This is a common marketing question new + experienced business owners ask: Should I focus on organic or paid marketing first?

My answer is not unusual – but it’s more complicated than “this or that.”

The reality is, focusing ONLY on organic social media marketing won’t do much for your business… without putting ad spend behind it.

Because, you could spend an entire year focusing on organic social media marketing + get FEWER results than in just 2 weeks with ads!


That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have *both* a paid marketing strategy + one for organic content (or ideally, a holistic marketing plan that ensures organic + paid marketing work together).

In this episode, I’m debunking the out-of-date theory that organic social media marketing is *enough* for newbie business owners.

AND, I’m walking you through the reasons for putting ad spend behind that organic content (to amplify your reach!), plus…

  • What to do FIRST if you have a small follower base
  • Why your TIME is more valuable than the money you’re afraid to spend…
  • The #1 thing I’m NOT doing (anymore…) + don’t recommend!

Tune into this 20-minute episode for my complete answer to the question, “Organic or paid marketing first?”

And then hop over to Instagram (@emilyhirsh) to share your comments + questions inside our latest post!

If you want support with paid ads (and suggestions for organic content marketing, too!), head to HelpMyStrategy.com to apply to work with Team Hirsh!

Listen to episode 127, “Why I (pretty much) quit social media,” for more about how I run my business without showing up real-time on social.

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Episode Transcripts:

Emily Hirsh: Hello, and welcome back to the podcast, you guys. Thanks so much for joining me today. This is weird. So this podcast episode I’m recording is actually coming out on my due date, so! We’ve batch-recorded a ton, so I’m recording this ahead of time, for obvious reasons, because I’m taking a lot of February off, definitely not doing anything that requires me to not have the baby next to me, is kind of the goal. Podcasts, of course, would be one of those, because in case they cry or make noise. And it’s so weird! So by now, I either will be extremely pregnant and ready to have a baby or have had a baby, when this episode comes out and you’re listening to it. So that’s exciting!

Today what we’re going to do is dive into the question, “Organic or paid traffic?” And the reason I wanted to do this is, I was actually at an event a couple of months ago, and a common… not argument, but just conversation people have is, “Do I focus on organic? Do I focus on paid traffic? Which one works better? Is Facebook not working anymore?”

And this woman was talking, and she’s a relatively new business owner, so she was talking about her plan and what she was doing to get her message out there, to get her brand out there, and just her content. And she actually was talking about how she did a massive batch of content recording. And she was saying this to the group. It wasn’t actually a one-on-one conversation. But she said, “I’m just going to focus on organic traffic for now, with all the content that I just recorded.” And she’s like, “And then later on, I’ll look at paid traffic,” which totally makes sense. I understand why she would have that thought process, but also… I actually went up to her to talk to her about it, because I think it’s a mistake.

So here’s the thing. If you are brand new, and you don’t have a following, or you don’t have a following, you haven’t really built an organic following… focusing on organic social media is going to do very, very little, because nobody’s going to see it. The way the algorithms are set up, honestly… you could spend an entire year focusing on organic social media and get less results and less traction and less visibility than you could in two weeks with paid traffic. And I’m not just saying that because, obviously I’m a fan of paid traffic, because my [answer to the question of] organic or paid traffic is actually both, my answer to that question. But I think people go towards organic traffic, especially in the beginning. They think, “I have to be posting everywhere. I have to create content, so I’m on YouTube, so I’m on Facebook, so I’m on Instagram, so I’m in all these places,” and that’s kind of the first step that they believe that they should take.

And I disagree with that, because I think that, one, trying to master a bunch of platforms is a mistake. And two, if you don’t have a following, the traction that you’re going to get with organic traffic is going to be so little, and you could honestly do the same amount of thing that you could in a year, in a week or two with paid traffic. And so I understand the thought process of, “Well, I don’t have money to put into paid traffic yet,” but time is money. And so the time that you’re putting into your organic marketing… the resources could be put into a little bit of paid traffic that are going to go a lot farther.

So with that, I want to just start by saying, if you don’t have a following, you’re new, or you’re launching something new, or you’re trying to grow your organic following, but you really don’t already have some momentum there… it might not be the best place for you to focus a lot of your attention, especially not on trying to master every platform. And you know, when I think back, when my husband and I had our kettlebell business, we still have it, but when we started it, it was before I even started my marketing business… and so I was like, super green to online business, super new. And the first thing that we did is, we made a bunch of social media content. It was like, “Oh, well that makes sense. Let’s just post on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube.” Honestly, we did exactly that. So it’s so common, and so if you have done that or you have had that thought, you’re not alone. I mean, I literally did that, too, before I kind of saw the way it all works, and changed my mind, and changed my opinion on it.

