3 Sponsored Content Fails

Crafting great journalism is hard. Not only do you need an important story to tell, a smart journalist has to figure out how to get the facts, arrange them into a meaningful narrative, write it up smartly, and then get it in front of the public.

In contrast, most sponsored content or native advertising should be considerably easier to make. With some notable exceptions, brands aren’t commissioning investigators to break down doors to get the hard facts, they’re writing lighter fare that generates clicks but usually doesn’t raise eyebrows.

And yet, sometimes sponsored content ends up being not just bad, but potentially damaging to both the brand who sponsored it, and the publisher who ran the story.

What Not to Write

The ethics of native advertising can be tricky; for starters it’s incredibly important that the article be prominently marked with “Sponsored Content” or the like, so readers know the story is advertorial. But just because you’ve made that much clear, doesn’t mean any content will do. You still want to tell an honest, relevant story that matches the publisher’s ethos, while being relevant to the company, but not overly laudatory or composed of meaningless fluff.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some particularly unfortunate sponsored content, and dissect what went wrong, so that it can be avoided in the future.

buzzfeed fail

Buzzfeed & Acuvue – LOL, WTF

While Buzzfeed has long been a pioneer in native advertising, not every piece hits the mark. “15 Ways to Have An Epic Road Trip Without Going Broke” in particular leaves the audience wanting, or in Buzzfeed’s own parlance, has people saying “lol, wtf?”

The issues with the article are manifold. For starters, the article’s advice is tired and unimaginative. Does offering a listicle with advice like “stay on top of traffic conditions” or “bring a stocked cooler for snack attacks” really offer anything remotely novel? Some of the advice is downright meaningless, as tips like “get your beach on” will obviously not apply to most road trip routes.

Beyond that, the story really has no connection to Acuvue. While other stories in the vertical touch on relevant topics like “11 Impossibly Cool Facts You May Not Know About Your Eyes” that actually educate readers, the road trip article’s connection to Acuvue is beyond tenuous. The last line of the story meekly reads “savor every priceless moment and eye-opening discovery with the help of Acuvue brand contact lenses” but it’s hard to argue that anything in this article opened eyes at all.

Forbes & Teradata – Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Confusion

Forbes is one of the legacy publishers that have jumped into sponsored content with the most gusto. While overall they’ve managed to build some impressive partnerships telling interesting stories, “What Do Kevin Bacon And Big Data Analytics Have In Common?” is far from perfect.

Big Data is certainly a tricky concept that your average reader may have trouble wrapping their head around. But invoking the name of a celebrity (and the party game that involves naming more celebrities) does nothing to elucidate the concept.

Yes, readers may click the headline because it has a famous name in it, but none of Kevin Bacon’s halo will be rubbing off on Teradata because of this story. The article quickly moves from Mr. Bacon into overwhelming jargon, like “[c]onnection analytics powered by graph engines, pre-built algorithms and interactive data-aware visualizations provides an intuitive solution that allows analysts and even business users to see how relationships impact networks of people, products and processes.”

Kevin Bacon may have gone to the moon in “Apollo 13,” but this article should have stayed on the launch-pad for returning.

The Atlantic & Scientology – A Milestone for Missing the Mark

The headline reads “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year”, but the truly amazing thing was that this article was approved in the first place. While any religious advertisement is inherently going to be controversial, few topics encounter as much scrutiny as the Church of Scientology.

With that in mind, you’d think the team at The Atlantic would have insisted that the article at least be levelheaded and relatively uncontroversial. Instead, the piece is incredibly laudatory and full of self-congratulations. Pair that with how small the “Sponsored Content” label is on the article, and you can see why the story encountered immediate blowback.

The Atlantic eventually took the story down, but it’ll be remembered in perpetuity thanks to the journalism watchdogs at Poynter. And according to our own research at ContentIntent, those that did read the article reported a major drop in trust towards The Atlantic, something certainly not worth however many tens of thousands of dollars they earned off the article (which may have been refunded when they pulled the story anyway.)

When it comes to native advertising, both brands and publishers need to make sure every story created makes sense for both partners. A publisher may be eager to take the ad dollars, and a marketer may be eager for the guaranteed impressions, but if a sponsored article isn’t thoughtful, it can be problematic for everyone involved.


