Sponsored content is leading the charge in efforts to think differently about brand awareness and social engagement. Users may balk at seeing their news feeds playing host to paid content, but when you consider the alternative, it’s a surprisingly elegant solution.
To put it simply, sponsored content can be a blog post, photo or video that is strategically placed in order to reach a wider audience. A sponsored news story might appear toward the top of Facebook news feeds, or a promoted tweet might be nestled neatly in between broadcasts from friends. In either case, this type of outreach represents a more intuitive and unobtrusive way to reach a wider audience.
There are quite a few options available right now from all of the leading social networks. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.
Sponsored Content Options: An Overview
Facebook – Boosted Posts: Quite simply, posts that are “boosted” by Facebook will appear higher in users’ News Feeds. The process sounds simple enough: any recently created post will provide the option for the creator to boost it, along with options to tailor it to a specific audience. After being reviewed by Facebook staff, the boosted post will run shortly thereafter.
Twitter – Promoted Tweets: Promoted Tweets have a lot in common with Facebook’s Boosted Posts. They can be targeted using demographic data such as gender, age, interests and geographical location. Tweets can even be targeted to specific devices, such as desktop browsers or smartphone apps.
LinkedIn – Sponsored Updates: LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates are all about building “deeper customer relationships.” Because LinkedIn’s focus is on the professional world, this sponsored content option may be the best fit for rapidly growing brand awareness and generating leads for small businesses.
Pinterest – Promoted Pins: While you might say that Promoted Pins are still in the “beta phase,” they hold a lot of potential. Pinterest has repeatedly said that they don’t want these to become unsightly banner ads, so the order of the day is tastefulness and transparency. Users won’t be bombarded by promoted content that gets in the way, but when they do come across paid content, it will be relevant to their interests.
YouTube – Promoted Videos: YouTube offers arguably the best way to use videos to reach your targeted demographics. Consider Superior Notary’s nationwide signing services advertisement; with a visually appealing video, they’ve turned notary services – arguably not the most electrifying subject – into something trendy and eye-catching. Furthermore, advertisers on YouTube only pay when their videos are watched.
The Pros of Sponsored Content
Better Targeting: As we said above, most of these sponsored content options have the ability to very specifically target certain types of users using demographic data or even device type. This is far and away a better option than the sort of scattershot approach many advertisers might be used to.
Less Intrusive: Social networking enthusiasts might have a hard time believing it, but sponsored content actually has the potential to be less intrusive than other advertising mediums. Brands are getting better and better at providing content that aligns with their users’ interests, thereby enhancing their experience rather than detracting from it.
A Better ROI: Sponsored social media content is hugely cost effective, particularly when you look at YouTube’s business model, which bills you only when your content is watched. More generally, the targeted nature of the ads means that your advertising is getting in front of people who are more likely to act on it, thereby giving you a better return on your investment.
The Cons of Sponsored Content
A Persistent Stigma: There’s no denying that advertisers are fighting an uphill battle to regain the good will of the general public. No matter how good their intentions or how unobtrusive their content might be, sponsored content will probably be met with resistance and skepticism for quite a while.
A Lack of Transparency: For the most part, sponsored content on social sites is a new enough concept that it lacks transparency in certain situations. It may not be clear, for example, when a given post has been paid for. Twitter and Pinterest are currently leading the charge, indicating clearly when an advertiser has paid for your valuable screen real estate.
A Learning Curve: This type of native advertising will require at least a small degree of proficiency for marketers to avoid backlash. It’s too easy for advertisements to be intrusive and unrelated to the users’ interests. As such, marketers need to know their target market exceptionally well in order to place their content appropriately.
While it’s still finding its footing, sponsored content may come to represent the very best solution for brands that have struggled to improve their online presence. Previous generations of content placement involved unsightly banner ads and pop-ups, which had a tendency to generate more frustration than interest. Sponsored content – a more elegant and streamlined approach by any measure – is a long time coming. So far, it looks like a great replacement.