As a form of native advertising, sponsored posts have been referred to as the Wild West of marketing as their use is currently still a relatively new area. Put simply, sponsored posts are those that brands and other advertisers pay for on social media and publishing or blog sites in order to improve brand recognition and drive traffic and click throughs.
As with any other form of native advertising, the user must be made aware through the content that the brand has paid for the content. This is done in a variety of ways, either it’s done implicitly at the beginning of an article with text reading something like “this post is sponsored by … [insert brand name]” or on large publications such as Forbes and the Huffington Post, articles are badged in such a way that it’s clear that they’re from a brand.
Advertising online is becoming increasingly difficult, especially when it comes to banners, with many users appearing to suffer from ‘banner blindness’. Sponsored content can be likened to advertorials which have long been a staple of print advertising. Advertorials are simply written pieces on a company that highlight what the company do and these are paid for by the company. The same can be said of sponsored posts except that the content doesn’t usually explicitly name the company or extol its virtues.
Recent Research in Sponsored Content
Digital Relevance recently carried out research into the sponsored content market and found that the majority of the large publications, from viral site Buzzfeed (which can be said to be something of a pioneer of sponsored content) to The Wall Street Journal offer sponsored posts. The resulting report, which asked 550 publishers about their participation in such schemes, is the first of its kind and lists everything from who’s doing what to how much is paid to publishers for sponsored content.
It was found that most sponsored content fell into the under $900 price point, but there were some that fell into the category of over $1500 per post. In order to further break this down, researchers then looked at a breakdown of blogs versus publishers. For the purposes of the research, a publisher is defined as a site that has 5 or more contributing writers and a blog less than 5.
Of those that feel into the above $1500 category, approximately 82% were publications, whilst in the below $1500 category, 97% were blogs. It was found that the average prices blogs charged could be worked out using the formula below.
Price = 60.5 + 5.97[DA] + 0.978[thousand FB fans] + 15.1[PR] – 0.000007[AR]
So, if you run a blog that has a domain authority of 55, with 25,000 Facebook fans, an Alexa score of 1,500,000 and a Page Rank of 4, then the formula would look like this:
Price = 60.5 + 5.97 + 0.978 + 15.1 – 0.000007
Once this is worked out, you arrive at the figure of $341.66 based statiscally on the going rate of blogs that currently charge for sponsored content.
Users and Sponsored Content
The research found plenty of evidence to suggest what users think of sponsored content, but this was generally conflicting. For example, a Contently study published in June 2014 found that 67% of readers felt deceived when they realised that the content they were reading was sponsored and 54% said that they don’t trust sponsored content. 59% felt that sites which publish sponsored content lost credibility and 57% said that they would prefer their favourite sites to have banner ads instead.
However, other studies provided conflicting information such as that carried out by Sharethrough and IPG Media Labs, which found that consumers look at sponsored articles more than they do editorial, and spend a similar amount of time on each.
It’s this conflicting information that’s likely to hold back some publications and blog owners from offering sponsored content and indeed, according to the Digital Relevance report, sites such as TechCrunch and Econsultancy have held back due to a ‘gut feeling’ that not offering sponsored posts preserves both editorial integrity and consumer confidence. But then again, large publications such as Forbes and the Huff Post have found that it hasn’t harmed their brand at all.
The Future of Online Advertising?
It would seem that consumers are happy enough to read content from brands so long as it’s not overtly promoting itself. That said, lots of sponsored posts that I see do follow that pattern and look to create content more rooted in thought leadership and educational or entertaining content. I think that it’s the right approach to take; nobody wants to waste their time reading something which is hugely promotional. Anyone who spends any time on social media will surely have noticed that it’s not just banners that users tend to be blind to.
I find that any post on social which is purely promotional in nature pretty much gets ignored, even on accounts where educational content is shared often and by many. I believe that it’s not even really meant by consumers, it’s simply because we have so much advertising thrown at us on a daily basis from every available angle that we tend to zone most of it out.
With that in mind, if you’re considering offering sponsored content on your site, then do ensure that you make it clear to advertisers what it is that you’re offering. An advertorial is unlikely to get any readers, and it’s very likely to annoy those it does get. By all means create brand posts, but do implicitly inform your readers and let your advertisers know that the content should be useful and not just a means of telling the world how great they are. There are, after all, plenty of platforms for carrying out the latter.
There is life in sponsored posts if the report is anything to go by and it could mean a great deal to those smaller sites that struggle to gain any revenue from other forms of advertising. But like anything else online, care must be taken to place the user first and offer a good experience, or it could mean a dip in popularity for your site.