The Eternal War - Ads vs Organic, How And When To Use Each

Matej Trajkovski
Updated: 24/11/2018
the eternal battle
resist the dark side

Doing marketing on social media can be divided by many categories. The most important one for many people, or at least the silent majority of creators needing to get out there and show their work to their ideal audience, is the division of paid and organic social media, with organic being so much better of course, and so much harder to get right.

Ideally, one should do both. They both have a defined set of pros and cons, where usually the pro of one is the con of the other. By their very definition, the one is available to a tiny minority of social media users. A very tiny minority, that gets to promote their message to the rest of the users, who in reality are on social media only for the free fart jokes. Since HustleCool is all about the scrappy solopreneur (and the fart jokes) ads are not deeply appreciated and only accepted as the occasional necessary evil with many potential downsides. Still, ads have a lot going for them as well, whether I like to admit it or not. Let's go over a few rounds, comparing the final results and outcomes important to the marketer and see how the both methods compare toe to toe.

User engagement

Probably the toughest thing in social media marketing is to get that person to hit the like or the share button, or make a comment if you're lucky. For accounts that represent companies or brands, it's probably 3 times tougher. One might even draw the conclusion that people prefer not to be sold to. Strange, right? As people become more resistant to spending money, they develop their senses further to aid them in this most noble of pursuits. Terms like 'banner blindness' are being coined.

banner blindness in 2018
though native ads are giving the term 'banner blindness' a run for its money

On the other hand, if someone follows your brand's profile, that follower doesn't see your post as a banner or sponsored post. Organic draws first blood.

Audience growth

Growing your audience is also tough. Tools like HustleCool exist to ease that pain, but it's still tough. The problem with organic growth is that while natural, it still needs some additional element from the strategy to become exponential. Most often that will be brilliant content, but it can be other things that have a virality component built into them, like shocking or controversial content, making the news etc. Ads may have the same needs and issues, but not to the same extent. Your reach is guaranteed, so it could work with content that is only decently shareable. Of course, there are dud attempts with paid too, where you just lose money and gain nothing, but the potential upside makes that risk worth it. Ads even the score.


If social media marketing is like making burgers, then organic is naturally growing and feeding the cow, while ads is like cloning the cow in a lab. Ads are faster than organic for spreading your message, the rate by which they are faster is only determined by your budget. The growth might be healthier with organic, but it is definitely faster with ads.


I could just write 'organic' with huge bold letters here, and nobody would disagree. Except myself, partially. Ads might actually save you money in an extremely long run, like if you're a startup in desperate need of growth and about to go bankrupt, so you go for bust. But! Those are extremely rare exceptions, with multiple other issues. For all of us other regular folk, organic means free, ads means not free. This is one of the biggest wins for organic obviously. The fact that you're looking at your growth as something that will be able to largely sustain and support itself in the future is priceless. With ads, you are looking at growth as something that will always require you to throw money at it to make it happen.


Well, some people sound awfully satisfied with Facebook ads. An argument can be made that you simply don't hear about the people who wasted a mini fortune on ads and didn't get anything back, and I guess they represent a hefty chunk of the advertisers. But the same argument can be made about growth hackers who didn't hack growth. While the most successful online companies ever basically all found a way to connect with their audience mostly for free, fact is there are only a handful of them. There are a lot more small and medium businesses that will never do growth hacking successfully, and some of them could see a better bottom line from ads.


Ads are not easy. The fact that you're investing/spending cash doesn't let you get away with mediocre content, in fact the pressure is even greater to make the content great since otherwise you'd be better off throwing those money off the club balcony. But, organic usually takes a long time, which means more effort. Point - ads.


How many viral posts have you seen in your life? How many viral ads have you seen? The first number is much greater than the second. True, there are a lot more organic posts than ads. But how many of those were deliberately engineered or created to promote a product? The number goes down fast. Given that people generally don't like ads, and rarely share them, an organic post has better inherent properties to be massively shared.


If we define momentum as rate of growth over time, will ads have better momentum over organic? Since ads can work successfully faster, it might make sense for them to build momentum better when starting out, or to relive a dying momentum. Once things take off, ads become less needed, or obsolete. Organic is all about momentum management. I would say this is a tie, but I despise ties (never worn one too). So it's a really close win for ads, since the challenge for most brands is gaining the momentum instead of keeping it. Ads are lucky because I hate ties here.


