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Stop wasting your time on organic social

Man hitchhiking on road with a sign that says "Nowhere"
Organic social media: the road to nowhere

Organic social media is a complete waste of time for 98% of brands who are trying to grow.

No matter how good your content is, it will never be able to reach enough people to have a significant impact on your business.

I can prove this using napkin math.

The assumptions

Let’s make up an average SaaS brand in the US market that sells B2C and B2B.

Their customer base: online businesses and shoppers.

Their main social channel: Twitter.

At first glance, Twitter has great potential for reaching this audience. It has 48.35 million active accounts in the US, with ~42% of those accounts active daily. That’s 21.5% of all online shoppers in the States - not bad!

Now, we must size out the market and dig a little deeper...

(I show you how to research and segment a market below)


The Right Way to Segment a Market

Use the STP framework to build a winning strategy for any brand in any category.


The market

The US population is 328.2 million people.

Roughly 225 million Americans shopped online in 2019.

Number of online shoppers (millions) in the USA

There are also 1.8 million online businesses in the US (Source: Etail Insights)

Their market segmentation might look something like this:

Remember, we are targeting both Social Shoppers & Social Shops (48.8 million ppl)

The Math

According to Brandwatch, the average Twitter account has 707 followers - roughly 0.001% of the total market.

But this is a company with a social team, so I’ll be generous and say they have x15 more followers than average.

That’s 10,600 followers - just 0.02% of shoppers and shops with a Twitter account.

They’ll need to grow their social following fast in order to raise awareness and sales in a meaningful way.

But what’s a realistic goal?

Let’s say their social team kills it and gets to 1 million followers in a year - a 7900% increase!

That’s a massive number, but still only 0.44% of the total market and 2% of all online businesses and shoppers with Twitter accounts.

Organic social media reach of online shoppers in USA
Even 1 million social followers is a drop in the ocean of the people you need to reach

For context, look at huge companies like Apple (4.6m followers) and Google (22.1m followers). As of August 2020, even Google is only reaching 9.8% of American online shoppers organically.

You'll notice that Apple doesn't bother with organic tweets at all...

The Reality

Even by growing their following by 7900% - an unrealistic expectation - most companies can only expect to raise awareness in their target segments by a maximum of 2% using organic social media.

You will not reach 98% of your target audience, no matter how good your content is.

This is why paid social is so, so important.

You cannot rely on organic social media to move the needle in a meaningful way. It’s like bringing a squirt gun to a forest fire.

The numbers don’t change significantly for Instagram, Facebook, or any other social channel.

If you want to grow, stop wasting time and money with organic posting and focus on paid social instead.

How to do (paid) social

UK-based agency Born Social has the best presentation I’ve ever read on how brands should use (paid) social to grow their business.

Read it. Internalize it. And start growing your business.


This article originally started as a tweet storm on Twitter, and generated a lot of discussion.

Here's some common questions I've gotten.

Sales aren't everything - isn't organic is great for retention, social listening and community building?

Social listening requires you to have access to a pool of statistically relevant and representative sample of the market or your customers. How representative is the small number of people who engage with your brand of the whole market? Do you know if their opinions reflect the feelings of the majority of people in your target audience? If the answer is 'yes', then you can use organic social for feedback and insights.

Second, what is the business value of community building and engagement? Does it result in incremental sales of your product or service? As long as you have a clear answer, use whatever tactic gets you a result.

I don't hold much value in retention either. The ultimate purpose of marketing spend is to generate sales. If it only protects sales then businesses don't grow. Different channels and activities play different roles over different time periods, but ultimately the spend has to pay off.

If it doesn't, why do it? (Thanks to @philbarden for pointing this out)

What about using organic social for customer service?

Can you prove that customer service on organic channels help retain or improve business? Are you just asking them to contact you by email or phone to resolve issues?

If it's cost-effective to pay someone to deal with a small fraction of your customer queries and complaints, then go for it!

I'm not saying organic social media useless, but that it's rarely cost-effective for most businesses.

"It's not a waste because it can generate results (for some) but it's a waste of time because there are other initiatives that hold more leverage." - @e_rod

Followers aren't an accurate indication of organic reach

True, you should probably use total organic impressions instead. However, I don't think this will change the numbers significantly. Do the math for your brand and prove me wrong!

This is harsh... Why are you dumping on social teams?

I'm not criticizing social teams, I'm trying to give them the tools and knowledge they need to generate meaningful business results.

Neither life or business is fair, but if you know the facts you can use them to your advantage.

If you work in social, use this to justify and secure a budget for paid social advertising.

Create a social strategy based on the Born Social deck, and start generating sales. You'll be better than 95% of others out there!


If you found this helpful, please give it a like or share on Twitter - it doesn't seem much, but it's a huge help!


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