The internet is buzzing about the death of organic social media. Ask most people what they think about Facebook ,or Instagram and they'll say they love it, but it's filled with ads. They aren't wrong- engagement is down, while the average cost to Facebook advertisers increased by 335% from 2014 to 2015. So if user experience is suffering, and the cost to advertisers is on the rise, is social still a cheap way of acquiring users?  Absolutely!

But don't forget organic social media is still a thing, it's still very relevant, and it's still incredibly cheap. In fact Facebook's first to view feature is a testament to the company's desire to make real connection, and communication a priority despite rising CPCs.  At the end of the day Facebook, and all social media, is about sharing experiences and stories. 

By looking closely at the types of posts that show up in our feeds we found that it's crucial for people to engage with the post immediately. This creates social proof which will encourage more people to engage with it, the more people like it the more other people will engage with it and the more Facebook will show your post. 

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So the key to reaching more people isn’t always to pay to boost your post- it’s to share great content in the first place.  From there excellent copy in the post, sharp imagery, and an optimal posting time specific to your audience on that platform will make sure that your article hits the ground running. 

Great content always gets liked, shared, and linked to organically. I call it the rule of being awesome.

The rule of awesome states: if you’re not generating traffic through social media, or creating enough engagement, it’s because your content sucks. Simple as that.

The Back Story

If you have great content, and understand your audience’s motivations, then organic social media remains an incredibly powerful tool for raising awareness.  This is tough to do, especially on a tight budget, and I learned just how tough it really is with DAEP | NYC, a local culture site I started in February of 2014.

I launched DAEP | NYC on a shoestring budget. By shoestring, I mean zero money. We survived on the good graces of generous writers, copious amounts of coffee, cheap beer, and a disgusting amount of ramen.  We did very well for the first few months growing steadily through publishing good content, word of mouth, and organic social media. By May, however, we started losing steam, and by July we were dead in the water. Social media growth and engagement were down, our traffic had plateaued, and worst yet I was starting lose the fire that kept me up late at night writing, and got me up early in the morning to hustle- my grand plan for building a great content marketing machine was failing.

I plugged through the summer finding ways to keep the site growing, eventually launching a local events series showcasing emerging and underground musicians. It worked wonders from a marketing perspective, but it didn't help me grow the site like I wanted.

Then one day in late August I woke up, checked my email, and saw the pitch of my content marketing dreams. It looked like this (PR people take note, this is what an exciting pitch looks like):

To Bathe” was a photography exhibit by Australians Alanna Hankey and Nigel Brennan, they pitched me their story and I was hooked. The more we spoke the more interested I became, and once I saw the photographs I was blown away. This story was an untapped gold mine.

The story behind “To Bathe” was compelling, but more than that I knew Alanna and Nigel had a large, and influential network that I could leverage to help the story spread.  It was a perfect match of content and network.  I knew that if I wrote a good story, that it would be shared by their influential friends and spread like wildfire.

Find a Great Story. Create Social Proof. Pound The Pavement. Watch The Clicks Roll In

The piece was an instant hit, generating roughly 80 likes mostly by Alanna and Nigel's friends within hours of publishing .


Next I turned to Twitter and began promoting and sharing the amazing photos Alanna and Nigel had shared as part of the press kit. There were a handful of retweets and shares, but I wasn't happy with the results- this was a great story, more people needed to hear it.

So I created a few versions of the copy to be posted, each with fewer words (less is always more on Twitter), and boom one retweet came and then a flood of favorites. Then the visitors came pouring in. 


Here's a break down of what happened:

  • Published the article on September 3rd, and it generated 80 Facebook likes in four hours (This would become my social proof).
  • I tweeted this picture on September 4th which was then favorited nearly 2,200 times and retweeted 590 times.
  • Following the initial retweet 110-140 people were reading the article simultaneously for hours on end.
  • In total the article drove 7,735 pageviews in just 30 days, with over 4,500 of them coming in the hours leading up to the event and 36% of them coming from the New York City area alone. That’s approximately 4.5x greater reach than our Facebook audience.
  • In the end we grew our Twitter following by 42% and our email list by 26% in just 7 days.

The best part is it didn’t cost me a penny outside of the few hours I spent writing, and the beer I had with Alanna and Nigel.

