Can you get anything on social media for free?

Written by Amelia Putt

Tags: social media

The revenue generated through social media advertising spend in the UK is expected to grow by 12% a year. No surprise given the past 10 years development; both in the platforms themselves and how people use them.

Social now presents a whole new commercial opportunity that brands must navigate but the costs involved can sometimes be frustrating for comms professionals.

Is that a justified response? Are there still opportunities to grow social channels on smaller (read: no) budgets?

Argument one: no, and nor should you expect to

First up, let’s talk about influencers. Treated with both respect and disdain in even weight, there’s both a business interest and curiosity around the costs of working with them. New ‘responsible influencer marketing’ guidelines from the ASA mean they’re expected to declare even if they’ve been given a freebie – killing, in some people’s eyes, any semblance of authenticity in their feed. However, transparency and recognising the transactions that go on between PRs and influencers, I think, can only be a good thing.

Take away the title ‘influencer’ and who actually are these people? It’s quite simple. They’re photographers, videographers, writers and digital strategists. They’ve developed an in-depth understanding of their audiences and know how to tell a story that will resonate with them. These are all services that have costs attached to them and understandably so; they’re skills that frankly, not every brand has in-house. That’s why influencers can become a brand’s most valuable asset and worth the investment.

Secondly, social media advertising. In its most simple form this is boosting or promoting posts so that it’s seen outside of a brand’s usual following. Looking at boosted content on Facebook, the reach of a post is often a 80/20 split of paid to organic. On average, a brand can get in front of close to 100% more people than usual with a relatively modest budget. This isn’t a scatter gun approach either. Powerful audience targeting tools within social platforms means you’re speaking to more of the right people. Organic content just can’t get the cut through it used to with sought-after audiences on social media. The space is far too saturated.

Argument two: yes, from your audience (all hail user generated content)

If the above is making you look at your budgets in despair, there are still arguments against paid social. You can boost a post with ludicrous sums of money, but if the content within it is rubbish, no dream budget is going to solve the problem.

Invest in quality content, such as a hero piece of video content, strong images and nailing the tone of voice you want on social media. It’s simple, but effective.

Even with this though, brands can get stuck between a rock and a hard place of stagnating engagement and growth, but without access to budgets to go to the next level of influencer partnerships. So, how to start a conversation and drive new people to your social channels? Enter stage left: user-generated content.

In our latest campaign for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, we showcased the hard work of DofE Leaders: the volunteers up and down the country helping young people develop all-important skills to help them in their working lives. We produced six 30-second videos capturing moments between Leaders and young people, to illustrate how classroom dynamics can be transformed through the power of the DofE programme.

We also asked youngsters to create a video to nominate the DofE Leader they felt had gone above and beyond. The video with the most likes would win £1,000 worth of expedition equipment. The winner’s video was shared on the DofE’s own social channels and gained the most organic engagement out of all the videos we shared. It created a buzz across the UK DofE network, inspiring others to volunteer their time to support young people to achieve their DofE.

In summary, ignore the value of paid partnerships and social media advertising at your peril.
However, they aren’t the only weapons in your arsenal. When the story is right, your audience can be your best influencers, above even the slickest of productions.

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