A Complete Guide to Social Media Marketing vs. Social Media Advertising

If you’re new to the digital marketing world, getting used to all of the terms and phrases can be confusing. You’ve probably heard of “social media marketing” and “social media advertising,” but you might not know the difference. Well, we’re here to help!

Social media marketing is organic and unpaid – it’s how you build your brand’s audience using free tools on media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. On the other hand, social media advertising refers to all paid, promoted content on these platforms. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the nuances of both so you can best incorporate them into your digital strategy and grow your business. We’ve created a detailed guide with our advice on both tactics, and the pros and cons of hiring a professional marketer or advertiser to handle your social media strategy.

Organic Social Marketing

Social media marketing encompasses everything unpaid your company does on social media. Whether you’re posting an Instagram Story or commenting on Facebook threads, it’s an effective way to display your brand’s voice and story, find a loyal audience, and build credibility by engaging authentically with your followers.

Here are three quick tips for starting an effective organic social media marketing plan:

  • Select your social media platforms – Social media isn’t one-size-fits all. Rather than try to make an account for every platform under the sun, think about your target demographic and the platforms they’re most likely to use. Also consider the kind of content that is most authentic for your brand. For example, Instagram is highly visual, while Twitter is better for timely news and quick word snippets. 
  • Interact with your audience – Engagement is key for a successful organic social marketing strategy, because it gives your brand a human face. Reply to comments, follow similar accounts, and create content that encourages interaction – just make sure it feels authentic to your business.
  • Be consistent – Set up a calendar to space out your posts and make sure your content is steady but frequent. Your content should have a consistent theme and message.


Paid Social Advertising

Social media advertising includes all of your paid content, from promoted Instagram posts to Facebook ad campaigns to influencer marketing. Paid social is great because it allows you to target your content to a relevant audience and reap a high ROI. Unlike with organic marketing, paid social guarantees that your content will have a wide reach. 

Here are three quick tips for starting an effective paid social media advertising plan. Remember, these are just the beginning!

  • Pick the right platform – Just like with social media marketing, choosing the right media platform(s) is key. Facebook is the king of paid social, because it tends to offer the highest ROI. But what comes after that? Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok…do your research to figure out which site is best for you.
  • Target a custom audience – The greatest benefit of social media advertising is it enables you to target, target, target. Think outside basic demographic data to include interests and hobbies, and conduct background research on your ideal customer. Experiment with different custom audience settings to get the best ROI.
  • Use analytics – Paid social media offers powerful analytics tools. Make sure you keep tracking your reach and engagement and use the data to optimize your paid social campaigns.

Who’s handling it?

Now, if you’re thinking about getting into organic social marketing or paid social advertising, you might be wondering if you should do it yourself or hire a professional. There are pros and cons to both!

If you’re a small business, handling your social marketing or social advertising on your own could keep your costs low. It also cuts out the middleman, so you’re able to have complete control over your own strategy and vision. You’ll get to know your tools, analytics, and audience inside and out.

However, managing your own social media and ad campaigns can take a lot of work and be a huge time suck – and time is money! A professional social media marketer or professional social media advertiser will offer a depth of expertise and up-to-date knowledge on all of the latest trends. While hiring a professional might be more costly upfront, it could have a large ROI over time, as they’ll have the skills to optimize your social strategy.


The most effective social strategy will incorporate both paid social and organic marketing. For example, if you’re driving potential customers to your profile through paid ads, you want to make sure you’ve built an effective, compelling, and authentic brand image. Our agency can help you integrate both strategies so that you can reach your maximum social media potential. Ready to get started? Give us a call!