Sponsored Content – The Delicate Dance

Well dressed businessman looking for sponsors

Over a period of time ‘Sponsored Content’ has been one of the tactics or shall I say an experiment that many marketers have indulged in within their overall Social Media strategy. With the growing maturity of social media marketing and with more marketers jumping onto the social media bandwagon, what has been the verdict on Sponsored content so far?
Well it seems like marketers are a bit divided on to this, with some having extreme points of view for and against. Some feel it’s just like any commercial opportunity for both content providers and marketers, but for some it crosses the boundaries of expected ethical standards within the social media world. From my perspective I believe that Sponsored content is like a delicate dance, if done well it captures the hearts and minds of the audience, if not then it has repercussions that can be damaging to your brand and after which making a comeback is steep climb.
But first of all let’s understand the difference between sponsored content and a regular PR exercise, as many people may confuse the two. In interest of making it simple any content that is written by a blogger for any brand/ person or organization in exchange of money or products is ‘Sponsored Content’. In other words online sponsored content is just like any advertorial that you may see in the print world. On the other hand a regular social media PR exercise is where you typically invite well established bloggers to a launch/ product event and provide them information and content kits from which they write their own independent stories on it. It’s very much like the regular press events where the journalist and members of the media are invited to get information via presentations and press kits.
Then one may ask what about people who get paid to distribute and post links on their social media profiles, is that sponsored? I tend to think not, as I believe they are getting paid for their follower database and not necessarily any content generation or endorsements. But exceptions can be there where celebrity accounts can be used for endorsements. They may also fall into the criteria of spamming if all the person does is spam people with affiliate links.
So now that we have got the difference out of the door let’s focus on Sponsored Content. I personally believe that there is a time and place for it and it can’t be overused or done inappropriately. So what are things that marketers should look at when considering sponsored content.
  • First of all let’s not underestimate the readers or consumers; they aren’t stupid that they don’t get the difference between sponsored and genuine reviews. So don’t ever make them feel that you are taking them for a ride, provide disclosures every time you use bloggers to post any form of sponsored content.
  • The Bloggers chosen should be of repute and should be regarded as content experts among the audience they are targeting.
  • It can’t be regular affiliate program where any blogger can write a post and claim compensation even if it is based on performance like CTR. In short you pick the bloggers, the bloggers don’t pick you.
  • The Blogs that you chose should have their own originality and have their own topics of conversation as well. A blog that is filled with sponsored content isn’t exactly where you would like your brand or product to be.
  • The content though sponsored should be factual and backed up with data points whenever they are needed. No vague claims and comments as the consumers can see through and worse still it could get you into legal issues if someone decides to sue.
  • No matter how balanced the post may it be, adequate disclosures need to be made about sponsoring the post.
  • In case of any slip ups own up and take responsibility and don’t get defensive, unless you want an avalanche of backlash to that behavior. Shut up, own up and move on and hopefully everyone else will.
  • Last but not the least, consider the ROI for ‘Sponsored Content’ does this result into some positive brand sentiment and does it generate any incremental business. If possible tie the content with promo landing pages so that the effects can be directly measured.
Next post I will talk about – Can bloggers make a career out of sponsored content and ad placements on their blogs?