Of late, engaging in organic or unpaid social media marketing has gotten a bad rap.
As Marshall Manson, the CEO of Ogilvy UK, recently put it in an eMarketer report: “You might as well take your [organic social media] budget to the bank, cash it out in greenback $20s, pile it up in the parking lot and light the money on fire.”
While that take may be particularly harsh, it fits with the belief held by a number of experts that brand managers should abandon their unpaid efforts and engage only in paid advertising on social.
There are good reasons for this opinion. Over the past decade, social networks have increasingly moved from being open places where brands have unfettered access to audiences, to closed platforms that often require payment to get content in front of viewers.
Though this shift to a pay-to-play model is indisputable and continuing, it does not mean that brands should only use social networks for advertising.
Here are six reasons that justify brands continuing to engage in organic social media tactics:
1. Social media is a customer care channel.
When talking about the role that social networks play for brands, the focus is often on how they serve as content/advertising platforms. What’s sometimes overlooked is that they serve another role that is equally as important: customer service.
Over the past few years, consumers with service issues have become comfortable with using social media as a way to reach brands. Sometimes this happens in a one-on-one format—via a direct message or chat—but it can also happen via comments on posts, public replies and a host of other ways.
Having a robust customer care social strategy has to be a high priority for any brand—especially one that has a significant following.
It’s essential to have the right people in place when using social as a customer service channel. Have a plan in place and smart individuals on the ground (or at the keyboard) to maintain the externally-facing elements of your brand voice while also servicing your customers’ needs.
2. Social media is where consumers go to talk about brands.
Whether the experience is good or bad, people want to be able to share their consumer experiences with others.
This, of course, may not always be pleasant, and you may wish it were not happening on social media. Regardless, consumers will use social media to vent about your organization—and sometimes to also give positive shout-outs—and you should embrace it.
If you don’t give your customers a place to share their feelings, you’ll simply force them to go where your brand can’t respond. By devoting resources to dealing with public comments on social media, you can manage the situation. Most of the time consumers just want an apology if they feel they’ve been wronged, and by acknowledging their issues and treating them with respect, you can turn a detractor into a lifetime supporter.
3. Organic content resonates with engaged communities.
Time and again, you can see the difference a passionate audience makes on the engagement metrics for organic brand posts.
For example, take firearms manufacturers. Although these types of brands cannot promote their posts on platforms such as Facebook, their fans still engage with their content at a very high rate. The platform becomes a forum for experts, where people ask questions and give responses, and generally share their thoughts on a given subject—all under the umbrella of the brand.
When there is a will from a motivated consumer, he or she will find your content.
4. Social media allows brands to engage in public conversations.
There are all sorts of things happening on social media that cannot be responded to with advertising. These range from debates about news topics to riffs on fresh memes.
Social networks, especially more open ones such as Twitter, serve an important role in allowing brands to participate in these public discussions. Chiming in on a trending topic or responding to a mention from a consumer can build buzz for your organization and build relationships with consumers.
These conversational interactions serve a significantly different role from that of rigid advertising campaigns (which still have their place, of course). Quick quips and short shout-outs also require less effort and fewer resources than longer content pieces.
However, you should only do what’s natural for your brand. Don’t be sassy or take stands on issues if that’s not what you—or your customers—want. If a trending topic fits your brand, and your voice will add to the conversation, then go ahead and post. Otherwise, don’t jump on the bandwagon.
5. Social networks are good for listening, too.
Sometimes forgotten in the debate over organic vs. paid tactics is this simple fact: listening is free.
While connecting content to individuals often does require spending money, seeing what consumers are sharing publicly isn’t gated. With any number of software tools, you can easily receive detailed information about reaction to specific products, services, locations and even employees.
This data is invaluable because it gives you a direct pipeline to consumers’ feelings about your offerings.
That said, it should not be used in isolation. Social insights help to get a feel for the zeitgeist of the moment, but they should be paired with data from research and customer interactions so that you can get the full picture.
6. Content can be both paid and organic.
It’s important to recognize that paid and organic are not mutually exclusive when it comes to content on social media.
For example, you can post a piece of organic content to your social media accounts and later promote it to the right audiences. A potential customer might see it a number of times as they move from awareness to purchase.
The question isn’t whether you should use paid or unpaid social tactics—every company should use both. The more important debate is what specific mix of tactics is right from your organization.
Michael Del Gigante is the founder of MDG Advertising, a full-service advertising agency with a leading reputation for developing effective branding strategies. A version of this article originally appeared on the MDG blog.