This article was written by Jonah Bliss from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Measuring value: What does PR success look like?

Measuring value for Public Relations has always been difficult, and contrary to some commentators, digital metrics haven’t necessarily made things easier.

Far from a remedy to our measurement woes, the wealth of data has only muddied the waters for many PR professionals. The words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his Rime of the Ancient Mariner come to mind: “Water, water everywhere, nor any a drop to drink”. Never have more metrics provided less meaningful information.

The Content Marketing Institutes’ latest report examining marketing trends in the finance industry captures the difficulty of measuring the success of content. The CMI’s survey of finance marketers found more than 40% rank their ROI tracking as ineffective, while another 14% don’t track ROI at all.

Tracking ROI in PR has always been tricky given PR is not strictly a function driving sales and has innately an element of intangibility. PR is about awareness and building audiences; marketers then turn those audiences into paying customers. Or as marketing professional Al Ries once said, “let PR light the fire, and marketing fan the flames”.

But PR professionals must be accountable to our clients, and digital does provide a wealth of tools to do so.

So when it comes to measuring value for PR success, how should we do it?


I believe there are three categories to demonstrate the value of PR. These can be used separately, but are most powerful when used in combination:

1. Outcome measurement simply rates your PR output; share of voice, key message penetration, content rating, outlet rating, etc. At Buchan, we have developed a comparative analysis framework we called BOMS (Buchan Overall Media Score), which produces a score to demonstrate the quality and quantity of earned coverage – benchmarked historically and against competitors.

2. Causation measurement takes this approach one step further by attempting to demonstrate what actions your PR efforts sparked (i.e. social media sharing, web traffic, backlinks and branded search volume).

3. Return on investment measurement. Return on investment measurement is usually tied to sales, but given what we know about PR and the fact we are not beholden to sales KPIs, how can you measure value for PR?

One place to start is by measuring the number of leads your PR activity has created. Not everyone who has read an article or a tweet is a potential lead, but those who take the next step – seek out a website, place a phone call or send an email – can be classified as a lead. But this approach has some pitfalls:

How much is a lead worth? If we are measuring the number of leads created we need to place a value on how much each lead is worth. One approach is to examine historical website data to determine if a correlation exists between web traffic and new business (e.g. if I get 100 new visitors for every 1 sale worth $100, each lead is worth $1). But that can be misleading in an industry like finance where there may not be a clean correlation. And there’s as big difference between traffic and quality.

How many leads can be attributed to PR efforts? How much of your website traffic can be attributed to a piece of media coverage, contributed article or social media? Measuring value for short-term leads is easier (it’s a safe bet that website hits in the 48 hours after a piece of coverage can be attributed to PR) and Google Analytics can track direct in-bound links and new visitors, but long-tail leads, or anyone that doesn’t take immediate action on a piece of content, are far more difficult to quantify.

The other approach to measuring the ROI of PR would come not at the beginning of the sales journey but at the end by asking new customers what promotional activity brought them to the table. There are three main approaches to this:

Which promotional activity first introduced them to the brand?
Which promotional activity was the last you saw before deciding to make contact?
Which promotional activity was the most influential in making contact?
This methodology is also problematic. Are first impressions more valuable than last impressions? You’re also relying heavily on the accuracy of the customers’ responses.


Assuming you can determine the number of leads and the value of each lead, measuring ROI comes down to a fairly simply formula (one developed by Christopher Penn).

ROI formula:

(The value of a new lead x number of new leads) – PR Investment

PR Investment x 100


At the end of the day, communicators should apply a layer of introspection as well as ask their clients; what does success look like? Remember success is relative to the campaign, the client and the industry; ROI is simply one metric used to determine success.

If you go down the ROI route to measuring value, just ensure you are taking the utmost care to determine just how much each lead is worth and how many can be attributed to PR.

Metrics mean nothing in isolation – make sure the ones you’re using actually make sense and are meaningful to the success you are trying to demonstrate.

This post was first published on Buchan.

PR Measurement

Ben Oliver, Digital Lead, Buchan

Ben leads Buchan’s digital practice, and is the Australian lead for Studio D, the digital arm of our global partner, WE Worldwide. Based in Melbourne, Ben provides strategic direction and consultation to clients covering their paid, earned, owned and social media strategies, while managing account teams across both Buchan offices.

