreams, will perform better organically than text- or link-based posts, they are still restricted by the content algorithm.
If your social media strategy involves Facebook, don’t expect much reach, engagement or page growth without a paid strategy.
Instagram is another social media juggernaut and has over 1 billion monthly users, trailing only YouTube and Facebook. Its users also tend to be much younger than Facebook users, with 71 percent of all users under the age of 35, according to Hootsuite. That means if your business caters to a younger demographic, you can expect to find it on Instagram.
In fact, according to reporting by the Orlando Sentinel, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of all U.S. teens use the platform, behind only YouTube as the most popular platform with the youngest audiences. However, just like Facebook – which has owned Instagram since 2012 – Instagram implements an algorithm that prioritizes user-generated content and restricts organic reach for brand accounts. Because of this, you can likely expect to see underwhelming performance without the use of paid ads.
Another caveat to consider is that the type of content needed for Instagram is much different than most other platforms. Posts are completely photo and video based and don’t allow linking to external sites, so don’t approach the platform expecting to share links to your newest products or latest blog – at least organically.
It’s also worth noting that Facebook’s ownership of Instagram also affects its ad services. Both Instagram and Facebook ads can be created and monitored from Facebook’s ads manager. This can make it easier to implement a cohesive paid strategy across both platforms within a single campaign.
LinkedIn is unique among its competitors in that it has a highly specific user base – business professionals. The platform also has a higher percentage of wealthy and educated users than other social media outlets, making it a more desirable platform for businesses that offer professional services, sales support or brand development.
Keep in mind that although LinkedIn is the place to go for business and professional users, its active user base is much smaller than Facebook and Instagram, so you might not be reaching all your potential customers with LinkedIn alone.
In terms of paid activity, you can also expect to pay more per result or per click from a LinkedIn ad than any other platform. While your ad CPC will ultimately be determined by a variety of different factors unique to your ad, costs on LinkedIn can easily be two to three times higher on average versus the same level of clicks or impressions on any of the other networks listed here.
Twitter has a much smaller user base than Facebook or Instagram and it’s not growing nearly as rapidly as LinkedIn. However, the platform can potentially expose your company to an audience that might not be found on other platforms.
One common use for Twitter is as a platform for customer service. Twitter offers advanced search and social listening tools that allow you to keep track of what people are saying about your business, providing an opportunity to engage with customers and take control of customer service issues. These tools also allow businesses to monitor keywords or topics that are important to them and engage in conversation with customers talking about those topics.
One of the challenges with using Twitter as a business is that the conversations and content being shared on the platform change rapidly – if you don’t catch trends, events and popular content quickly, your chance to capitalize on such content will diminish quickly. To remain actively engaged with customers on Twitter can demand a time commitment not all businesses will be able to support.
With Today’s Social Media, Success Comes with a Cost
All in all, success for a business today isn’t just as simple as making posts on a regular basis. Social media has evolved and the best ways to be successful have as well.
At JFG, we work to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that your business can connect with customers and find success through social media. Looking for more tips to help your business thrive on social media? Download our Facebook Tip Guide today with nine tips on how you can make the most of your Facebook marketing.
As the social media specialist at JFG, Kyle is responsible for creating, publishing and monitoring digital content for all relevant social media platforms for JFG and our clients. Additionally, he creates and manages all paid social media ad campaigns on the various social media networks.