“Pay-to-Play’ Is Here to Stay


“Pay-to-Play’ Is Here to Stay

Finally, after a decade of fighting for legitimacy and recognition as a powerful marketing tool, social media has certainly proved its utility in business.

But now we have a problem – an overcrowding problem. The social media party has gotten more than a little cramped and far too loud. Everywhere you turn, there is a post, a tweet, a share, or a blog just waiting, just asking, to be consumed.

Every second, 7,452 tweets are shared on Twitter. On LinkedIn, the average CEO has 930 connections, and its 467 million members have a combined 10 billion endorsements. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, filling feeds with hundreds of pictures of babies, dogs and the sometimes entertaining meme.

Such overcrowding has significant implications for businesses.

In last month’s column, I predicted the major social media trends for 2017. One of the points I discussed was the advent of “Reachpocalypse” and the looming necessity of “pay-to-play.”

Once upon a time, if you posted engaging content, you could expect to get a respectable number of impressions without paying for those views on various social networks. This is no longer the case.

Today, it’s not just the sheer volume of content that drowns out your messages. The actual social networks themselves, including Facebook and Twitter, use algorithms to populate their users’ feeds in ways that make it increasingly difficult for businesses to get free distribution of content.

Organic posts from a Facebook company page reach only about 2% of followers, and that number is dropping. On average, organic posts on Twitter now reach only about 10% of followers. Companies that depend solely on organic or unpaid social media are at risk of becoming socially irrelevant altogether.

That is where the need for pay-to-play comes in.

One way to rise above the social free-for-all is to use paid social media advertising. Paid social media is any kind of paid content on a social network. This can include one-off promoted or sponsored posts, ads optimized for clicks, as well as full-scale campaigns tailored for each different social network.

Paid social only continues to expand and expand rapidly.

Social media ad spending worldwide increased from $16 billion in 2014 to nearly $31 billion in 2016, and is expected to reach $36 billion in 2017.

Paid social is also taking up a larger portion of a business’ marketing budget, increasing on average by 234% in seven years. Paid social was a mere 3.5% of the overall marketing budget in 2009. Last year, it made up 11.7%.

Why all this investment in paid social, you ask? There is real value in using it.

Social networks want you to succeed in your paid social efforts. That way, you will continue to keep spending with them.

As such, social networks give businesses greater ability to be successful through granular targeting options, priority in displaying your messages to the audience you do target, and in-depth metrics to analyze your efforts.

Targeting. On most networks, you can customize very precisely who sees your paid content through thousands of data points ranging from demographics to interests to behaviors. Facebook alone has more than 1,500 audience targeting options to help you market to just the right people.

Reach. Paid social media advertising dramatically increases the scale of your audience, ensuring that messages don’t just show up in a small percentage of your followers’ feeds. Instead, paid social promotes your content so that it shows up in the feeds of those you target, even those not following you.

Organically, you might have been reaching 2% of your 1,000 followers, but if you use paid social, you could be reaching tens of thousands of users that you actually want to target.

Metrics. Anyone who has used social media for personal or business purposes knows there are quantifiable measurements you can track that act as indicators of the success or popularity of a post. Generally speaking, posts that are liked, shared, or receive comments are considered engaging and indicate the content was noticed.

These metrics we see for free are very crude compared with the enhanced analytics provided to paid social advertisers.

While “likes” and “shares” are useful to understand overall engagement, social platforms provide its paid advertisers with more actionable metrics, such as conversion rates, reach and click-through rates. This will help you collect relevant data about your audience and see the successfulness of each ad or campaign.

Besides, if you are on social now, you are already paying for it.

In all reality, if you have been using social media to share and post content organically, you have already invested considerable time and money into this marketing platform. It’s not easy or cheap to produce a steady stream of content that engages audiences. Consider the cost and then the ROI of your social media efforts that are creating or sharing content that reaches only 2% of your followers.

The average paid social ad costs between $0.27 and $2.00 per click, depending on a few variables and the network – and you can set your maximum budget.

Today, it’s just common sense to put a few additional dollars behind your social media content to ensure that your message reaches your target audience.


Article contributed by:
Kathleen Laney
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