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By recognising when to use paid or free social media marketing, businesses will be able to get a better return on their marketing investment and deliver more relevant messages to their target audiences.

Social media marketing has changed the way businesses reach out to their customers and it continues to change and shape the business-customer relationship.

SMEs are generally attracted to social media marketing because they view it as a free tool that allows them to reach potential customers and build a relationship that could potentially lead to more sales.

For businesses already using free social media networks there can be uncertainty around whether to use the paid services of these networks and how they can be best leveraged. While free social media has great benefits it can be sometimes challenging to develop an online following and get a good return on investment.

Deciding whether to use paid social media marketing will depend on the stage your business is at and its circumstances.

The case for using free social media

Social media is increasingly influencing people’s buying behaviour. Nearly half of social media users are already using social platforms while thinking about making a purchase, and a similar number of users are actively deciding what to buy based on what they have seen on social media platforms, including reviews and recommendations.

Free social media marketing can be effective in:

1. Creating brand preference and building reputation

For businesses that have already developed a firm market position and a relationship with their customers, a social media presence is a way to amplify messages and promote products and services through an additional online channel.

When a business has an existing social media audience it can focus on developing the relationship and finding out what their online audience loves and dislikes about a brand.

2. Word of mouth marketing

Almost 90 per cent of consumers make a purchase decision based on a recommendation by a friend. Free social media marketing can be a powerful sales mechanism because it caters to the social side of human nature – the part of your customers that wants to share amazing purchases and experiences. Satisfied customers who are following a brand on social media can act as brand ambassadors by recommending a business to their networks.

3. Increasing repeat purchases

One of the ideal business outcomes for any business is to have customers purchase products or services from them multiple times. Posting offers and deals which are exclusive to your business’s social media followers is a low cost strategy yet allows you to incentivise customers to go back to your business again and again.

The case for using paid social media

With paid social media marketing businesses can develop their online audience more rapidly and also create a lead generation mechanism.

1. Lead generation

Using social ads can help the business generate leads and drive website traffic. For example if the URL of a social ad is directed at one of your social media platforms you could gain a potential follower; if the destination of the ad leads to your business’s website, you could have a new customer.

2. Brand awareness

New businesses using free social media as a marketing tool could find themselves speaking to an empty room. Social media works best when a lively community has been created but if the target market doesn’t know your brand exists how will they discover you on social media and how can you engage with them? That’s where social advertising comes in. For instance Facebook ads and LinkedIn ads can be used to dramatically increase market reach or engagement, especially to build an initial audience.

3. Social media promotions

Promotions are a good way to grow a social audience, build engagement and develop a relationship with your audience online. More and more businesses are running competitions and marketing campaigns directly through Facebook. Promotions are not free and can be run through third-party apps that offer promotion services, for example Wildfire. This method of using paid social media is most effective when your business already has a social audience to market to.

Incorporating social media into a broader marketing strategy

Like any marketing tactic social media marketing should be incorporated into your broader marketing plan to have the most effectiveness. Optimising your social media within your marketing plan will help you decide which type of social media activity will work best for you – paid or free.

Aligning social media activity with your broader objectives is also a good way to understand how much time and budget you can afford to dedicate to it.

While paid social media marketing is still an emerging practice, businesses should know that social media marketing in all its forms are here to stay.

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Lauren Fried

Lauren Fried

Lauren Fried is Managing Director of Pulse Marketing. Pulse Marketing is full-service Marketing and Advertising agency, famous for their passion and commitment to delivering great ideas and powerful results in the areas of marketing, creative, digital, and social.

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