In 2019, is social media pay-to-play?

Here at OG, we love social media. It’s a great tool for both engaging with existing clients and reaching new prospects. It favours a fun, informal style of communication – which we’re all for – and is visually led, with images and videos driving the most engagement.

But for a while we’ve noticed a trend affecting B2B brands and beyond. Social media channels have been gradually changing their algorithms to favour paid advertising, and the people or posts we most engage with. The latter can be useful, but it’s a blocker for non-paying brands trying to reach new audiences.

This trend first made the news after the US election of President Donald Trump. The controversy around Facebook’s involvement in the dispersion of fake news and information that influenced voters caused controversy. In response, the behemoth social media company changed its algorithm so that we’re less likely to see news on our feeds, and more likely to see the posts of our favourite (most engaged with) friends or family.

Facebook has been pay-to-play for a while. And besides, the nature of the platform means that it’s not usually the most useful for B2B brands, though it remains incredibly important for many B2C businesses. However, we’ve seen the same trend unfold on Twitter, motivated – presumably – by its desire to make more money from businesses using the platform.

Engagement on Twitter has plateaued, and people with a large number of Instagram followers are starting to report the same issue. Not surprising, perhaps, given that Instagram is owned by Facebook. For brands, this means that we’re needing to pay to be seen on these platforms.

The channels you should use depends on your business, but most B2B brands benefit from LinkedIn. In our experience, it’s the best platform for generating leads, particularly new contacts or registrations. Its targeting is very specific, unlike Twitter, which is useful for a lot of B2B brands with niche audiences. And while it’s more expensive than Twitter, it is a great marketing tool – when used to its full potential.

Twitter, on the other hand, is better for brand awareness (which, as our PR background tells us, is extremely valuable). It’s somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow that we now have to pay to get brand awareness, but in the case of Twitter that is unfortunately the way things are going. Although that doesn’t mean that you should abandon your organic social media strategies.

Like your website, your social media channels make up your digital shopfront and you need to have a presence. For a lot of B2B businesses, Instagram and Facebook are useful for engaging with past and present employees, who can be your biggest brand advocates. Your Twitter page, meanwhile, is likely to be one of the top results turned up when someone searches for your brand.

A regularly updated feed could help give potential prospects a good first impression of your brand. And a healthy social media presence is great for SEO, since search engines use them to validate company website pages.

In other words, organic social media remains important, but we can’t use it in the same way that we used to. To generate leads and even engage with potential prospects at the top of the funnel, it’s worth considering investing in social. Start with a small budget and test, test, test. Set clear targets, try out different ad formats on different platforms, analyse the results and shape your future strategy based on your findings.

In the meantime, keep one eye open for challenger social media brands. There are always new contenders rising through the ranks, and who knows, one could turn out to be a great fit for your brand, with less of a barrier to entry than the major players.

Need more help with your paid social media strategy? Check out this report on Social PPC in B2B, to learn how to keep your costs low and conversion rates high.