Welcome to the land of sponsored content. You might’ve done a flyover of the topic before, but we’re coming all the way in for a landing, so fasten your seatbelts – exits are found at the top of your screen, and refreshments are available in your kitchen.
Before we even get to the how, when, or why, we must first ask the immortal question.
You know what content is? Great!
You know what sponsorships are? Sweet!
Sponsored content is what happens when those worlds collide like chocolate and peanut butter to make a delicious snack. It’s an easy-to-consume product that’s the best of both worlds (unless you’re allergic to peanuts or chocolate – sorry ‘bout that).
It can be anything: a podcast, article, or video – that a brand pays a creator to make or post on its behalf. The content looks the same as all rest of the creator's usual content, except this piece is about a topic relevant to the brand sponsoring it. Within the content, there’s usually a convenient link or reference to the sponsor’s product, solution or service.
It’s selling by suggestion.
Think of a Buzzfeed article – say about the differences between headaches and chronic migraines.
This article is written in the same tone and format as all other articles on the site. It offers a little insight relevant to anyone plagued by head pain and suggests what you think are headaches, may actually be migraines. Never fear, you can contact your doctor to discover new effective and convenient migraine treatment options. How sweet of them to let us know!
Now, look carefully at the bottom of that screenshot. You can see in the last line of text, this article is sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Allergan.
Allergan's objective in sponsoring this article is to prompt you, the reader, to contact your doctor about their product, BOTOX® to treat your migraines. Yes, we were just as surprised as you that BOTOX® is, in fact, a treatment option for migraines – further research indicates it’s pretty effective too (Allergan did not pay us to say that, by the way).
Sponsored articles and videos tend to have a written or verbal indicator of their commercial status — but some are easier to spot than others. A few industry regulators have developed helpful playbooks to keep everything on the up-and-up in response to the rise of ambiguously commercial content.
In 2016, Ad Standards Canada introduced guidelines to “uphold the authenticity, honesty, and integrity of all online marketing tactics by requiring companies to clearly disclose working relationships.”
The Federal Trade Commission outlined its initial requirements in 2009, and a rising population of influencers led to its publication of “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” in 2019.
The big social media platforms also have their own policies to keep creators honest. You can find them in an article here if that kind of stuff floats your boat.
You have a dedicated audience who look to you for content. Now, you may have a paywall up so only members of your association can watch your content. That’s great! But what about creating a whole new revenue stream accessible to the rest of your market?
Say you’re a woodworking association and you have a master craftsperson available to interview. If you shoot or write that interview, you can publish it on your website behind your paywall. But you can also pay a popular woodworking YouTube channel or magazine to publish your content, putting your association and members in front of a whole new category of potential recruits.
As a bonus, you’re providing more frequent content for your existing members. Even if it’s only one additional post per month, you're still offering more opportunities for your members to engage with you, drive up traffic on your platform and grow your audience.
And let's face it, by offering a paid incentive, you're opening yourself up to a wider and more exclusive range of thought leaders. A sponsorship that plays into a high-powered industry expert's own marketing plans can make them more inclined to participate.
The number one priority is to make sure you're creating a piece of content that's valuable to your audience. They should be getting solid, unbiased information from a trusted source on a topic they want to learn about. As long as you make sure it’s not simply an extended commercial for the sponsor, you’re golden.
Say you’re doing a video about the benefits of changing your tires for the winter. You want an expert to come in and talk about the different types of tires and what makes some better for other types of weather. You also have a major tire company that is placing a banner ad on the page for the video. Well, why not offer them a sponsorship on the video? A package that includes a pre-roll (This video is brought to you by [insert name]), the banner ad they’ve already purchased, and the opportunity to have one or more of their product experts come in and talk about your topic.
The product expert will come in and talk about how different treads on a tire react to temperature changes or the differences between all-season tires, winter tires, and studded tires. Can you tell I need to change my tires this week?
As the association making the content, you need to ensure that your guest expert doesn’t focus on their products alone, they need to relate to overall trends across the industry. You’re not making an advertisement for them, you’re giving them the opportunity to share their expertise and talk to your audience as an authority.
Remember: If you can’t replace the expert with one of their competitors, it’s just a commercial.
It doesn’t have to be crass, it doesn’t have to be sales-y, it doesn’t have to be deceitful because it shouldn’t be one-sided. Balance is key. Your interviewee wins by reaching your audience, getting their key message out, making their name top-of-mind for potential customers; and you win by making high-quality content, engaging your audience and securing that sweet non-dues revenue.
Like all of your other content, find out when the topic is going to be most relevant to your readers/viewers. Don’t go making that winter tire video and posting it in the middle of the summer.
If you want to know how often to post sponsored content, that’s a bit trickier. First, you need to consider how your audience will react. Will they turn away from you if your content is primarily sponsored? Will they embrace it fully, not even caring or noticing? Will they question your authenticity if every second or third post is sponsored?
I’d love to tell you the secret trick to know how often to post sponsored content, but I can’t. The only advice I can give on this front is, don’t betray your audience’s trust by oversaturating with sponsorships.