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The Death of Organic Social and the Integration of Social Marketing

Every day, I hear more and more marketers pontificating about “the death of organic social,” but instead of adapting their strategies to a new and changing world, they’re clinging to old ways of thinking. If history has shown us anything, it’s that this is a mistake.

Back in 2000, the CEO of a small (and struggling) DVD-by-mail service approached the CEO of Blockbuster Video about partnering. They wanted to manage Blockbuster’s online rental business.

Blockbuster’s CEO, John Antioco, dismissed the idea. The guy he dismissed was Reed Hastings, whose tiny DVD company was called Netflix.

Fast forward…

Blockbuster Video no longer exists. Netflix is worth $32.5 billion.  

I tell that story for three reasons:

  1. Blockbuster failed to recognize how the world was changing around them.
  2. Blockbuster thought they could do all the things.
  3. I was the assistant manager of a Blockbuster Video in college and I hated them for their late-fees-based revenue model because it meant 90% of my job was telling people they owed money for no reason…so I take way too much joy in Blockbuster’s short-sighted demise.

And while I would love to sit back and call Blockbuster foolish, I know how easy it is to make these mistakes. It takes a lot of foresight to recognize a market shift and adjust your strategy. It’s expensive, risky, and sometimes doesn’t pan out. But the alternative is to do what you’ve always done, even though it isn’t working anymore.

Organic Social Isn’t Dying, but It Is Integrating

Last week’s announcement that Instagram would be moving to an algorithmic feed is a great example of how our industry panics when change comes knocking. People lost their minds. All of a sudden, this free app that had become the connective tissue between many businesses and their customers was changing things up, and we weren’t ready for it. We’ve seen this happen before, on Facebook, and we know what will happen: Brands have to pay-to-play if they want broad reach, exposure, and traffic.

But really, is that a bad thing?

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When social media was 100% organic, with no paid component, it was filled with spam. Terrible spam. Sparkly GIFs as digital banners and sidebar ads. Click-bait content as far as the mouse could scroll. Crummy brands buying fake followers just to look more legit than they were.

Today, paid is an essential component of most sophisticated social media strategies. In order to be successful in an ever-more-competitive space, you need to have components of both, as well as an earned strategy, which is why influencer programs are becoming so much more formalized.


The branded content on social is night and day from what we were dealt in the early days of social media. Tactics are more ethical. Quality is higher. Content is more engaging. It has to be, otherwise it fails and we never see it.

This increased focus and spending on social media has forced marketing departments to take social marketing (both organic and paid) more seriously. Social media has become the connective tissue for great marketing teams. Social is our greatest source of insight into our customers, prospects, and broader market. In many cases, it’s the first point of contact for our customers.

This means our social programs need to be more than just aligned with marketing initiatives: they need to be a critical component.

Organic Social’s Future

Organic social will always have a place. Normal people aren’t going to have to pay to keep using Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and because of that, brands will have the ability to interact with them, organically, on those platforms.

For marketers, the ability to leverage organic social for advertising and one-to-many marketing campaigns may become more limited, but all that means is that you need to shift your thinking.

  1. Social media is — and will continue to be — an amazing (and often untapped) source of information about everything going on around us. It’s the first signal that trends are changing, competitors’ tactics are shifting, and our customers’ interest in a specific topic is rising. By pairing social media data with data from other digital marketing channels, we’re able to understand the path to purchase in a way that we never have before.
  2. Social media is — and will continue to be — a way to interact with our customers in an organic way. Paid advertising tactics won’t infringe on that, they’ll just give us more options, and it’s critical that you understand the need for both.

Organic social isn’t dying, but it is changing. Marketing programs that fail to address this shift head-on will struggle to keep up. Focusing on social as a purely organic marketing activity in 2016 is like assuming video rentals would always happen in-store…Remind me, when was the last time you made it a Blockbuster night?

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Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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