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Is it Time to Forget Free Social Media Marketing?

Social Media Marketing

Is the social media free lunch over?

When I joined Facebook and Twitter in 2008 the key attraction was that you could gain attention and market on social media for free. There was little social media advertising available and it was usually not an easy task and not self service.

Brands started building tribes, followers and likes. Brands focused on growing “likes” on Facebook.

This allowed them to reach their customer for free without paying for a TV campaign, newspaper ad or radio advertising. The other attractive aspect of social media was that it also had global reach. Never before had there been a way to reach a global audience for free. It was unprecedented.

Smart phones added fuel to the fire

Added to the evolving mix was the increasing use of smart phones as they reached critical mass. This led to the rise of social networks that made mobile their focus. Instagram picked this trend and started as a mobile app and today is the fastest growing social network with a growth rate of 23% in just the last 6 months and is not far behind Twitter with over 200 million users.

Mobile and social has continued to be a manic mix that continues to add fuel to the fast moving social media marketing landscape.

Facebook “like gating” is gone

Just last week Facebook announced that it was changing the rules (again) on how brands can build their fans on their network.

So what happened?

They informed their customers and users that they were going to stop marketing apps “like gating“. So this means that apps and brands will no longer be able to “incentivize visitors to “like” a page to receive a discount, coupon or to even access free content.

Why are they doing this? Facebook’s take is they want to improve the value of a “like” so that only genuine fans are liking a page and not just to get a discount. A more cynical take on the news is that it competes with Facebook advertising.

Facebook in the last 12 months has continued to tighten the screws on organic reach with few as 2.71% of fans seeing your updates in their newsfeed.

Organic or free reach tactics are getting harder to achieve. Here is a chart showing the decline  of organic reach in just 5 months.


Source: Sprinklr

The combination of more users, increased noise and declining organic reach means that paying for attention on social media is starting to become essential. It  also means that you will need to be both smart and creative with your organic reach and marketing tactics.

8 paid social media platforms

As social media has moved from a perceived fad to an embedded trend that could no longer be ignored the evolution accelerated. Platforms started offering self service advertising. Today we have 8 of the major social networks offering social media advertising.

8 Paid Platforms for Social Media

Source: Sprinklr 

Fast facts on paid social media

Today there are 4.2 billion users across 8 of the top social networks. Here are the fast facts on paid social media advertising.


  • Facebook has 1.3 billion monthly active users (MAUs)
  • Facebook ads were initially offered in Q3, 2004
  • Facebook ads are seen on the right side, in the  news feed  and on mobiles


  •  Google+ has an estimated 830 million active monthly users. (Note: This could include Gmail users)
  • Ads were launched in Q4, 2013


  • YouTube has 1.3 billion monthly unique users
  • YouTube ads were launched in Q3, 2006
  • It includes logged-in and non logged-in user who are exposed to in video ads


  • Twitter now has 260 million monthly users (MAUs)
  • Twitter ads launched in Q2, 2010
  • The ads appear in the Twitter timeline, on mobile and on the left and right side banners.


  • Linkedin has 200 million unique monthly users
  • LinkedIn ads commenced in Q3, 2008
  • Ads appear to logged in users via “sponsored” updates


  • Instagram now has 200 million unique users every month
  • Ads were launched in Q4, 2013
  • Logged in users are exposed to ads in their Instagram feed


  • Pinterest has 60 million MAUs
  • Pinterest ads were launched in Q3, 2013
  • Logged in users are are exposed to ads in their Pinterest feed


  • Tumblr has 48 million monthly unique users
  • Tumblr ads were launched in Q2, 2012
  • Logged in users are exposed to ads in their Tumblr feed

The implications for marketers and businesses is that they will need to continue to learn and adapt and add new skills to their social media marketing tactics toolbox. Standing still is not an option.

Are you continuing to improve your social media marketing education?

What about you?

How are you evolving your social media marketing to counter Facebook’s declining organic reach? Are you trying other platforms such as Twitter?

Are you starting to pull out the credit card and advertise on Facebook?

Look forward to your stories and insights in the comments below.

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Jeffbullas's Blog


  • I just wrote an article about still Jeff for Entrepreneur magazine (I linked to you a few times). Social media is a great to reach people but email marketing is still the way to go.

  • Looks like the small online business mom and pop sites will take a big hit. Since most of their traffic comes from organic search. They will have to dig deeper into their pockets to compete with big brands.

  • The reality is that social media has never been “free” for businesses, simply because the time taken by employees to interact in any way with a platform has been paid for.

  • adeshokan shamsudeen

    Social media has change the game completely and its now part of today’s marketing. Like Constable said below, email marketing is still more effective and better in terms of ROI over social; but to get the best of your email opt-in rate, social media advertisement has to be incorporate into it.

    • Building your email list that is also powered by social media can be very effective! Multi-channel is always the best strategy as it also reduces risk.

