Is Paid or Organic Social Better for My Destination?

October 15, 2021
Person holding smartphone taking picture of wooden bridge surrounded by lush greenery.

Since the advent of paid social media, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) have wondered if investing in organic social or paid social generates better returns, especially on a tight budget. While a decade ago building a large organic follower base by churning out ‘snackable’ content was the recommendation for most destination brands with limited funds, the social landscape today is much more complicated.

Scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or any other social channel, you’ll notice a mixture of promoted and native content. But you may not have noticed that as these channels have become more saturated, organic posts reach fewer and fewer users. On Facebook, organic posts only reach about 5% of your destination’s followers at best. And the paid social world might sound equally frustrating. With a projected $47.9 billion dollar total spend on paid social in 2021, it’s hard to know if a small DMO can make an impact. 

So how can DMOs decide if investing in organic social or paid social is better for their destination 

We’ve made it simple! Determine your destination marketing campaign’s goals, then choose an organic social, paid social, or combination strategy based on our guidelines: 


Destination marketing goals that align better with paid social include: opening a dialogue, emphasizing brand story, and building brand community. Paid social works better with goals of increasing brand awareness, reaching a larger audience, and leveraging targeting.


Organic Social Nurtures Your Destination’s Audience

Choose an organic social campaign if your destination’s goal is to:

  • Open a dialogue or receive feedback from travelers
  • Emphasize your destination’s brand story and relatability
  • Build a destination brand community

If your small DMO’s social budget is limited, the most appealing feature of organic social is the price tag. It’s free to post your destination marketing content, which can open up budget for rock star destination content creation. Make the most of this channel by focusing on high-quality destination content and paying attention to analytics to further optimize and refine.

Engagement with your organic destination marketing content can be even more meaningful than with your paid media, as prospective travelers have actively chosen to build a relationship with your destination brand. Organic social is the perfect opportunity to continue your destination brand story and gather feedback from your followers’ observations and engagement. Destinations looking for insight into effective messaging will benefit from the opportunity to listen to and engage with your prospective travelers. You’ll find common themes and insights that can help orient your future destination marketing campaign messaging. 

More established destination brands can also benefit from organic social. Nurturing a community of destination brand advocates is an important step towards building a strong reputation. A large active followership extends your reach through social sharing. For DMOs looking to relieve some of the burden of destination content creation, encouraging your existing followership to share user-generated content (UGC) will exponentially increase your reach and imbue your destination brand with social proof. Make it easy for your fans to participate: generate thoughtful custom hashtag campaigns and ensure that your social share buttons across all your digital touchpoints are prominent and easy to find.

Paid Social Extends Your Reach

A paid social campaign is better for your DMO if your goal is to:

  • Increase destination brand awareness
  • Reach a larger audience of prospective travelers
  • Leverage targeting capabilities to reach your ideal traveler 

Paid media is an important, but often overlooked, piece of the successful destination marketing puzzle. Travelers are already spending their time engaging with third-party platforms, and paid media allows DMOs to reach their target travelers where they’re most receptive, increasing awareness and ultimately driving visits and revenue. 24% more consumers made a purchase after seeing a paid social ad in 2020 than in 2019. And while paid media is, well, paid, most DMOs would find better ROI paying to promote their best destination content than paying someone to generate organic posts or to acquire additional followers. 

While organic posts help you gather meaningful engagement from your current followership, paid media will generate more engagement in a shorter period. An organic post might be seen by one in every 19 of your current fans. For DMOs looking to increase first-time visitorship, paid social will break through platform algorithms to extend brand reach and connect with audiences who would be unlikely to discover your destination organically. 

As destinations saturate social channels, every destination brand gets less organic attention. Sometimes organic content can go viral, but paid social is overwhelmingly better than organic for increasing reach, as you’re able to leverage targeting tools to define your audience. DMOs can customize campaigns to reach specific demographics, and sophisticated platform capabilities will serve your carefully crafted content at the perfect time for potential visitors who have signaled that they are looking to get away.

Organic and Paid Social: A Winning Combination

If you’ve been wondering if paid or organic social is better for your destination, you may be overlooking the best option. Just like paid and organic search tactics, paid and organic social work best in tandem. The most cost-effective destination marketing strategy is to leverage both. Organic reach is free and can help you identify top-performing content. Paid spend is hyper-targeted to just your ideal traveler and extends reach beyond your own network, creating residual engagement on existing organic posts. 

Utilize organic to build relationships with your current audience and to test new content. If an organic post is converting well, use paid social to push it to your ideal target traveler. As organic reach continues to diminish, supplementing with paid campaigns becomes increasingly necessary. Your organic posts are a good test to help you refine your destination content strategy, but taking the next step to boost that content to the appropriate potential travelers is crucial to grow your awareness, conversions and visitation. By promoting just your best travel content, you increase the value of each impression and click. 

Organic content is important too, to prove social worth and trustworthiness. Potential visitors who are exposed to your sponsored content will regularly visit your profile to see if they relate to your destination brand. Making a habit of creating and sharing high-quality organic content will help your DMO to be viewed as credible and worthwhile. Plus, your organic posts will help you retain and build relationships with followers. 

Are you looking to maximize your destination’s impact on social media? Social media is a powerful tool to connect with your DMO’s target audience. Get in touch with [email protected] to learn more about how you can craft a successful social media strategy that meaningfully and authentically builds your destination brand.