Social Media Pay to Play: When it Makes Sense

One of the important social media trends for 2014 is making financial investments in the major social media networks in order to accomplish specific objectives, otherwise known as pay to play.

The key is to distinguish between an investment and expenditures that deliver little future value.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are now public companies. They are expected to grow the investment that shareholders have made in their shares, with that money naturally coming from users of the site that heretofore have enjoyed a free ride.

It has been apparent for some time now that your reach on Facebook is limited without advertising. It is evident that while Facebook advertising may indeed reach new fans, that does not necessarily convert into practical outcomes.

If you have not yet experimented with advertising on these social media channels, now is the time to do so before the pricing gets out of reach for most small businesses. However, be aware of end game – what you ultimately want to accomplish with that investment, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to play.

#1 – Quickly Building New Communities

If you are just getting started with new social media channels, it may make sense to make an investment up front to achieve critical mass more quickly.

For example, if the business is moving into a new market, it will be helpful to attract fans that are currently aligned with established competitors. Here is an excellent article that suggests ways for advertising on the major social media networks to build traffic to your account.

In reality, you are paying to rent the attention of a specific community. Your advertising dollars are buying a look from people that are known to have an affinity for businesses or brands like yours. If your content is solid you will most likely retain a generous number of them.

Of course, other ways to accomplish this for free are to partner with others in your space who will freely help you in exchange for a non-monetary value exchange.

#2 – Growing Your Content Marketing Assets

Let’s be clear that we are all renting space on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. For most that is free rent.

So, when does it make sense to pay to rent when everyone most others are not? When there is a direct conversion from that Facebook account into new business, or when it drives traffic to another site that converts it, such as your primary website.

Too many businesses are chasing Facebook likes that merely serve as social proof. There is nothing at all wrong with this. Facebook is great for nurturing relationships. However, one should question whether it’s necessary to invest in that or allow to happen organically.

If any of the social networks can help to build properties you own that can convert that traffic into profitable outcomes, such as your blog or email newsletter, then the investment makes sense.

In other words, pay to play when it builds traffic that can be converted.

#3 – Promoting Offers Designed to Convert

If your business has a specific offer with a limited window of opportunity, then investing to ensure it reaches as many targeted potential buyers as possible makes sense.

This may be the most logical reason for investing in social media advertising because social marketing is generally used to educate, not promote. It’s a process that is designed to convert attention into revenue when the time is right. This will include engaging not only the attention of that audience, but everyone that their social graphs.

Just as there is a difference between gambling and playing cards to win in the Las Vegas casinos, so it is with advertising. Gamblers like to say they enjoying playing cards, even when they are losing money, and you will always see them looking at a list of all the free bet deals for the grand national so they could get in.

Personally, I enjoy winning.

As pay to play becomes more common, it will be necessary to establish a budget with specific objectives, presumably to earn a profit from that investment. Intermediate objectives can be building your tribe, but ultimately offers have to be made that will generate a profit.

It doesn’t make much sense to invest in getting your content shared unless you have designed specific methods for earning back the investment, plus a reasonable (or better) profit. 

Make sense?

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)  

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+.

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  1. You got me curious when you mentioned social media is to educate rather than to promote. Could you please provide more information about that? (Maybe a new blog post idea)

    I’d like to know what you can do to educate if there is not really much to say about your service. I mean, if you can explain (educate) about your product or service in just a few posts.

    Side comment: I notice the only Facebook pages which do not really need advertising are those aimed at (sometimes silly) entertainment, like movies or just-for-fun sites.

    • Thanks for your comment George –

      There are several ways to look at this. One is to consider that consumers are searching the web for something – usually solutions to problems. If your social media is sharing valuable information that educates, informs, and sometimes entertains, it naturally creates alignment with your business and those potential buyers. See more here:

      You will find the Google video especially interesting. I know I did.

      The truth is there really is a lot about our businesses that people need to know, namely how our business can help them. Traditional marketing was more focused on promoting features and benefits, whereas content marketing that drives social media engagement is usually storytelling.

      It’s often the subtleties about us and our businesses that creates that alignment or likeability that ultimately leads to trust. Does that help?

      As your question points out, we are never done educating our communities. Right when we think we are a question pops up that needs to be answered. If one person like you has this question, I have to assume others do too. So, thank you for that.

      I’ll take your suggestion and address this in a future (if not the next) post. 🙂

      • Hi,

        Thanks for replying (and for reaching out via Twitter to let me know you did) too. 🙂

        I saw you link. I understand (and like, thank you) that education focus you mentioned. I’ll give it a try over the next few days. Let’s see what happens (and how people react to it on social media).

        I disagree to an extent on the Google+ statement, though. Google+ is popular among SEO people, I know, but I don’t really see many people using it unless they are directly or tangentially involved with the marketing field. A fast look at my friends’ accounts confirms it: they simple donn’t update their Google+ profiles.

        Sure, time will tell if I was right or wrong.

        • Welcome George!

          Yes, the metrics do indicate that about 50% of the Google+ users are largely inactive – and it’s possible the majority of the folks in your community are included in that majority.

          For me personally, my friends that work in social media and technology are active on G+, but those that are also professional speakers, but in different topic areas, are indeed setting up their accounts and walking away.

          That said, I believe when more people become aware of the benefits of Google+, such as Google Authorship, their behavior will change.

          Recent records indicate there are about 300 million active users within the G+ stream.

  2. As my father used to say, there is no substitute for building something – including a legitimate social network – the long and hard way. But I do think there are certain campaigns, especially time sensitive ones, that would benefit from the pay to play concept.

    • No question Greg – Thanks for your comment.

      Anything time sensitive is typically where most of us will opt to pay, such as promoting an event. Even businesses with massive lists do this to make the most of the opportunity.

      In addition to paying for advertising on the social networks, another way to do this is to collaborate with friends by offering them a financial incentive to spread the word to their communities.


  1. […] Korhan, J. (2014, January 19). Social Media Pay to Play: When it Makes Sense – Jeff Korhan. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from […]