Organic vs Paid Social Media
If you’ve heard us bang on in our Register Now eDMs and blog posts about the importance of social media before you might be reading this and thinking “bloody hell I don’t have time for social media that’s just all about selfies and ego-posing”, and you might even think... Aren’t I better off investing in paid social, AdWords and SEO to get traffic to my event - seriously I already have an agency handling paid digital for me!
Well, the simple answer is that 12 months ago I probably would have agreed with you, that is before I actually understood the real difference between organic digital social media and paid digital marketing and also started seeing the real proof of what we not only envisioned for our clients but actually delivered.
It definitely makes sense to invest time and budget setting up paid social and digital, but this is primarily designed to reach new or “lookalike” audiences - I am not going into the full ins and outs of how paid works there are plenty of good blogs around about it (Hootsuite does a great job of breaking it down here) but this is primarily for prospecting and lead generation which is really valuable and important - particularly for new events. But this is only one portion of the available event market and remember I mentioned “lookalike” audiences - well they are called that because they look ahem like your current audience!
Enter organic social media.
Organic social media in the first instance is about creating awareness in your event and brand. Awareness is built by posting regularly on your chosen medium to build rapport and trust with your existing audience and with the hope of growing said audience. I don’t need to go much further into this, most events on our system have active and pretty successful social pages - this is nothing new.
The next step is to drive engagement to leverage trust, the goal is to build interest in the event by increasing likes, clicks, follows and comments - and with increased engagement comes the trust, belief and ultimately event evangelism. And believe me, this is not something that can be bought, it takes time, consistency and authenticity.
Of course, all organic social media is targeted at your existing audience (we’ll deal with how we can massage this for lookalikes and boost posts and ensure optimal engagement with the algorithm in a moment, but let’s stick with the facts at hand for now). So there are a few things that we know about our existing audiences….
Well for starters this audience is already following your event on Instagram, Facebook and potentially Twitter, meaning they have at some point considered or been exposed to your brand in some way. However, it is important to remember that over 30% of overall Instagram users are inactive, meaning you may have a high follower count but are they actually engaged in your event?
This is where organic social media is important to nurture your potential audience to convert them from a passive follower to an engaged brand ambassador and part of your social community.
The beauty of the mass participation event social community is they are very active and engaged and for the most part if they are following your account then you are most likely already in their consideration set of events. Event-goers need something to train for, they need something to look forward to but most of all they need a community to belong too and that is one of the most important things to remember in your role as an event manager.
In fact, you can’t really buy better ambassadors.
So what do we need organic social media for then, they’re already engaged right? Well, the key now is to use your audience, your platform and channels to run your pre-event campaign and tell your unique event story. This will further build the trust, awareness and engagement in your event brand to create hype, buzz and belonging which ultimately leads you to more followers, participants and positive PR.
Paid Social vs Boosting Organic
So let's circle back to using good organic content to fuel advertisements and then we’ll explore boosting your posts, then we’ll tackle what we would consider good organic content and some steps to using your campaign goals and key event messages to underpin your paid strategy.
Earlier I talked about using organic posts as the basis for paid social to promote to a wider “lookalike” audience that is different from your existing followers but share similar demographic traits.
The ability to utilise Facebook ad centre for this is game-changing - given you have access to key demographic and geographic “people data” of your already existing audience you can use this info to create targeted and super low-cost advertisements to serve to new audiences and generate leads, great! Moreover, you can tweak your campaign based on reach, frequency and of course budget.
So what about boosting? Well that’s a different proposition altogether, you see you might have 5,000+ followers on Facebook or Instagram, but thanks to the platform's algorithm, only 5-6% of your audience will typically be served your post… Why? Because Facebook makes a call on what it thinks you’d prefer to be shown and “Your Great Fun Run” may not be the algorithm’s first choice for "Sally Smith" if your post is not getting optimal traction or engagement.
Enter boosting… An awesome low-cost tool that can push your post in front of the algorithm and into your audience’s feeds! Yay! Not guaranteed to reach everyone, but certainly more than just pure organic. Similarly to Facebook ads simply set your reach, frequency and budget via the “promote” button and let the wizard do the rest it’s that simple! In fact, if a post is tracking well, you’ll probably get prompted to boost it and you can do so within app. Bang.
But what is the relationship between paid and boosting, aren’t they going after different audiences? Well... Yes, but there is no reason that they need to have different messages as they are still targeting the same result - getting people registered for your event! And, if you remember back to Comms 101 gang, we want to echo a consistent brand message across all platforms.
This is our recommendation for a simple approach to paid and social advertising for events:
- Define your event brand voice/personality - this should be felt across all touchpoints and if you haven’t done so already get to work on this as it is actually imperative to your entire event plan (we’ll deep dive this in future articles)
- Define your event goals (get 10,000 participants, raise X amount of money, attract elite / professional competitors etc)
- Set your key strategic event messages: Pricing points, Urgency timeline - 6 weeks out / 4 weeks / 2 weeks etc, Giveaways, Charitable testimonials, “reasons why” etc
- Set a schedule of organic posts (2-3 per week, 4-5 per week as the event gets closer)
- Within your schedule define 3-4 key event messages that you would want to push to boost & paid advertising
- When you publish a “key event message” post let it run a few days so that it gains organic traction
- Once it gains some optimal engagement, (give it 5-7 days max) boost it! This will increase your audience engagement, but most importantly it will provide you with the all important data insights for creating your advertising “lookalike” audience
- Once you're satisfied with how your post is going, now is the time to push that boosted posted through the Facebook advertising machine. You should have some really rich data now to inform your new lookalike audience, plus you have a post that started as organic so you know that it's going to feel a lot more authentic* to the person being served than some branded up, shmicko ad.
*A word on authenticity, it is really important to put yourself in the shoes of the audience when you are creating a post, graphic or any kind of content and consider:
how would I feel if I was served this ad?
because we can guarantee that if it gets under your skin, it will do the same to your target audience.
In wrapping this up, I really want to stress that as much as I love the realness of organic it is no silver bullet. Nor is paid. The key is to have a holistic approach to your social media marketing and know that they work best together! And remember that in all good campaigns an integrated approach is imperative, not just in your social, but across website, eDM and even your athlete services and outbound communications.
I’m not sure about anyone else but to me it feels like there has never been a time where I have consumed so much organic social media - and yes I’m definitely not proud of my weekly screen time report! I’m also finding that when I am served a paid ad that doesn’t feel authentic or sensitive to the current situation it is enough to make me straight up unfollow a brand.
We are seeing similar rhetoric for many of our clients now too - most paid advertising has been paused and organic content is king once more. . . Sensitivity is of the utmost importance of course with many pausing content executions all together until they have a better idea of what the future holds. With all this shift to more organic content, I thought it was a good opportunity to debunk organic vs paid social activity.
If you are an event organiser or service that is non-essential right now, there is no reason to stop the social conversation completely, if you are planning on continuing to engage, you do however, need to thoroughly review your content strategy.