Close button for feature banner

See Where Your Brand Stands Against Your Industry

Download Dash Hudson's Cross-Channel Industry Benchmarks

Organic vs. Paid Social Media: Why Brands Need a Hybrid Approach

Charlotte Genge
October 5, 2023
Last Updated On
February 5, 2024
organic vs paid social media header

Social media marketing has become an indispensable tool for businesses in today's digital landscape. It's no longer a question of whether to use social media; it's about how to use it effectively. Many brands grapple with the age-old dilemma: Should they focus on organic social media strategies, paid social media campaigns, or strike a balance? 

In this blog post, we explore paid vs organic social media, the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches and explain why a hybrid strategy is key to unlocking social media success. You’ll learn everything you need to know, including:

  • What is organic social media?
  • What is paid social media?
  • What is the difference between organic vs. paid social media?
  • How to create a hybrid social strategy including organic and paid
  • How brands are integrating organic and paid into their social strategy

What Is Organic Social Media? 

Organic social media involves posting content on your brand's social channels without spending money on ads to increase engagement. This approach relies on engaging your existing followers and encouraging them to interact with your content. When a social media user creates an organic post, it is visible to their current group of followers, also known as their social network. Beyond their followers, non-followers may come across their content through location tags, trending hashtags or mutual connections. 

The low cost of organic social media is a massive perk, but the benefits don’t end there. 

3 Benefits of Organic Social Media

Organic social media is a powerful tool in modern marketing since it relies on the art of authentic engagement — not advertising budgets. The benefits of organic social media include allowing brands to foster genuine connections, build trust and establish a thriving online community cost-effectively.

  1. Genuine Engagement: You can create authentic connections with your audience by providing valuable content and avoiding constant, overt sales pitches. This approach builds a foundation of trust, loyalty and camaraderie.
  1. Community Building: Organic social media enables personal interactions with your audience. Brands can build community by responding to comments, addressing queries and sharing valuable insights to foster trust and credibility.
  1. Cost-Effective: Organic content doesn't require a significant advertising budget. It's an excellent choice for brands with limited resources.

What Is Paid Social Media?

So, what about organic social vs paid social? Alternately, paid social media refers to users or brands that invest money in promotional content on various social media platforms to reach a specific audience and generate brand awareness. This encompasses advertising and sponsored promotions, including branded or influencer-created content and display ads featured on popular social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. This type of advertising is also commonly known as native advertising — so, what is native advertising? Native advertising can range from a boosted post to repurposed UGC and influencer partnerships.

Typically, social media platforms employ one of the following two pricing models for this content:

  • Cost-per-click (CPC): This model charges advertisers based on the number of clicks their ads receive. Advertisers pay for each click that directs users to their promoted content or website.
  • Cost-per-mile (CPM): Under this model, social channels bill advertisers for every thousand impressions (views) their ads generate. Impressions are counted whenever the ad is displayed, regardless of whether a user interacts with it.

4 Benefits of Paid Social Media

Paid social media allows marketers to reach wider audiences, capturing the attention of individuals without prior knowledge of the company or brand. Paid social media offers unique advantages, from extending brand reach to the precision of targeted advertising while elevating brand visibility, awareness and bolstering organic social followings. 

  1. Larger Reach: Paid social media campaigns allow you to extend your reach beyond your organic following. It's like casting a wider net into the digital ocean, capturing potential customers who might have otherwise been out of reach.
  1. Targeted Advertising: You can precisely target your ads based on user behavior and demographics. This personalization increases the likelihood of conversion.
  1. Brand Awareness: Paid campaigns boost brand awareness among new and existing customers. Each ad exposure reinforces your brand in the minds of your audience. For example, boosted posts on Instagram can help you reach a guaranteed number of users who may or may not be familiar with your brand. 
  1. Complement Organic Social: Since new audiences can see your content easily, organic social followings tend to grow with paid social media spend.

What Is the Difference Between Organic vs. Paid Social Media? 

The key distinctions between organic and paid social media are that organic focuses on unpaid content and community building, while paid involves investing in advertising to reach a wider audience.

How To Create A Hybrid Social Strategy Including Organic and Paid

The power of combining organic and paid social media strategies is undeniable. A hybrid approach brings together the strengths of both paid and organic methods to create a powerful and resonant message to brand audiences. 

You can use several strategies to elevate brand presence, grow engagement and find social media success by combining organic and paid approaches.  

Content Calendar

Maintaining a well-structured content calendar that integrates organic and paid posts ensures a consistent brand presence. Keep track of critical details like necessary ad formats (e.g., native lead generation form) that require time to set up and deploy.

Native advertising on Instagram, like a boosted post, can perform differently than organic content. For example, a post that garnered high engagement organically may see different success in a paid campaign. Therefore, make sure to create content each week that serves both channels. This might mean making more content than planned initially since content used for paid content may need to differ from that used organically.