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Now keep in mind I was the only person writing and doing social media here. With one piece of content I was able to create results that teams of social media “experts”, and publicists charge top dollar for. Again, I did this with a meager social media following, no budget, and a serious time crunch (working on two projects for clients). Anyone can do this if they're thoughtful  and apply the rule of awesome. 

I believe the above results can be duplicated by anyone who knows how to spot a good story, ask questions, write, and is relentless in their pursuit of a hit. It’s not impossible, and with the points listed below you should be able to really accelerate your content and social media campaigns with great stories. 

The rule of awesome states:

1) Learn to say no. 

Being picky is the best way to make sure that you’re spending your time wisely. As an entrepreneur, or marketer your passion and energy are precious. Why waste time on something that bores you, or worse bores your audience and potential customers? So many aspiring DJs, artists, and fashion publicists in New York have pitched me stories about otherwise unremarkable people. While the site was geared towards local culture- boring is still boring. 

I chose “To Bathe” because I was fascinated by Nigel Brennan’s backstory. He had been kidnapped and held hostage for 462 days in Somalia- there was no way this guy was boring.

However, the story on “To Bathe” doesn’t focus on the kidnapping, instead it focuses on intrigue, and adds mystery (which is perfectly in line with the photography). Nigel and Alanna were also smart about intertwining the kidnapping into their narrative about the Kumbh Mela. They understood their brand which in turn made my job super easy. 

How can you tell if someone is interesting and won't waste your time? The press release Alanna sent me, and they way she pitched me the idea was personal, professional, and friendly. You could call it great self-promotion, or just being Australian.

2) Write a pretty good story.

Take your time, but don’t waste time.  I was pretty excited to write the article but I didn’t run home and start pounding away at the keyboard. Not only did I have other work to do for clients, but I needed time to process the information and do additional research. In the end it took me an extra few hours, but the result was a better article.

3) Be mindful of who you are writing for.

We’ve done stories like this many times for entrepreneurs, bands, and actors and experienced about 70-300 Facebook likes/shares per piece, which in turn would drive an average of 1,500 to 4,000 page views- not bad considering our size. When we write a good piece our subject shares it with their audience, links back to it on their blog, and gets a bit of attention from other niche influencers.

Yes, it’s essentially a PR piece for someone else but in the case of To Bathe, and about a dozen other pieces, we got to write about a slightly left of center cultural influencer, get a decent amount of traffic, valuable SEO link backs, organic social media mentions  and expose people to DAEP | NYC in an authentic way. We’re writing for their audience and fans, but we also exposed people to the DAEP | NYC brand in the process.

4) Use Great Imagery.

At the end of the day the web is a visual format. The "To Bathe" tweet that was a hit used a mysterious image of a Baba ashing himself. People were either curious, blown away by it, or both. Also try to get as many photos as possible even though you will only use the best ones in your published piece. Use the extras to share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. This will help create diversity in the posts your create, allow you to test different forms of copy without showing the same image, and just have more shareable content (aka links) around your piece.

5) Test, measure, and refine, until you’re successful.

I like to write, and as such the initial copy I develop for social media tends to be wordy, and usually doesn’t perform well. I use that intial poor performance as an indicator to come up with new versions of my original idea, or scrap it all together. This is where having extra visual content is super helpful because you can try out new things, pare back your wording, and get creative. The tweet that went viral was the fifth iteration of copy using words like dream, mystical, mesmerizing etc.

Don't give up too early. 

6) Create social proof.

Social proof is a key component of the  engagement at the core of organic social media. Without an initial few dozen likes or retweets your content will be dead in the water. By doing this early engagers that will help justify the actions of celebrities, niche influencers, and the media. If no one else cares, why should they vouch for something and risk damaging their own brand? These people want to be a head of the curve, your content should speak to that need.

If you don’t have hyper-networkers like Alanna and Nigel to help you can just as easily turn to Reddit, Facebook groups, and forums to help "prime the pump". There’s also the good ol’ fashioned way of reaching out via email, share the content with your own network. If it's a great piece then they won't mind. 

Organic social media isn’t dead, in fact it’s more relevant now than ever before especially if you understand how to create content to expand your reach. In the case of promoting events where you’re looking to inspire people to attend, purchase a ticket, or help spread the word to their friends in a short period of time it can be an incredibly effective method with a massive ROI versus Facebook ads, event listing services, and event apps. It only requires a bit of creativity, sweat, persistence, and clever thinking.

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