The new season of everyone’s favorite fantasy political thriller is underway, and Game of Thrones has something to teach us about social media marketing: the days of organic reach are over and every brand needs to embrace some form of ad spend to be effective.

In Westeros (the fictional world inhabited by Game of Thrones), the Iron Islands are occupied by a seafaring culture that calls itself the “Ironborn.” They’re essentially pirates whose wealth was plundered from others. One character, Lord Balon, derides his son Theon for not adhering to the “Old Way” when he returns home from years abroad wearing expensive clothes:

“That bauble around your neck; did you pay the iron price for it, or the gold? … I asked a question: did you pull it from the neck of a corpse you made, or did you buy it to match your fine clothes? Iron or Gold?”

For all their bravado, however, the Ironborn are a poor kingdom. Skillful piracy was no match for the wealth built through industry and commerce in other kingdoms.

Sounds just like social media in 2014.

The organic reach of Facebook content had been in decline for years, and Facebook’s Brian Boland confirmed Facebook intended for it to reach zero.  As the volume of content has increased and social media platforms came under pressure to monetize their audiences, the same has happened across virtually all social media networks (including Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter). Worse, in a few weeks brands won’t be able to edit the metadata in link previews (unless, of course, they’re ads).

Sure, some B2C brands will continue to enjoy organic success, but the vast majority will struggle to reach their own followers (let alone attract new ones). If you calculate how many hours you’re devoting to developing content calendars, creating collateral, doing hashtag research, pursuing a like/follow strategy, and engaging with users – you likely already have a pretty healthy advertising budget already. The “Iron Price” is expensive when you examine it closely.

The good news is that social media advertising is inexpensive and highly effective when done right. Not only does it rival every traditional media channel for CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), it goes beyond “impressions” (which were always a poor measurement tool) and offers rich context about how audiences are interacting with a brands’ messages.

Even better, social media sites continue to improve the technology behind their advertising platforms – most of which benefits B2B brands or those that typically have difficulty with organic reach.

In case you haven’t had time to keep up on the latest developments, here are a few examples:

  • Custom/Tailored/Matched Audiences: Facebook, Google, and Twitter allow advertisers to upload customer lists to be matched with those corresponding users’ social media profiles. This permits brands to advertise to specific people (instead of targeting likely customers through interests, demographics or behaviors). Those lists can be supplemented with “Engagement” audiences that target users who have engaged with social media presence recently. Moreover, Facebook will even extrapolate what it knows about a specific list of users to find other similar users.
  • Location-Specific Ads: Both Google and Facebook can now deliver location-specific ads that not only track how users respond online, but actually measure when those users see an ad and subsequently visit a business by tracking the GPS signal from a smartphone.
  • New Ad Formats: Cards, carousels, slideshows, sponsored live video, 360-degree multimedia, bots, messenger ads, … every platform continues to roll out new options for advertising. Doubtless there are some new formats that will help showcase your brand and alleviate some of your marketing pain points.

If you’re still paying the “Iron Price” to reach your audiences through dogged determination and topical quips, it’s time to move on. Paying the “Gold Price” will save you time and ultimately produce better results.

If any of this sounds enticing (and it should) – reach out to Lambert and we’ll be glad to have a conversation about how we can help you update from the “Old Way” and turn a minimal ad spend into real results.

Derek DeVries is a director of digital and social strategy at Lambert.