FAQ: What’s the Best Time to Post on Facebook

One of the most frequently asked questions about social media marketing is: What is the best time to post on Facebook?

When we Google this question, we find that there are slews of experts and insiders offering definitive answers. Some say weekdays are the best time to post on Facebook, others say weekends. One narrows down optimal posting time to Wednesdays at 1 p.m., another swears by Thursdays and Fridays at 4. Whose advice should you follow?

The Best Time to Post on Facebook Is When Your Audience Is on Facebook

Luckily, you no longer have to take anyone’s word for it. Facebook now provides easy-to-use analytics tools so each of us can track the behavior of our page’s visitors and determine the best time to post on Facebook based on our specific audience. After all, there are a lot of people on Facebook and they don’t all follow the same schedule. The best time to post on Facebook depends on who you are trying to reach and how you are trying to engage them.

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Accessing Facebook Insights

  1. Log into your Business Manager
  2. Click on Insights > Posts > When Your Fans Are Online
  3. Take a look at the Days chart. If you’re a small business with limited time for producing and publishing Facebook content, you’ll want to post on days that the majority of your audience logs in.
  4. Take a look at the Times graph to zero-in on specific times of day.

Experimenting with the Data

You may need to go through a few rounds of trial and error before you feel like you’re synching up with your audience and getting maximum value from your posts. Here are some things to try:

Experiment #1: For one week, post Facebook content only on your top two or three most visited days. Compare engagement on those days with the engagement you’re used to getting. Does it help to post content only on these high-audience days? If not, try again. Post a day before high-audience days, as Facebook posts tend to peak anywhere between a few hours to a day later. Again, compare results and take note.

The next step is to test out the best times of day for posting. If you click on your “best” days, you’ll see a dark blue line indicating peak audience times for that specific day.

Experiment #2: Test publishing your content during those peak times. Then test again by posting a few hours before the peak. Compare results.

Please note that these times are unique to your fan base and will probably fluctuate. They may even change from month to month—so check back often, test, and keep optimizing.

What Content Should You Post?

Now that you’ve got the hang of using Facebook Insights, it’s important to remember that while timing is important, it isn’t everything. What time you publish your posts won’t matter all that much if your audience simply isn’t interested in what you have to say.

Doug Karr of Marketing Tech Blog explains that the best time to post on Facebook is “when you have time and have something of value to share.” Facebook Insights comes in handy once again in helping us determine what content our audience responds to most.

Rank Your Posts by Performance

Below “When Your Fans Are Online,” under the heading “All Posts Published,” you’ll find posts from the past three months listed in chronological order. You can click on the inverted arrow to the very right above the chart to view your posts by various engagement performance criteria. If you want them ranked by engagement, just click on the engagement column header to sort.

  • Post Clicks/Likes, Comments, and Shares: See which posts received the most overall engagement. This ranking includes “visible” forms of engagement that your audience can also keep track of (likes, comments, shares) because Facebook shows them next to each post. It also includes “behind the scenes” forms of engagement such as clicking on links, hashtags, and photos embedded in your post.
  • Likes, Comments & Shares: Remove “Post clicks” to simply see “visible” engagement.
  • Post Hides, Hides of All Posts, Reports of Spam, and Unlikes of Page: See which posts led to negative engagement, or actions that caused you to lose audience members and brand visibility.
  • Engagement Rate: Rank your posts by the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it. It’s possible that a post on this list wasn’t seen by as many people, but the people who saw it were more like to engage with it. If so, you’ll want to promote similar posts in the future to a wider audience.

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Some Questions to Keep in Mind

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you figure out what your audience is most receptive to.

  • What type of content does my audience respond to: text (in the form of status updates), links, photos, or videos?
  • Do they most enjoy curated or original content?
  • What subjects capture their attention: news, product updates, tips, promotional deals, contests?
  • Do they only have time for short and snappy, or do they prefer to dig into meatier content?
  • Does my audience respond better to a formal or a more casual casual tone?

Being able to answer these questions will help you maximize your Facebook presence and deliver content that your audience wants to see. Coupled with what you’ve discovered about the best time to post on Facebook, you can now ensure that you’re giving your audience what they want, when they want it. Give it a try and share a comment below on how it went.