Is it imperative to pay for social networks?

Is it imperative to pay for social networks?

Monday, 8 january 2018 | Redacción CEU

Brands know that the content generated by them is an indispensable requirement to reach customers. They set aside part of their budget to hire professionals that manage their social networks and give some spirit to their digital profiles. They have also realized that their presence on the Internet has to be of good quality, if they really want to provoke an impact. But just when they thought they got to know everything, the rules of the game have begun to change. Obtaining organic reach in social networks is increasingly difficult. Companies like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook modify their algorithms and getting that posts are seen by more users for free is not an easy task . Is it necessary now to dig into our pockets in order to reach the consumer? Are social networks still profitable for attracting new customers? Are brands willing to pay?


Organic reach is that number of users that a post reached in social networks without the need of the brand to invest. Companies long for this percentage to be as high as possible and since their activity  on these platforms has always been developed without any cost, they now hope to achieve this goal without paying for it. But, platforms work with increasingly complex algorithms that contribute to make this a challenge more difficult to achieve as time passes. While brands reflect on why should they pay for something they can get for free, the professionals who work in this field wonder: is this still possible?

The perfect showcase

In Spain, according to the Annual Study of Social Networks 2017 prepared by IAB, the 86% of Internet users access to social networks with a very high frequency –97% of them use WhatsApp daily, 82% Facebook and 71% Instagram. Spain is one of the countries with a high level of platforms penetration in the society. Companies are aware that they have to be in the networks, if they really want to influence on it. The management of social networks has been professionalized and the level of competition has grown. Platforms know they are in control. Reaching the right customers on social networks has never been more difficult.

Nobody likes to spend money if it is not necessary, even less if they are used to having a service for free. When social networks landed in this society, brands soon realized about their potential. Its emergence was a disruptive change meant a new way of communication between companies and customers. These platforms offered companies a voice, presence and proximity, without asking for anything more than a registration in return. The companies accessed thanks to them to a perfect showcase; in a store with a good location, well conditioned and where hundreds or thousands of different customers could pass every day. If it well used, its potential was unparalleled. Its rent was also for free!

These new spaces made possible that a small company became globally known, an idea turned into a solid project or a startup multiplied its sales volume by five. They helped generating emotional bonds with users, attracting new customers, incentivizing interests and creating trends. But as the popular Spanish proverb says: "cuando te convida el tabernero, te convida con tu dinero". That means: "when the bartender invites you, he invites you with your money". Platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are now essential channels for the brand marketing, even for small businesses. Specifically, the 85% of Spanish companies use social networks for business purposes.

Is it imperative to pay for social networks?

The proactive user search

Many brands are concerned about the increase in figure terms: the visits, impressions and followers number. However, that a webpage or profile has a considerable number of "likes" does not imply that users are in line with what the company intends. For example, a small bakery with a presence on Facebook can have thousands of "likes" on its fanpage and, nevertheless, a risible interaction. Having a large number of followers does not mean they have a higher level of interest. Perhaps a large percentage of them do not even fit in the target that the business seeks. Some may even be diabetic or follow a strict diet and like the profile as a result of a tactic used in a contest. But, if the members of the community do not have an interest in the profile, who will care about what they say on it?  And most importantly, if the user involvement number is minimal, who will end up buying their cakes?

In line with ending with the disinterested or disenchanted followers, Facebook, that once punished the clickbaiting –tactics that resorted to the use of headlines that sought to call the attention sensationally or through fake news–, it has announced that will penalize the actions that it considers that force the interaction of the users with posts as: "like if you are Aries". These methods are considered engagement bait practices that seek to take advantage of the News Feed algorithm to increase engagement and, thus, achieve a greater reach.

Facebook not only develops tools that limit the scope of "bait" publications, it also works on other changes that hinder organic reach. However, although this social network is the one that leads the changes in the algorithms in its system, the rest of the platforms seem to work in the same direction. For overcoming these obstacles without paying, it is essential to get to know the audience and try to offer what they are interested in, please them and, above all, motivate them to be an active subject in the relationship established with the company. The clients of the networks have stopped being simple passers-by who cross in front of a shop window.

What to do for not paying?

For achieving a gap between the posts that the audience sees, it is necessary to be up-to-date on the changes that occur in the algorithms of each social network where they work and understand what these platforms seek with them –apart from the economic benefit–. They like users to stay on them, and not ending up following a link from another competition's network. Therefore, it is useful to try to produce content within the own platform whenever possible, for example, upload a video on Facebook and not resorting to publish a link to YouTube.

On the other hand, to follow the latest trends like short videos, ephemeral content, live streaming, influencer marketing, videos that tell stories or instant articles, and adapt them to the particularities of every channel. These platforms want to be the first to discover new formulas to attract the public, especially the youngest who are the ones who have more strength in them and, in addition, keep the door keys of the future. Getting through the obstacles of payment is possible, but it is also a difficult path, which requires a lot of time and effort and the rules also change overnight. The quality of the content is key to achieve this challenge. Being creative and arriving before anyone else is a plus. Of course, you can always consider assigning a budget, even if it is minimal. Everything depends on the "price" that you are willing to pay: either in dedication and effort, in time, in hiring good professionals or investing in paid advertising. In short term, digging into your pocket can be less expensive.