Analyzing Analytics

Monitor and analyze the performance of both organic and paid posts to identify optimal posting times and content types. Track the weekly performance of organic and paid social posts, comparing organic and paid to see if certain content styles perform better in one over the other. Make adjustments to your content marketing strategy using these insights. 

Over time, note trends in content style, creator type and general characteristics that perform the best concerning a predefined goal. For example, which types of content drive the most conversions on the website? Which types of content have a high click-through rate (CTR)? Knowing which types of content will drive conversion goals will help you tailor your strategy and increase the overall return on ad spend (ROAS).

Leveraging User-Generated Content (UGC)

Encourage your audience to create content related to your brand, then amplify it through paid promotions. UGC can help validate brands in the eyes of consumers, ultimately contributing to enhanced trust and loyalty. Furthermore, leveraging UGC is a great way to bolster brand presence online, actively engage with your community and involve them in conversations that make them feel seen and heard. Using a social listening tool like Dash Hudson can help you discover how users are talking about your brand and uncover valuable user-generated content that you can incorporate into your content strategy.     


Use data from organic interactions to retarget your audience with paid campaigns, increasing the chances of conversion. Segment users who have engaged with organic content into buckets to personalize and increase the relevance of paid content that is shared with them. Remarketing to your existing audience via paid ads can also be a great tool to improve engagement with your current audience while simultaneously converting prospects into paying customers. 

A/B Testing

Don't underestimate the power of split testing. Before committing your entire budget, experiment with different elements of your ads, such as calls to action, copywriting, visuals, and audience targeting. Depending on the platform, try various media types, including static images, carousels, short clips, and long-form video. For organic posts, employ UTM parameters to set up manual split tests and optimize your paid content effectively. Track the different formats and elements tested and reviewed regularly to determine successful approaches.

How Brands Are Integrating Organic and Paid Into Their Social Strategy

Some of the most high-profile and most followed brands on social media integrate paid and organic content into their content mix. Here are three brands that have embraced the hybrid approach and how they do it:

Nike (@nike)

Nike engages its community organically by sharing inspirational content and supplements it with paid campaigns for limited-edition releases. Nike doesn’t focus directly on products; instead, it shines the spotlight on the athletes using them. In this way, Nike places consumers at the heart of messaging narratives, inspiring them to realize their aspirations and dreams. 

nike athlete holding white basketball screenshot
Image credit: @nike and @nikebasketball

Starbucks (@starbucks)

Starbucks fills its social media platforms with vibrant images of beverages and people globally reveling in the joy of sipping their drinks. Their renowned seasonal beverages, such as the iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte, inclusive campaigns like #WhatsYourName, and commitment to diversity exemplify what propels Starbucks to the forefront.

person wearing beanie drinking starbucks ig reels screenshot
Image credit: @starbucks

Depop (@depop)

Described as a fusion of Instagram and eBay, Depop stands out as a social selling app with tremendous success thanks to its vibrant community of 15 million fashion enthusiasts. User-generated content plays a pivotal role in Depop's social media triumph, with much of the company’s content revolving around showcasing the fantastic items available on Depop. Complementing this strategy is creator marketing and additional paid promotion that is seamlessly interconnected.

man posing in clothes from depop ig screenshot
Image credit: @depop

Boost Your Organic and Paid Performance with Dash Hudson

It can be easy to weigh organic vs paid social media marketing against each other, but in the ever-evolving social media marketing landscape, a hybrid approach is the path to success. Organic and paid social media strategies should complement each other, not compete. Organic social media builds trust and loyalty, while paid campaigns expand your reach and drive conversions.

To maximize your social media impact, combine the strengths of both strategies. Craft a well-rounded approach that resonates with your target audience and enhances your brand's reach. By finding the right balance between organic and paid social media, you'll unlock the full potential of this powerful marketing tool and achieve lasting success in the digital age. One way to accomplish this is by using the comprehensive organic social insights offered by Dash Hudson and using these to inform paid content strategy.

Dash Hudson empowers brands to maximize their organic and paid social media performance through advanced analytics, content optimization and audience insights. This social media management platform allows marketers to monitor and analyze the performance of all their paid Meta ads and organic social campaigns in one place. Cross-referencing this organic performance information with paid platform performance data will offer helpful information to aid in content strategy, audience targeting parameters, asset creation and overall social efficiency. 


What is the difference between organic and paid social ads?

Organic social ads are unpaid posts, while paid social ads are promoted content that requires a budget.

What is the difference between organic and paid users?

Organic users engage with your content without any financial influence,  while paid users interact with your content after seeing your paid advertisements.

What is the difference between organic and paid impressions?

Organic impressions are views generated by unpaid content, while paid impressions result from promoted content seen by a targeted audience.

In 2024, the distinction between organic and paid social media became a complementary partnership. By adopting a hybrid approach, brands can unlock the full potential of social media marketing, creating a well-rounded strategy that builds trust, expands reach, and drives conversions.

Related Articles

The Only Social Platform Marketers Need To Succeed and Scale