So it’s easy to think logically. “Okay, if I post everywhere, if I start becoming visible on all of these platforms, then I for sure will start getting people to notice me, and therefore we’ll get sales.” And that’s kind of what this woman was thinking at the event, too, was, “My first steps in launching this business and launching my success here is going to be [to] create a bunch of content, post the content everywhere, and see what happens.” And in theory, that’s really great, but it also won’t really work if you don’t have that following. Maybe 10 years ago it would have [worked], honestly, but with the way the algorithms are now, it just won’t.

So now to the question, “Organic or paid? Do you need to choose? Is one more important than the other?” My answer is, they both are relevant, and I believe in an ideal world, you have focus on both. So, I think no matter what, you should have some focus on paid traffic. You should have a foundational strategy in place for your brand awareness, for your visibility, for growing your audience, as well as getting leads and ultimately sales that [are] tied to paid traffic. Because what it does is, it will just get you more eyes faster. Paid traffic will just really accelerate your success and your progress in marketing your business, because you’re just paying for people to see your stuff at the end of the day, like you’re paying for that ideal person to see your lead magnet, or to see your video, or to see your podcast episodes, and it’s just so much faster than trying to count on the organic algorithms to do that for you.

So I think everyone should have a paid traffic strategy. Now, that doesn’t mean just dive into paid traffic without a solid strategy to support you with it. And I think one thing that people in the beginning might do is, they think, “Oh, well, I can’t do paid traffic, because I don’t have a complete funnel yet. I don’t have that plan in place.” Before you do anything, organic or paid, you need to know who you’re trying to attract. So you have to do that foundational work, because otherwise, how are you going to know how to write your content for these people? How are you going to know how to speak to them, to find them, what they’re interested in?

So you need to know who you’re targeting, which means you probably need to know at least what you’re selling or what you’re going to sell. And so, you don’t have a business until you have those pieces, in my opinion, right? You’re not just putting stuff out there and hoping it works, and exploring. So there’s that, and then, everyone needs to have that strategy before they could do organic or paid, because organic and paid should drive the same objective, and I think that’s the difference between… when people think about it….

Now… [The reason] I say “both” is because, we are often encouraging our clients to keep up their organic traffic, to do their content, to do their visibility. And you can promote [that!] The mistake of thinking you need to have a full, completed funnel before [you] can run paid traffic is because, people don’t realize, you can just put some ad spend behind going to your podcast episode or watching your video or reading your blog post, and you’re going to get 10 times more eyes on it than you are if you just posted it organically. You’re going to really amplify that. And so you can, as long as your content is created with the mindset of, “Who is this created for? What problem is it solving for them? And is this attracting my buyer?” then you should absolutely put ad spend behind that content so you can just start getting eyeballs on it, because it will be, again, so much faster than… organic traffic efforts.

Now, for our clients, we say both. I do both organic and paid traffic. I think they’re important, but in my honest opinion, organic traffic is like, minimal effective dose. I’m not really on social media at all… If you guys listened to my podcast episode [about how] I quit social media [episode 127, “Why I (pretty much) quit social media”]. But I don’t personally go on. I do have my team post on… we post on Instagram, we stay active on Instagram and Facebook, and we have a presence. And then, of course, the podcast is a lot of organic [content], like that’s our main driver for organic [traffic], and we do also drive ads to it.

But I think that you can do organic traffic with the minimal effective dose of building a presence online, connecting with your audience, being relevant, but not putting a ton of time and energy and effort into it, because it just only pays off so much. The way the algorithms are, organic traffic does not get a lot of reach, unless you’re already a massive influencer. Unless you’re Tony Robbins or Russell Brunson, or people who have millions of followers…. They already have this reach that we just don’t have, I don’t even have, right? And I’ve been building my audience for four years. I don’t have even close to that organic reach, that level of organic reach.

And so my efforts for my team and my money [are] better spent going to paid [traffic], but I don’t want to do nothing [with organic content]. I don’t want to just not show up on Instagram, or not have any way that I give value and connect with people, so I’m doing kind of the minimal effective dose of getting that out there, and then I’m also amplifying all of that work I do into my content creation with paid ads.

