Why Social Media May Not Pay Unless You Do

Social media marketing is essential — but if no one sees your content, what’s the point?
Learn why you may want to consider paying for social media to help your business survive. (Photo: Jason Howie/Flickr)

You know the purpose of social media. “Businesses who deeply understand social media use it to build a social brand,” said Thom Pulliam, brand strategy and communications consultant. “Social media is the place where their story unfolds, where new consumer audiences are developed for profitable growth and insights are gained to improve and innovate upon all aspects of the business.”

There’s a big “but.” Last year, a survey by small business directory Manta showed that 59 percent of small businesses hadn’t seen any ROI from their social media activities. Among those that had, 47 got less than $100 each month.

So, does social media marketing actually pay off? And how can you make sure it will for you?

Increasingly, the answer is this: Yes, but you need to pay to play. Otherwise, your efforts will be wasted.

The dramatic shrinkage of organic reach

Creating entertaining and exciting content doesn’t matter if no one sees it. And these days, without paid posts, very few people will, depending on the channel you choose.

Organic reach (how many people you can reach for free by posting to your page) plummeted on Facebook after it changed its news feed algorithm, which determines how many of a page’s followers see a post. A study by Social@Ogilvy found that Facebook organic reach, on average, dropped to a mere 6 percent — and that was back in 2014. In some cases it may be as low as 1 or 2 percent. Some say it’s only matter of time before the number hits zero.

Brian Boland, vice president of advertising technology at Facebook, justifies the decline. “There are more than 3 million links shared every hour on Facebook. Facebook wants to improve the user experience and only show people the most relevant content to increase engagement. So only the most relevant, high-quality stories (300 or so) will actually appear in a user’s news feed.”

And of course, Facebook doesn’t mind selling more ads. Small businesses spend an estimated $5 to $50 a day on promoted posts and ads on Facebook, according to Reuters. Facebook has said the majority of its ad revenue comes from small businesses.

A paid campaign lets you target the people you most want to see your ads — the right ages, geography and interests, for example.

Types of paid social solutions

Of course Facebook isn’t the only option. The best social media strategy involves choosing the right channel for your target audience (and posting the right content for that channel) rather than trying to be everywhere. Instagram has huge potential for restaurant owners who are looking to reach foodies, for instance, while Pinterest may be better suited for retail or ecommerce business.

According to Instagram, users see only 30 percent of the content posted by users and brands they follow — better than Facebook percentages but still not high. Instagram offers various ad formats to support different marketing goals. Run Instagram Sponsored ads with strong call-to-action buttons like “Learn more,” “Download,” “Install Now,” “Shop Now,” “Sign Up” and “Buy.”

But Facebook still has the largest social media audience and offers the most granular targeting capability, so it may be a logical place to start. Different types of Facebook social ads support different goals, including lead generation, increasing your website traffic, stepping up conversions on your website, boosting engagement with your brand and reaching people near your business. You might choose a mix of campaigns depending on what you want to accomplish.

You can “boost” a particular post, which should increase reach and especially engagement. Engagement is important because it creates conversations, which eventually can lead to more brand awareness and new customers.

While many brands will pay for ads that prompt users to like or follow your page, keep in mind that this strategy may result in unlikes or unfollows — and you’ll have to pay again for your content to been seen by those fans who stay.

The bottom line on paid social

Why do you need to pay to play in social? Two words: profit and overcrowding. A modest spend could help increase your customer base and website traffic and make your content marketing efforts pay off.

Since you’re paying for posts, you’ll want to choose them carefully and target each one to a specific audience. As one marketing blogger put it, “The goal is no longer to spray and pray — it’s to get as much interaction from a single post as possible.”

Paying to boost your posts may surface enough of them to then generate organic reach — so you don’t have to pay for 100 percent of your traffic; you just need to pay for enough posts to have them spread organically.

Want to try a paid boost? Here’s where to get started:


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