  • Nickmarquet

    With our e-comm sites, when we started our social strategy primary around Facebook it was so much cheaper to gain likes. They literally flooded in every day. With a new site I have been more targeted in my like building and the costs have been significantly higher. What I’m finding concerning is that my 1 week old liker’s are not being shown posts from the outset. I totally get page rank but I would think new likes would have the chance to build organic engagement without the need to pay from the outset. This is clearly not the case, so I’m trying to build slowly with $2 promote posts until I get a bit of momentum…however Facebook seems to have ramped up the 20% text rule recently meaning a large number of promo posts get pulled. Can’t live with em…

  • Rick Allen

    There are two important points not mentioned. First, back when social media advertising was “free”, it was not nearly as good in it’s ability to accurately target a specific audience. The value of today’s social ad if done correctly is like the difference between night and day.

    Secondly, you can still LISTEN to your market for free, and that is infinitely more valuable than TALKING AT your market.

    • Thanks Rick for those 2 great insights!

    • Sprinklr Community Manager

      Absolutely Rick. The key here is mastering converged media, a combination of owned, earned, and paid. All three are vital for big, global brands today.

  • Hi Jeff,

    I’ve gone light on social, and heavy on blog commenting. Anywhere I comment, the blogger owns the real estate, and unless they pull comments….and few have, or unless they start charging for me to comment, I’m golden.

    Free social works on a 1 to 1 basis, but I find that doing the connecting leg work through the blog side of things and then following up with a twitter or Facebook connection helps strengthen bonds.

    I rely little on any social or tribe site, save Triberr, to generate real traffic and sales because many social sites are switching toward either paid models, for you to make an impact, or require so much time to work, to market effectively, that it just doesn’t make sense.

    I own my blog. All authority bloggers – or the spots where I comment – own their blogs. So I comment, and promote others aggressively, and the doors open.

    Based on blog comment, and starting a new blog based from paradise, which is kind neat I guess, I was featured on 15 blogs over the past 5 weeks. I was either interviewed, or published guest posts, or in a few cases, I was part of a larger featured list of bloggers.

    All this was through blog commenting, and posting really in depth posts on my blog. Sure I posted on social sites, and RTed other folks a bunch, but since social owns us, I’d rather not spend much time there, paid, or free techniques aside.

    i create and network on my own real estate and on the real estate of other bloggers.

    Smart post Jeff and good question.

    I’ll be tweeting in a bit.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Thanks for the comments and insights Ante. The social media industry is following the familiar path of any growth industry as it matures. Sometimes sad but it is inevitable. Having said that, it is still early days and there are huge opportunities!

  • Arrogance of the big players is indeed creeping in.
    Just the other day after Facebook gave no warning on its change, a friend of mine mentioned that a 400 store marketing campaign including Facebook was launching this week and they would no longer be able to “like gate” as of that day. Big cost exercise built around a Facebook feature that is now removed!

    • Ante

      Arrogance unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, instils in people an illusion of invulnerability. This, combined with greed, drives companies such as a Facebook, and some others, to stack the deck against their users, an example being your friend, where they just pulled the carpet out from under a part of his marketing campaign.

      They are either too ignorant, but more likely too arrogant, to realise that as fast as these users came, they can leave even faster. Power does not lie in the 0,1% or a few networks. It lies in the 99,9% who create all the content for these networks.

      The world is at the point where people are tired of the arrogance from the Masters of the Universe of Wall Street, the arrogance of the political elite to the arrogance of the dominant Internet networks. All of the motivation that they need to move is a worthy cause and a more functional platform.

      Gandhi changed India: his method was passive resistance and his call for action was salt, which is essential for life. And Gandhi didn’t have the Internet.

      What call for action can one use today; water? air? financial slavery? or the myriad other causes that trouble billions of people? The method: blogs, online education, coordination, teamwork…

      Here in South Africa spring is in the air. In the world, change is in the air!

  • It is the 18th of August, 2014 which is 2 days ago.

  • Jeff, for many what attracted you in 2008 to Facebook & Twitter was what attracted people to search in 2002 – when both Adsense/Adwords rolled out.

    With minimal budget for Adwords, lots of time, and some Adsense, your website could be great marketing/selling machine. Beating larger companies to the sales punch – even as their affiliate.

    But, by 2008 it was clear that “free search traffic” was going to cost more, be unpredictable, and that the brands were now moving in. Organic reach diminished.

    All of the social graphs have their own versions of Adwords – which is quite attractive to large brands who need to spend money & look to be justified with the large spend.

    Organic reach on LinkedIn is way down – not surprising given the introduction of Sponsored/Targeted ads, or updates.

  • Scott Monty (when he was) at Ford had this brilliant piece on his blog on social media being ‘rented media’ (Can’t find the link. Will dig through my history the share it). We don’t really own FB or Twitter or Google+, and so the focus should much rather be on how to make all of our tools, digital or otherwise, to come into play in the most effective manner.

    • Yes, he is very right!!
      So build your own distribution by building your email list and social media followers!!

  • Very nice useful insights. All these points are really very important to me. Thanks for sharing.

  • I don’t think I have really learned how to properly use social media for marketing. I’ve seen other people do it, but I am not really sure how it works