Now, one thing I am not doing is trying to master every single platform. There’s often times where my team even will come to me and be like, “We need to add YouTube to our list of things that we do and [post] a YouTube video,” or, “We should go onto Pinterest or LinkedIn,” or these places. And I most of the time shut it down, because we don’t need to. It just takes a lot of effort to create content. It costs me money. I have a content team, so it costs my company money to create it, because I’m not going to recreate a bunch of articles or posts, and you just don’t see the result from it as much.

And so what I’m not doing is trying to master every platform. I’m not trying to be Gary V and be on every single platform and create content for every platform. I mean, he has an entire social media team and production team. You will never, until you’re at that level, need to do that. So don’t compare yourself to those people and think like, “That’s what I need to do to achieve success.” What you need to do is be very intentional and keep your strategies simple and focused, and that will get you to those levels, and that is absolutely what those people did before they got huge.

So, let’s summarize this. “Organic or paid traffic?” is the question. And my answer is, in an ideal world, both. But I think paid traffic has more weight and should be considered more important, because it will just be so much faster of an accelerator to success, and it will just get [the eyes of your ideal customer on your content faster]. This woman at this event, whose plan is to just post and see what happens, I mean, she could go six months with pretty much no traction doing that, and I know that sounds bad, but honestly, she doesn’t have a following. And so, if she’s just starting out, nobody’s going to see it. And so if you tie some paid traffic to that content, as long as you’re clear on who it is that that content is supposed to attract, and you have a plan to ultimately sell them so that you can make your money back, it will be just so much better and so much faster.

So the answer is both. Paid traffic carries more weight, because it’s just faster, because it’s an accelerator. And we need to separate the idea of, “Well, I don’t have ad spend money,” with the idea that, “Oh, well, instead I’ll just spend 20 hours a week making content and posting it on all these sites.” Your time is money. They are equal. Actually, your time’s more valuable than money. So don’t have that kind of block of, “Well, I don’t have ad spend money, so I’ll just put 20 hours into content creation and see if that works for me.” Because what else could you be doing with that 20 hours a week?

Paid traffic carries more weight. You should do both, however. Minimal effective dose of organic traffic, in my opinion, so that you have a presence. So that when people go to your profile, they have ways to connect with you. They feel connected to your content. They see that you’re regularly, consistently showing up online, and you have one main medium that you’re connecting with people. So is it video? Is it a podcast? Is it a blog?

You have something that like, every single week, without skipping a week, you show up and you put out new content. So for us, it’s a podcast. For some people it’s a Facebook Live show. For some people it’s a Facebook group. For other people it’s a blog post, or long-form written posts. It’s whatever really inspires you as the CEO or the influencer, but choosing one main place that you are able to show up week after week after week and connect with your audience in that way is so key to organic, but then you tie paid traffic to that. You see? So you’re creating that content, it’s created with the mindset of, “It’s for organic traffic,” but then you’re tying ad spend to it, too, so that more people see it, and new people see it, not just your existing audience.

So minimal effective dose to organic, and your organic traffic efforts have to be extremely focused. It is so easy to get shiny object syndrome, and think you need to do all the platforms, and the latest… what’s the latest one? TikTok? [That’s what] everybody’s doing? No way am I going to try that. I do not need to do those videos. I don’t think my audience is on there, but there’s this hype about it, and so some entrepreneurs feel this FOMO of, “If I don’t get on there, I’m going to miss out on this social media platform.” I’m telling you, Facebook and Instagram are the pillars right now. YouTube is probably the next one. [Just] choose your platform. Choose your platform that you’re going to really show up on, and don’t try and do all of them. It’s a waste of time, and it’ll just take so much energy, and there’s not a payoff for it, really.

So those are my thoughts on, “Organic or paid traffic?” If you want support with your paid traffic specifically, but we also do give suggestions with organic traffic, because my team does see it as something that helps the ads and helps the overall brand awareness… We definitely don’t see it as, “All you should do is just paid traffic and ignore everything else.” Obviously a holistic approach to marketing is very appropriate, as long as it’s focused and strategic. So if you’re interested in working with us, in having that paid traffic strategy that will really amplify your brand, really grow your brand, grow your following, grow that list, and of course, grow the sales, you can go to HelpMyStrategy.com to apply to work with Team Hirsh. Thanks so much for listening today, guys.