What mix of organic and paid content do brands need on social media?

Katie Buckett, co-founder of social media agency OneFifty Consultancy talks to Ben Smith about the mix of paid and organic content brands need on social media.

Ben Smith: Most people I speak to reckon that if you're only using organic content across social channels it's very difficult to build an audience. Would you agree, or is it not quite that simple?

Katie Buckett: It depends on what type of entity you have. If you’ve got an established brand with a meaningful social presence then you can absolutely build a steady audience organically. If it’s a new channel then organic only will take far too long to build a meaningful audience. You need a paid element. That said, given the cost of producing engaging, social appropriate content far outweighs media investment, without a paid approach you’re not going to deliver ROI regardless of who you’re doing it for.

BS: Is the type of content that you'd use for organic content different from the content that might be used for paid?

KB: Yes but you need to consider how and where people are consuming your content to inform the format rather than just considering whether it’s paid or organic. Look at it more as a Venn diagram. You have some great formats you can only get via paid (canvas for example) and content is needed to suit those. At the other end, your organic content is seen in stream by an audience who is familiar with you and what you do.

In between, you have a large amount of paid content that’s boosted into the main feed, which is the only way someone sees something about your brand or initiative. So a familiar format, but the messaging needs to change.

Also, don’t discount the use of third-party content. If you work with the right people it’s hugely credible and can drive commercial returns.

BS: How would you say the type of work a social media agency does across social media is different from the type of work a PR agency does across social?

I’m not sure I want to get into the thorny place of definitions of PR and what it is or isn’t! I would also say social media agencies come in many flavours.

The majority of social agencies are marketing agencies first and foremost, by which I mean they have a relatively channel-neutral view of whether earned, owned or paid is best for that task. They will often be more data-led and quantitative in approach, and their style of working is built around incremental daily optimisation, rather than campaign driven spikes.

BS: You've built quite a large data team. How does that work, because not all the social channels will allow you access to the data will they?

There’s data everywhere. For some of the platforms and environments that means having accessible, well packaged data in a large-scale format (Twitter for example). For other channels, a lot of the skill lies in initial observations and data gathering to create those data sets. 

Having a data team is never about measuring things though, it’s about gaining insights and information to drive different actions – which for us rests on understanding broad behavioural models that underpin how people act. I also believe that it gives you greater objectivity to have more unbiased discussions and interpretations on which to base social and marketing activity. 

Personal experience and opinions do colour ‘insights’ and an industry which skews middle-class South East often doesn’t reflect the reality of other regions, Britain or the world.

BS: Presumably social listening services are pretty vital to the way you operate? How do you use them?

KB: They’re key but all they really do is streamline the data component. We also use a lot of in-house proprietary services. What’s often of more value is data sets owned by brands as that allows you to see greater attribution beyond reach and engagements (for example, footfall, customer patterns, sales data).

BS: On the content production side – what sort of content are you producing? What type of content is the most effective and do you produce it all in house or outsource some of it?

KB: We have three groups across the business, one of which is our production team. We don’t believe people should be in fixed teams, hence groupings with overlaps between them. Our production team has a broad range of skills, from professional Instagrammers, through those with 3D modelling backgrounds to ad creatives. Recent examples of work we’ve done span interactive Facebook ads and immersives games to 3D modelling and interwoven IG mosaic grids. The challenge in creative production isn’t necessarily the technical side though, it’s understanding what to create and for which environments in order to get the right outcomes.

BS: What brands are most effectively integrating their social strategies alongside their digital media strategies? 

KB: Adtech is facing some pretty existential issues which are transforming the landscape: the regulatory environment post GDPR, the demise of cookies and the over promise of automation to drive efficiencies. The brands which have done the best job have integrated earned social advocacy programmes with their demand driving digital media. On a category level, that’s typically fashion, beauty and sportswear.