Social media: You need to pay-to-play

The battle for attention has never been more intense. According to Hootsuite, 60% of adults who spend time online have an Instagram account and 500-800 million of those people are active every single day. But that is small fry compared to Facebook, with roughly 2.89 billion monthly active users (Statista, 2021).  

Organic reach over time has seen a steep decline – in 2013, Facebook reported an approximate reach of 16%, while studies find that in 2021 that is a meagre 2.2% – but could be as low at 1.1% for many brands (Ignite, 2021). Hootsuite also suggest that the average engagement rate for a standard Facebook post was 0.25% in 2020, which drops even further to 0.08% when you have more than 100,000 followers. 

It is fair to say that for anyone trying to build a social media presence, these numbers are daunting. While you can improve your organic strategy, stick to best practice and follow all the rules, it can be quite frustrating when you don’t see the results you anticipate. 

According to research from Crowdtap, nearly half (46%) of social media users are already using social platforms while thinking about making a purchase. Additionally, 40% of users are actively deciding what to buy based on what they have seen on social media platforms, including reviews and recommendations.  

With so many of us looking to make purchase decisions while on these platforms, the next step would be to introduce paid social ads into your strategy to improve on low engagement rates and reach. Facebook’s four key algorithm ranking signals are relationship, content type, popularity, and recency. Instagram follows a very similar thread, with six ranking signals including relationship, interest, timeliness, frequency of use, following and session time.  

While algorithms will boost paid content and trigger these ranking signals, purely organic content will struggle to compete. As a result, the ‘pay-to-play’ environment has intensified over the years and looks like it’s here to stay. 

Deciding how to begin building a social media strategy can be like staring at a blank canvas. To save you hours of endless research on paid and organic strategies, we’ll keep a long story short; you will want to do a bit of both, defining your business objectives and what you want to achieve from your social channels to create paid and organic strategies that complement each other. 


While statistics show organic reach is declining, there is still a lot of potential value in implementing an organic strategy. Think of this as your brand personality and voice and seek to build relationships by sharing content that is valuable to your following: 

  • Use organic content to engage customers at every stage of the purchasing funnel and offer support through customer service channels 
  • The types of content you will want to consider are user-generated content (UGC), brand ambassadors, reviews/ testimonials and community-focused content 
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of all the new innovations these platforms have to offer, such as the new ‘reshare’ button. The new feature allows you to more freedom to customise when you reshare a feed post. This decision encourages users to share original Stories content, as opposed to the straight re-sharing of feed posts.  

Instagram VP of Product, Vishal Shah, made the following statement: 

“People tell us that they prefer original Stories content over reshared posts, so we’re testing a new way to reshare w/ stickers. Our hope is that people will be more intentional when they share, which will create a better Stories experience for everyone.” 

Other leading platforms have also shifted to a greater focus on audio-visual features, such as Facebook Watch or Reels and IGTV. In fact, IGTV videos appear 4 x larger on the Explore page compared to photos, meaning you will be more likely to catch a user’s attention with this format. Research shows that in the first month Reels was introduced in Brazil, Instagram users increased by 4.34% (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2021).  

Overall, you may find that your standard feed posts and static posts deliver lower engagement, while motion and video formats take up more real estate on the platform and help users to discover your content.  


It would be all too easy to start throwing money into paid advertising and expect results to immediately start improving. However, having a solid paid strategy behind any budget will help you reach a larger audience, target the right customers and drive leads and conversions faster. 

  • Start off by building prospective audiences through broad demographics, or target people like your organic audience through lookalike audiences to reach people who may love what you have to offer, but just don’t know it yet 
  • Improve customer retention by building targeted retargeting audiences through CRM data, on-Facebook sources & Pixel data to stay connected to your existing audience and encourage them to either complete that conversion or convince them to come back again 
  • A tried and tested method is boosting organic content. When you identify a post that has proven to work well, you can always start by allocating a small amount of spend to encourage performance. However, remember not to get too hung up on vanity metrics (for example likes and follows) but also to look at conversions, video views, and other key metrics dependent on your objective 

Testing… 1, 2, 3!  

Testing is crucial but often overlooked. Always test different call-to-actions, formats, ad copy, and audiences to find out what works, and what doesn’t. Gather all this data and continually refine your tests so you are always improving and serving ads that have a higher chance of resonating with your audience – driving the results you want to see. 

Combining both paid and organic strategies increases your potential to grow your social media presence, to grow your business and to increase your customer base. It also means ensuring more time is spent on building these strategies, gathering assets, and creating quality content at scale for more regular posting. Utilising specialists armed with the right resources and tools can enable you to streamline your workflow as much as possible. 

Bottom line: posting only organic content or simply putting money behind it is not enough in today’s social media climate. You need to take advantage of the tools available to develop and implement a marketing strategy that delivers successful campaigns backed up by a strong organic strategy.  

While organic activity is necessary for building relationships with your followers and customers, the pay-to-play nature of most major platform algorithms has become a fact of life for social media marketing as we currently know it.