Sponsored content now dominates many of the major social media apps including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. So, how does a savvy PR pro know when it’s best to use paid content, and when to avoid it? First, it’s important to understand that sponsored content is a subset of native advertising. Unlike native advertising – actual ads that are designed to look like the places in which they appear – sponsored content is intended to bring value to the person reading or viewing it, in addition to being a type of long-form ad for a service or product. However, the “ad” aspect should take second fiddle to the “value” aspect of good sponsored content.
Why the stress on adding value? Thanks to over-use of native ads to spread questionable products and news stories, sponsored content has developed a bit of an audience trust problem. Since other marketer's slap-dash efforts might affect opinions of sponsored content, your brand will need to work a little harder to earn and keep the consumer’s trust.
Some brands have a clear path to offering valuable information for their readers. For example, Consumer’s Credit Union placed several items of sponsored content into the Daily Herald, promoting credit unions by making their potential value clear, and by offering advice on common financial problems, such as the impact on your taxes of a home assessment. Good things happened with these articles. First, the host publication, the Daily Herald, made them clearly marked as sponsored content and took it a step further by making their sponsored content searchable. This presented the content in context – important for trust-building. Second, the pieces were simple blog posts – very attainable on a tight budget for most companies – and offer information that the reader could use. While the idea is to inspire the reader to reach out to the credit union for more information, the approach was “helpful first, sales second.”
What if you sell a service and not a product? Sponsored content works for that also. It’s not uncommon to see a business that offers a service, like a consulting, advertising or marketing agency, write a sponsored post on a site like Marketing Land to get in front of their readers. In keeping with our previous example, sticking to text and submitting long-form articles or blog posts with plenty of visuals is the most cost-effective way to get into sponsored content.
Some well-known examples of sponsored video marketing come from big brands like Budweiser, but small to medium-sized business aren’t priced out. The big Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are now the publishers of sponsored content, and you can get content like a sponsored video published in new places with a tight budget. In fact, it’s probably going to cost you more to have a good video made (unless you have a video wiz on your team) than it will to have it placed. However, our assessment is that words on a page with good images are still your best bet.
If you’re wondering if sponsored content is right for your Marketing/PR strategy, do your due diligence while setting up your communication plan.