Most marketers have heard the famous saying, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” This quote is generally attributed to John Wanamaker, department store magnate and one of the early practitioners of the discipline we now call ‘marketing.’ Wanamaker died in 1922, so we can safely conclude that he was not talking about his social media spend.  And while I’m not sure we can solve his century-old dilemma, social media does give us the tools to start to understand which portion of an advertising spend is working. With social, you can do that by continuing to invest in Owned Media (aka, organic publishing) to determine what content resonates with your consumers.  Then you apply Paid dollars (aka, advertising) behind those posts that perform well.

It’s a simple approach and, of course, is not a new concept. “Test and learn” philosophies are probably as old as marketing itself.  But social media gives you the opportunity to test and learn at an unprecedented speed and scale and build a truly effective social media advertising program.


We find that people frequently trip over the terminology around social media and want to be clear on how we are using terms.  All of these are in the context of social media, so we’re not trying to define the differences between Owned and Paid on, say, your website.

Owned Media: Messages published to your social channels at no direct cost. These messages are then seen in the feed of some fraction of your fans or followers.

Paid Media: Messages that are presented to social users because you have paid for their placement.

Earned Media: The result of users sharing your content.  Also commonly referred to as “Word of Mouth” and “Viral Reach”. Both Owned and Paid posts can become Earned Media.

Organic Reach: The impressions a post receives without any paid advertising dollars.  There seems to be some ambiguity as to whether Organic Reach should include the reach that comes from Earned Media; we commonly exclude Earned from this number.

Paid Reach: The impressions a post receives resulting from paid advertising.

Typical Results

Marketers who are using SocialFlow to effectively combine Paid and Owned on social routinely achieve outsized results.  Paid click-through rates consistently exceed 4% (this is 5x the industry norm and routinely ranked among the best-performing ad spend in our clients’ entire advertising budgets).

Think of it as “Content, not Advertising,” with the goal of systematically using the owned content that you publish to your social channels as the proving ground to determine what messages resonate with your target customers.


There are a number of obstacles you might encounter as you work to bring Owned and Paid closer together.  Some of the more common obstacles include:

  • Frustration Over Recent Declines in Organic Reach: Much has been written about this decline on Facebook, and “What’s the point of publishing Owned posts anymore?” seems to be a common question.  The point of course is that the Owned posts do still generate Earned (viral) activity, as well as provide you a significant click signal to guide your paid spend.  This is true even if the overall Organic Reach has declined.
  • Differing Definitions of Success: Because they have typically not had explicit dollars associated with them, Owned social media posts have not typically been held to the same measurement standards as Paid advertising.  Oftentimes the compromise seems to be to use Owned posts for softer, less measurable branding objectives, while Paid posts are held to the higher standards typically associated with paid advertising.
  • Organizational Obstacles: Departmental structures, reporting relationships and budget structures typically have the media buying group separated from the social media management group.


These are not easy obstacles to overcome, and few marketers have the ability to just wish them away.  We can offer these recommendations based on how we see our successful marketing clients behaving:

  1. Do the hard work of reconciling the objectives of your Owned publishing with the objectives of your Paid publishing.  Ultimately holding those to a different set of standards harms both: the successful Owned posts can’t get the Paid support they need and deserve, and the Paid advertising does not get the efficiency boost that comes from the intelligent application of learnings from Owned data.
  2. Look past the decline in Organic Reach.  We hear the frustration from marketers, but in many ways this is an inevitable symptom of success.  The amount of content showing up in individual consumers’ news feeds is rising, but the number of hours in the day that they have to consume it is not.  Declining organic reach is an inevitable symptom of success for a social network.
  3. Continue to become more sophisticated in your efforts to quantify how social contributes to your overall marketing objectives. You may have to wade into larger discussions around attribution modeling (of our multi-channel marketing efforts, how do we attribute “success” to the various components?), and of course you’ll need to continue to instrument your social posts so that the social actions can be captured in your web analytics.  The clearer and more quantitative you can be about how your social efforts contribute to the overall marketing mix, the more successful you’re likely to be.


You don’t have to waste half of your advertising dollars.  If you do the hard work of tying your Owned and Paid social efforts together and measure success using a common set of objectives, you can achieve outsized returns.  We see clients do it every day and would welcome the chance to talk with you about how we could help your business as well.