When working organic, you have pretty much laser targeting abilities. You can research and find whoever your heart desires, and getting them to pay a little attention to you is usually not that hard. With ads, you lose some of that precision, but you also scale your size. It's mathematically better to reach 10.000 people that are 15% likely to buy from you than 100 people that are 90% likely to do the same. Yeah, ads again.


Your network on social media is made up of your friends, colleagues, and your delightful aunt Roberta.

lovely aunt Roberta
everybody has an aunt named Roberta, and every aunt Roberta looks like this

You trust that group of 600 people more than you trust anybody else in the world, you pretty much don't trust anybody else outside of it. Everybody you trust is in that group. Well, the ads you see are from 'everybody else'. Of course they'll claim their belly fat terminator program works, they're the ones selling it! You know better than to trust them, or even to pay attention to them. On the other hand, if some of your friends posts some positive review, you'll be more likely to be intrigued. Ads are the tool used when there is no basis for trust at all - you're asked to risk your money without any peer review or previous experience. If a product was really that good, you would have heard about it from your early adopter friends who always check out these latest gizmos and funny expensive thingies. That chicken and egg problem is at the heart of building a brand image, and organic is better suited for building your earliest audience of loyal brand advocates.


In the same vein as trust, you wouldn't find someone's alleged influence as credible if you notice them in an ad, opposed to seeing them shared by a friend. If that person is truly influential, do they need ads to spread their influence? With influencer marketing on the rise, I expect a move from Facebook/Instagram that will almost fully cut out the reach of influencers, so they can capture some of their profits, the same way they did with pages. For now, influencers can get away with being largely organic.


You learn better when things are tougher. The counter point to 'ads are easier' is that you become a better marketer when trying to grow something organically. You need to improvise and think outside the box a lot. The best marketers have learned the ropes in organic and then scaled up and utilized the advantages of ads. In ads, you learn about ads. In organic, you learn about your customer.

Times and trends

Facebook is the biggest social media platform, and they are the defacto leaders when it comes to social media advertising. With them owning Instagram, they are pretty much synonymous with the term and own about 90% of all social media real estate. In the recent history, they've tried to kill organic marketing and have largely succeeded. People have shrugged and accepted that (rather submissively if you ask me), and so they've moved on and are now learning how to best work ads. There are companies and startups focusing exclusively on Facebook ads. It is the era of Facebook ads. But with the move to reduce organic, Facebook could have inadvertently invited their own disruption. With the blockchain technologies getting stronger, manifested as both adoption among the developers and the general public opinion moving towards acceptance, there is no more reason to have such a giant third party monopoly controlling a resource as important as a social media platform. Social media will become infrastructure, and the next social network will be on the blockchain, and it will have no ads (and don't tell anyone yet, but it's gonna start here at HustleCool :)). We must live with ads for now, that's the reality. But the future holds something else. So point for ads, but not sure for how long.


As you can see, it's not easy to pick a winner. There probably isn't one. Please, don't let this simple scoring method fool you. It is by no means extensive, and even though organic wins by a point, some of these points may be vastly more important than the others. If you need results fast and have a nice budget to experiment, organic is just a nice supplement to your strategy.

In the end, it all comes down to context. For pretty much everyone with a marketing budget, implementing both organic and ads will be the optimal strategy.

If you can afford it, need to move fast, and deliberate promotion aligns with your brand values, then your strategy will include ads.

If you're anything like me, which encapsulates: being constantly strapped for cash, believe in talking with instead of talking at someone, think that attention is earned and you can get it without paying for it if you're smart, consider learning slowly and on your own better, and wish to build something stable and sustainable, you won't really spend money on ads.

I also like pizza, thought it would be a great time to just throw that in here

At the moment, I don't see a viable sustainable strategy based solely on ads and not including any organic. The goal of ads should be to get you to a point where you don't really need ads. Until then, ads are an extension or a complement to a great organic game, a complement which is welcome if needed but hopefully not necessary. As always, think about what you need and what would work best in your situation.

HustleCool is n.1 for organic social media growth. You won't find better value out there.