Reaching your audience: paid activity

If you’ve spent any time on social media in recent years, you will probably have seen content which has been tailored to your interests. You may not have realised this at the time.

Venn diagram showing cross over with organic vs paid promotion

A company can pay to target what is known as promoted content on social media to either a wider or a more specific audience. All social media platforms have a way for businesses and other organisations, and in some cases individuals, to pay for visibility. This is called paid activity.

While you don’t have to pay to publish on most social media sites, many marketers are discovering that organic activity alone isn’t effective or specific enough for most campaigns. A combination of paid and organic activity is often most effective because it allows for different kinds of audience discovery.

This is especially true on certain platforms, like Facebook, which intentionally prioritises posts by family and friends. This means that posts by brands and businesses are rarely seen unless they’ve been promoted into a user’s experience.

Remember that the default on all social media platforms is that your content will only be seen by:

  • People who follow your account, or
  • People who find your account (if public) even if they don’t follow it, and
  • People who follow others who share your content.

This is the reason why it makes sense to build a large follower count, as that increases your potential organic reach.

Who your followers are also matters. There’s little point having a million followers if 90% of them are fake accounts, robots or aren’t able to buy what you’re trying to sell. That doesn’t stop people from ‘buying’ followers to try to fool the algorithm into thinking that the account is more influential than it actually is.

However, if your campaign has got some marketing budget, it’s far better to spend it on promotion and targeted promotion than artificially inflating follower count.

There are various ways to boost via paid activity:

  • Promote a specific piece of content
  • Promote a page or specific account
  • Platform specific advertising

While the last of these is an option on all major platforms, the first two kinds of paid activity are more specific to social media.

Bear in mind that content can be promoted to the following types of audience:

  • To a wider audience (as many people as possible see it)
  • To a more specific audience (targeted)

Combining paid and organic promotion

As a general rule, the more specific your target audience, the more you will have to pay to reach them specifically. If your budget doesn’t stretch to such specific targeting, it’s usually possible and effective to use a combination of paid promotion. This narrows the potential audience and organic optimisation to make the message relevant to your chosen target audience.

Paying for visibility may feel unpleasant, but it can be relatively cheap to experiment with small campaigns. This can help you to gain insight into engagement and the effectiveness of different content types, wording, and audience segments, all of which can help you to invest your marketing budget more wisely.

Combining different kinds of paid promotion and organic activity is a good approach.

For example, in our second case study, virtual fitness instructor Siobhán decides that she wants to launch a New Year membership promotion. The target audience is women aged 25-35 living in urban areas of the UK, who work full or part time and enjoy fitness, fashion and going out. What approach could she take?

  • She might use Facebook’s paid targeting options to boost her business page on the platform to a broad audience (women, UK, 25+). She would also ensure that the content on that page is clear and appealing so that potential curious leads might explore a bit further.
  • She could also pay for a particular piece of content about New Year’s resolutions to be promoted to her target audience for a specific period (eg women, UK urban, 25-35, interests: running, fitness).
  • She could also continue to update her page regularly with engaging and relevant content, encouraging people to share their resolutions and follow the page to keep updated with free tips and offers.

Reflect and share:

  • What are your own experiences of seeing paid promotion on social media?
  • Thinking about Siobhán or the other case studies introduced earlier in the course, how do you think you could use paid and/or organic activity to reach the target audiences you determined for them?

Share your ideas in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Create a Social Media Marketing Campaign

University of Leeds