Social media remains a high-growth marketing channel, as annual global spending on social media reached nearly $31 billion in 2016, and the industry forecasts annual double-digit percentage growth for 2017 and 2018. Locally, our paid social media advertising volume skyrocketed up 46 percent in the first quarter of 2018 versus the same quarter last year.

Exploiting the virtues of social media advertising has for many years been easy and inexpensive, because it requires no money to start, and any businessperson can create a business profile and start communicating to a potentially global audience.

But recent changes to social media dynamics – Facebook’s deemphasizing of business and news content in favor of friends-and-family generated content in users’ feeds – have made it more challenging for businesses to achieve an effective level of reach organically. As a result, more companies are now relying on paid social media advertising strategies to reach the audience they’re seeking.

The Decline of Organic Visibility

Organic visibility, or organic reach, refers to the number of people a business can connect to via social media without paying for advertising or sponsoring a post. Ten years ago, this was relatively easy to achieve on Facebook, because content shared by businesses had an equal shot at visibility as content shared by individuals and brands that each person followed. Businesses that posted content regularly could rely on the majority of their brands’ followers seeing that content. Much has changed since 2008, as the spectacular growth of Facebook since then has created conditions that, for many, has undermined the user experience. And with the newsfeed algorithm changes resulting in companies attaining fewer and fewer views with purely organic tactics, businesses need to invest in paid advertising to close the gap.

How Social Media Advertising Works

Facebook, which has the most robust platform and users, offers several options for effectively displaying content in front of more people than can be reached organically:

  • Boosting (or sponsoring), with as little as a few dollars, can elevate an otherwise organic post, ensuring that it’s seen by more people, including those outside of your current followers.
  • Stand-alone advertising and pay-per-click or “like” advertising deliver higher numbers of impressions in a specified timeframe than can be delivered

Investing with either form of social media advertising is guaranteed to generate a greater impact than relying on the organic way of generating visibility. How do we know it? First, we do it for ourselves, when we really want to promote a news story. Second, we do it for our own clients, like a national foodservice distributor and a luxury condominium developer, among many.

Keys for Success without Ads

Still, it is possible to succeed without ads, as Facebook hasn’t entirely eliminated the organic visibility of brands, and there are strategies that businesses can employ to improve their visibility without paying for it:

  • Mind your frequency. One reason for the decline in organic visibility is the sheer volume of content on social media; businesses that post too frequently amplify the problem, when they should instead focus on fewer, more relevant posts.
  • Stay relevant and focus on quality. It takes lots of self-control, but businesses should only post content that’s highly relevant and supportive of the primary reason behind why their target audience is interested in them. Here’s a link to an excellent article about making sure that your content is as high-quality as possible. Following these guidelines will attract more engagements and shares, making your content appear to be more valuable to newsfeed algorithms.
  • Generate shares from individuals. Businesses cannot rely on just a brand page to generate visibility; shares and posts by individual followers are much more effective for immediately elevating a post’s visibility. It is especially effective if you pair it with a guest posting strategy.
  • Engage with followers. Businesses shouldn’t just post content and hope that it performs. An effective social media manager engages and fosters conversations with followers. Involved comment threads, shares and reactions are all useful for extending the reach of your content.

The Future

Although much more challenging than it used to be, it’s still possible to build, grow and retain a social media audience using purely organic tactics. But it’s a slow build, one that requires more patience than we see in most of our advertisers. And it’s likely that Facebook will continue to throttle back organic business postings even further. After all, in addition to its mission of offering connectivity and building community, it’s a business that needs to generate profits, and paid advertising is its bread and butter.