Roger Wu is a co-founder of Cooperatize, the leading platform for brands to buy sponsored content. We recently checked in with Roger to learn more about best practices for using sponsored content. Here's what he had to say:
What is sponsored content? What sets it apart from other marketing/web content?
Sponsored content is an article or story written by the publisher in their voice, while integrating your product or brand into it. The publisher guarantees a certain amount of traffic to the story at a higher rate than banner advertisements, which covers not only their content production but also their distribution costs.
Sponsored content is different from traditional content in a variety of ways.
- First, the publisher guarantees a minimum number of impressions, whereby the story acts like an advertisement. If the story exceeds this minimum, it acts as "PR" or earned media.
- Secondly, it should not impact your search engine optimization since the anchor tags are flagged as "no follow."
- Third, it is clearly marked as sponsored or advertisement per the rules of the FTC.
Why are brands turning to sponsored content to build an audience?
There are a variety of reasons why brands are turning to sponsored content:
- Influencer and social media marketing are hot; people trust local celebrities or "influencers." Brands see influencer marketing as a more cost effective way to reach their target audiences since influencers are not as expensive as celebrities and have a more targeted audience set. Sponsored content gives influencers the ability to create longer form content to showcase their thoughts.
- We now live in the world of infinite content. Everyone is a publisher. Everyone is creating content. If something is not promoted, most likely it will not be seen. The ROI on an organic mention is more likely to be worse off than ever. Sponsored content, with its guaranteed distribution, helps brands to cut through the noise and ensure that prospects now know their story.
- Ad block has rendered display advertising as futile. With the rise of social networks and content marketing, sponsored content plays into these new trends.
What brands do you think are using sponsored content most effectively? What can we learn from them?
The obvious simple answer is Netflix. They've run sponsored content effectively with The Atlantic about strong first ladies in conjunction with "House of Cards" to reach their politically savvy audience. Sponsored content for "Orange is the New Black" ran in the more liberal minded New York Times about how the experience of women incarcerated differs from that of men. Finally, an article about the economics of Pablo Escobar and the drug trade ran in the Wall Street Journal in conjunction with "Narcos."
Each of these articles tell a story and while Netflix is in the business of brokering stories to your home, they created a story that was relevant to the given audience.
Furthermore, none of these stories asked for the business. There was never a "Subscribe to Netflix" button or some other call to action about a subscription. If there were, the campaigns most likely would have failed. We now know that these great shows are only available on Netflix and even if we didn't, a quick Google search would yield that information.
Brands need to understand that the value of a good story is not a click thru, but rather mindshare; in our new on demand economy we can get anything we want, the key is to have enough mindshare when the time is right to buy that product. Click-thrus are a false short-term metric that is being measured at the expense of the more valuable long-term metric of story recall and brand building.
What are some best practices for creating a marketing strategy using sponsored content?
- Create publisher guidelines that fit your marketing goals but also give the publisher some creativity. You want them to tap into their creative juices, but if they feel too constrained they'll end up writing another "5 great things ... " article.
- Make sure you enforce the impression count and ask what constitutes an impression. Some provide basic metrics, like a publisher's Twitter followers and monthly unique visitors. While big numbers might look impressive, we need to remember that a tweet is on average seen by 1 to 2 percent of followers and about 1 to 2 percent of those followers engage; monthly unique visitors which many get confused with a magazine's circulation, is an aggregate metric from ALL stories, and more likely than not, 95 percent of a publishers online traffic comes from 5 percent of their articles. As a marketer you don't necessarily care about this, you want their audience to see the article that was written and created about you.
- Use data to make better content. While publishers will get you the requisite number of views, you need to look at what stories are resonating with your audience. Look at the engagement on each story: if people are not responding to it in terms of reading it all the way, maybe it's the wrong message. Content marketing is not as easy to tweak as AdWords, but you can still use data to figure out the most effective stories.
- Tying content into the rest of your marketing is highly effective. We've found that content marketing and sponsored content in conjunction with retargeting display advertising leads to better brand recall and conversion.
What about dos and don'ts for writing sponsored content? How can we keep readers engaged?
- Do adjust for factual accuracy. If your product doesn't do X, Y, and Z and the publisher says that it does, let the publisher know that it doesn't.
- Do provide guidelines for what you are looking for. It's hard for a publisher to guess what you want.
- Do allow for some leeway in creating content. Just because you paid for it, you shouldn't want to force your hand. The publisher knows their audience best and is the storyteller.
- Don't try and adjust for editorial. For example, if a writer says "I liked that product" don't ask them to say "I really liked that product."
- Don't ask for an advertorial. There's a reason why those didn't work. Audiences don't want to read about why your product is the best; rather they want to know how it integrates into the rest of their lives.
What are the biggest mistakes you see brands making when it comes to sponsored content? How can we avoid making them?
In addition to some of the don'ts listed above, a lot of brands try to work directly with influencers. I wouldn't suggest that, as there's a reason why platforms like Cooperatize exist. By going direct, it's similar to buying a car off Craigslist, versus buying a car on eBay, which ensures reputation.
Furthermore, we are fully compliant and up to date with Google and the FTC. Platforms ensure that brands are compliant, as it's not recommended to try and cheat the Google algorithm or skirt around the U.S. government's rules.
From a pricing perspective, brands need to move off the CPM anchor of display advertising. Sponsored content not only encompasses content creation but also distribution. To put this into perspective, tools like Outbrain and Taboola charge up to $2 per click to content (that is already created) as opposed to display advertising charging $2 per thousand impressions.
What are your favorite tools for promoting sponsored content? What doesn't seem to work as well?
Facebook and Twitter are still the kings when it comes to paid distribution. The targeting is very specific, which will allow you to get quality views at a lower price. Publishers that have a sponsored content carousel on their home page is also a great tool. StumbleUpon is a nice way to get organic visitors to your content. Lastly, we sometimes use Outbrain and Taboola, although we've noticed that the reader quality is not as high.
What is the future for sponsored content?
We truly believe that sponsored content is the future of monetization for publishers. As long as publishers provide real metrics and continue to promote and make their content high quality, we see this as overtaking the economics of display advertising in the coming years.
Connect with Roger on Twitter.
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