Why it’s Time to Shift into Paid Social Strategies

Dec 14, 2016


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Article ImageThe free lunch is over, social media marketers: prepare to pony up and devote even more of your budget to paid promotion on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and their ilk. That’s the conclusion reached after digesting the findings of Gartner’s “Digital Channel Survey 2016: Social Marketers Expand Tactics for Results.” According to the report, four out of five industry professionals who spearhead social media marketing programs indicated they would place paid advertising programs via social media over the next 12 months—with 42% of this group embarking on paid social marketing endeavors for the first time and 38% already having paid programs in place.

This migration to paid social is a logical result of the decline in organic reach that’s been recognized for a while now, says Ruth Arber, vice president of strategic accounts for Adaptly. “Facebook made huge changes to its edge rank algorithms, which meant that it’s much harder for brands to get free distribution of content, and Twitter made a move to have more of an algorithm-based feed,” she says. “And platforms like Snapchat are avoiding encouraging brands to set up pages and accounts and encouraging them only to invest in paid ads.”

Jay B. Wilson, research director, Gartner for Marketing Leaders, and co-author of the aforementioned study, says marketers recognize that the days of gratis organic social marketing are over. “Organic brand content gets very little traction, which has kick-started investments in paid social. And the benefits of paid social—improved targeting and measurement—have sustained and increased those investments,” says Wilson, “It’s not enough anymore to rely on vanity metrics like follower counts, likes, and shares as a way to measure return on investment in people, process and technology. Social marketers need to demonstrate that they’re driving business results—from increased awareness to driving traffic to their commerce sites.”

Stacy Smollin Schwartz, marketing department instructor at Rutgers Business School, says free social media marketing has created an echo chamber where consumers are only exposed to those brands with which they already interact. “Those brands need consistent interaction levels in order to stay consistent in the conversation with their existing followers,” she says. “In order to reach new consumers and ensure that current followers see their posts, marketers will need to supplement their presence with paid advertising.”

Schwartz adds that she was surprised to learn from the Gartner report that so many social marketers have yet to begin paid social marketing efforts. “It is quite shocking to me that so few have ever experimented here. They will be blown away when they see the targeting and analytics capabilities of the tools available when they are willing to pay a little for the exposure,” says Schwartz, who recommends that first-timers to paid social try a “test-and-learn” approach whereby they spend a small amount on several short-term placements—as little as $20 per ad per day for smaller companies.

Wilson notes that, per the results of Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2016-2017, marketing leaders surveyed currently spend 7.2% of their marketing budgets on social marketing; as a percentage of media budgets, paid social typically gets up to 20% of those funds. “When you think about the time marketers spend developing content with vastly diminished organic returns, even a minimal budget in paid can add exponential value to those content investments and allow for more robust testing of content to determine what’s performing and what’s not,” says Wilson.

The shift to paid social will be easier for marketers who begin to equate social platforms with media platforms—a mindset that can reveal opportunities.

“Facebook now has 1.7 billion users—a scale that rivals TV—and very rich first-party data, so they’re able to identify who people are by profile information versus digital channels reliant on cookies. Also, posts have moved away from being content-based information to being a native ad format that can be customized to what a marketer is trying to achieve, such as video views, leads, onsite sales and store visits,” says Arber. “And most of these platforms have created their own measurement solutions—like pixels—that are able to track onsite actions, allowing marketers to close the loop on real business results.”


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