When Facebook’s algorithm changed back in 2013, and users no longer saw every post from every brand they had ever ‘liked’, many brands lined up to complain about Facebook, including one memorable ‘It’s not us, it’s you’ letter from food company Eat24. The crux of the matter? Brands were going to have to pay for their social media content to reach users, and it JUST WASN’T FAIR!

But two years on, opinions have changed. Brands are embracing paid social media because it has real benefits. Sprinklr‘s recent study provides some useful lessons for companies yet to dip a toe in the paid social waters.

Changing times

Using social media organically used to be entirely possible. Brands built up thousands of followers, and could get content out to them quickly and efficiently. But even social media platforms need to make money. Recognising that asking users to pay is tantamount to suicide, they turned to companies and brands for funding.

Basically, it boils down to a simple message: brands need to pay, or they will lose access to social media. But it’s not really a matter of the changing algorithms. More fundamentally, it is the result of the massive increase in users. With so many more users, there just isn’t the space for them to see every post. Social networks had to find a way to filter it if they were to keep users.

But paid social is much, much more than a requirement. Instead, it is a huge untapped resource. Paid social spend lags behind customer attention by around $5 billion.

Software engineers working on project and programming in company

Paid social isn’t just necessary, it’s useful

Paid social also allows targeted marketing. While organic social media is free, it’s also organic. Which means that brands have no control over what spreads, or who gets to see it. You can’t actually rely on a particular post going viral. But paid social means that not only do more people see your posts, but they are the right people. You get access to segmentation data, and can target your content at the right users. And this means that your content is amplified.

Robert Corini, a brand manager with Castrol USA, reported huge benefits from using paid social. Castrol was trying to build an online community for motorcycle enthusiasts in North America, but before the company started using paid social, there was an issue: only 20% of followers were based in North America. Using paid social, and targeting posts, increased that to 50%. Castrol found that paid social improved both reach and engagement. There was 11 times more engagement after using paid social, and its quality was hugely improved.

Using paid social: what you need to know

Facebook may be the biggest platform, with 1.3 billion users, but the paid social media audience runs to 4.2 billion users across eight platforms, and the others are well worth a look too. Instagram is currently the fastest growing social network, growing by 23% in the last period. It also delivers the most brand engagement. Pinterest, however, has the largest proportion of household decision-makers as users, and its users have higher income, and are more likely to spend more. Pinterest drives more traffic to sites than any network except Facebook, but its users’ average order when they visit another site is $120, more than double the average order of a Facebook user. It’s clear that choosing the right platform is vital.

And once you’ve done that, there are a number of other areas you need to get right. You have to measure the impact of what you’re doing. You also have to target the right people using tailored, high quality content. This content needs to be refreshed regularly, so that users don’t see repeat posts; you also need to learn from what works and what doesn’t, and remove the latter quickly. It’s worth testing things in advance to see what’s likely to work, whether that’s around demographics, keywords or timing of posts.

Paid social is here to stay

The key message is that paid social is here to stay, and brands need to engage with it effectively to survive. But more, it has huge potential to get your message to the right people, and make sure that it’s heard. Is it time for you to engage with paid social?

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