Should your social media marketing rely on organic reach?

By October 24, 2014 No Comments
Paid advertising vs earned media in social media marketing.

At Southerly we practise what we preach to our clients. We have our own content marketing strategy that includes social media, which is currently undergoing a refresh.

Why? Because social media in particular is an ever evolving beast – Facebook, for example, just can’t leave its algorithms alone – which means companies and brands should take the time to refresh their social media strategy every so often, and decide what’s working and what isn’t.

To me, it seems that the question at the moment for us and other companies to consider is no longer ‘should we be using social media for marketing?’ but ‘should we be putting some ad budget behind our social media marketing?’ Something we’re currently talking to several of our clients about is the issue of paid versus earned media – sponsored updates versus organic, free reach.

At Southerly, we’ve run a trial to amplify some of our content via Outbrain, an advertising platform that can help increase web traffic, which showed some good results. However, there is a lot of divided opinion out there about the whole native advertising issue – native ads are essentially paid-for pieces of content that appear somewhere in the ‘flow’ of other online editorial content.

Organic reach in numbers

Social media commentators talk of the authenticity of earned media versus native advertising and maintain there are still tactics that brands can employ to increase the potential of their content reaching consumers organically (I urge you to take a look at the Social Media Examiner blog if you haven’t done so already – there are several recent posts about how brands can respond to recent changes to Facebook News Feed, for example, without spending money). There are statistics that bear out the authenticity argument – the Nielsen Global Survey of Trust in Advertising (2013) for example showed that 84% of consumers trust earned media over any other form of advertising.

However, the same survey revealed that 69% of people trusted owned content and messaging on brand websites; 56% of respondents said they trusted emails from brands and almost half (48%) trusted ads in search engine results, online video ads and ads on social networks. These numbers were all an increase on previous survey results.

I recently read a whitepaper about the paid versus earned issue jointly produced by Klout and Shift, that cited several stats from the Nielsen survey. Both Klout and Shift have an interest in social advertising but even bearing that in mind, the paper did throw up one very interesting tidbit that should make anyone using social media for marketing sit up and take note. According to Klout, only 5% of people create 50% of the content on social – that’s a small hierarchy of influential users whose content works for them organically. For everyone else, brands included, getting content in front of the people you want to reach – sometimes anyone at all – can be tricky. That’s not to say that brands and companies shouldn’t try. Just that the argument for a targeted campaign with some ad spend behind it as part of the marketing mix is now a very compelling one indeed.

Whitepaper on social media marketing from Southerly

About Southerly

We are a creative content agency. We are storytellers.


WeWork Central,
30 Stamford Street,


+44 (0)20 3397 4971


All suppliers please contact us at: