Content marketing is an effective way to promote your business, and sponsored posts help get your content to a broader audience. These posts keep you front and center, and they serve as an effective way to engage with your customers and build brand awareness. This article lays out everything you need to know about sponsored content, from what it is to how to use it for marketing your business effectively.

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What is sponsored content?

‌Sponsored content is a type of online advertising in which you pay to promote your product. If you regularly work with social media influencers, sending them samples of your products so they can post reviews or other ads, you have created sponsored content.

This type of content looks organic, meaning that it resembles content that already exists on the platform. However, your products or services are featured in photos, posts, and descriptions.

Why should you use sponsored content?

‌For a small business, sponsored content offers a way to put products and services in front of a wider audience. You reach not only your own customers but also those of your partners. Since sponsored content looks like it belongs on its intended platform, people may be more likely to click on the post rather than ignoring it like they might a banner ad.

Business Insider reported that companies will spend an estimated $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. People who spend a lot of time on social media are likely engaging with influencers, and sponsored content gives you the ability to reach these users.

How to tell if content is sponsored

‌The Federal Trade Commission governs advertising practices in the United States. As more social media personalities began partnering with different brands to promote their products and services, regulations were passed requiring transparency.

Anyone paid to promote a brand on social media, in a blog, on a video, or through any other medium has to communicate this fact to their followers. Most social media personalities and other content creators will tag a post using a hashtag such as #sponsored or #ad to alert their followers that they are working with the company.

Now that newspapers and magazines have shifted to online editions, many companies partner with them to create sponsored content. In print magazines, companies use advertorials, which are advertisements that read like the articles in the magazine itself. Now that these can be created for a digital magazine or newspaper, they are usually identified at the top of the article. Most publications use “Paid Post” or similar language, which is at or near the byline.

Some online magazines and newspapers list the company name in the byline, stating that an article was written by a company rather than a specific person.

Types of sponsored content

‌You can create sponsored content for a wide variety of platforms. Common types of content include:

  • ‌Articles
  • ‌Videos
  • ‌Sponsored Instagram posts
  • ‌Sponsored Tweets
  • ‌Listicles
  • ‌Sponsored pins on Pinterest
  • ‌Carousel ads

Articles

‌Long-form articles range between 700 – 2,000 words. If you simply write a 2,000-word article about your company, it likely won’t get picked up by any media platform. These articles should be interesting and informative while working in mentions of your brand to create interest and awareness.

‌For best results, you should partner with a publication whose audience matches your target customers. Your sponsored article should match the tone of the publication. Think of subject matter that fits in with other articles on the site and find ways to integrate your brand into a similar article.

Videos

‌YouTube, Vimeo, and other video content creators can make a video incorporating your brand. This can be anything from a simple unboxing video to a tutorial on your products and services or even an endorsement. Like articles, video personalities usually indicate upfront that the post is sponsored, and many of them also indicate it in the description.

‌Sponsored Instagram posts

‌If your brand resonates with Instagram users, connecting with them via influencers is a good use of your sponsored content dollars. There are a variety of ways to use Instagram to promote your brand. You can pay for an Instagram ad and create an interesting post promoted in various user feeds.

Instagram lets you set your price limit for ads based on the number of clicks. You can cap your ad at a specific dollar amount per a specific number of clicks. This type of sponsored content is good for those who want to stretch their marketing dollars because you control the budget, and you don’t have to negotiate with an influencer.

Partnering with an influencer may help you reach a wider audience, but it is often more expensive. Most social media personalities with a large following charge for sponsored content, and the price tends to increase with more followers. For this reason, some businesses have begun working with micro-influencers, people with 10,000-100,000 followers.

Sponsored Tweets

‌When you partner with a popular Twitter personality to promote your brand, they create sponsored tweets. You can also promote your own Tweets, landing them higher in social feeds and increasing the likelihood of engagement.

To promote a Tweet, Twitter charges a set fee based on engagement with your promoted Tweet. You will be charged based on how many people like and retweet your content.

Listicles

‌Listicles are similar to articles, except they are broken down into smaller pieces. If you regularly read Buzzfeed or other news media sites, you’re likely familiar with a listicle, which may be accompanied by a slide show.

These articles are easier to read, and they allow people to skim if they don’t want to read the whole thing. Your sponsored listicle should fit in with the website where it’s posted and contain information that is interesting to readers.

As with a sponsored article, your listicle should not contain highlights or features of your product because this would read like a sales brochure. Instead, think of different ways to feature your products in a list. If you run a bakery, an interesting topic for a listicle would be “7 tasty treats for the holiday season.”‌‌

Sponsored Pins on Pinterest

‌For retail-oriented businesses, Pinterest has become a popular social media platform. According to Pinterest, 80% of users stated that they have found new brands on the site. Pinterest lets you create shoppable pins that easily appear in searches. Users can tap a dot on the pin to see pricing information and are then redirected to your website.

Pinterest ads are placed where people are likely to find them. Like Instagram, the platform uses a bidding system that lets you set your spending limit based on how many people interact with your pin. To use this site, you will need to create a business account that lets you access Ads Manager and other tools.‌‌

‌Facebook also lets you create sponsored posts, and one option is a carousel ad. This involves using multiple images that rotate with one piece of text. Carousel ads are great for promoting multiple products, highlighting different features of one product, and getting creative with your ads.

‌‌Along with images, you can also include videos in a carousel ad. This is a good option for explaining a new product or drumming up interest in an event.

Examples of sponsored content

‌Now that you are aware of the types of sponsored content you can use, here are some examples of companies who do it well.

‌Hot Wheels

‌This kids’ toy maker has partnered with Buzzfeed on several sponsored videos, articles, and listicles. This listicle targets parents who might buy Hot Wheels for their kids with a series of funny posts involving children. The company’s Facebook page is also featured in a banner ad alongside the article.

The Gap

The Gap partnered with HighSnobiety to celebrate its 50th anniversary, publishing an article about its history and evolution. The Gap used imagery that would appeal to the sleek, modern look of the High Snob Society website, detailing the evolution of casual fashion. This online publication is similar to print magazines in which The Gap runs ads.

‌Chase 

Chase published a sponsored article on the Refinery 29 blog to attract more female customers to its banks. This site, which is a fashion and lifestyle publication that targets women, ran an article about the modern woman and how she can manage her money. This example showcases how to tailor an article to your publication and the customers you want to attract.

JustFab

To celebrate its 10th Anniversary, JustFab created a series of branded Instagram posts promoting a giveaway. This ad was able to reach followers of the brand and entice them with the chance of winning free products from the brand. A stylish ad featuring trendy shoes draws attention to the ad, which then details how to enter. This type of sponsored content encourages your followers to share, resulting in more views for your budget.

Bohme

‌Fashion brand Bohme regularly places promoted pins on Pinterest. These show up in the feeds of anyone who regularly searches for fashion trends or posts similar content. When clicked, the post takes you to their website to buy items from the summer collection. Retailers, decorators, and other small businesses specializing in e-commerce can use these posts to draw in business.

oVertone

The brand oVertone makes color depositing conditioner that makes it easy to refresh hair color in between salon visits. The company regularly partners with YouTube personality and hairstylist Brad Mondo who creates videos reviewing and demonstrating the product. In this example video, Mondo acknowledges that he is one of the faces of the brand but goes on to give an endearing review.

‌This particular video has 1.3 million views, which adds up to a lot of publicity for oVertone. Mondo is known for reacting to videos of people coloring their own hair and then giving tips on preventing similar hair disasters, making him a good fit for this brand, which specializes in vibrant hair colors.

How to develop sponsored content

‌Most sponsored content can be created in-house, and it’s up to you to choose the right platform for your ad. Use your social media analytics to determine which platforms are most successful and test out different ads. Social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest offer cost-effective pricing that makes it easy to test out different ads and see which are getting the most engagement.

Sponsored content should look like it belongs on the website. If you’re creating sponsored ads on social media, they should match your branding, but they should not look like ads. Create content that is engaging to users and informs them about your product without selling it.

If you plan to use influencers, choose people who stand out in your industry. Don’t choose a personality just because they have a lot of followers. Pick someone whose image resonates with your customers, and do some background research to make sure they haven’t done anything that would reflect poorly on your brand. Micro-influencers may be more cost-effective.

‌To write a sponsored article, tailor it to the platform where it will be published. Your ad should draw readers’ interest, and it should be relevant to them. Partner with a website whose readers overlap with your customers.

The next steps for your sponsored content

‌Look at your current marketing strategy to determine where sponsored content best fits in. If you want to start small, social media posts are the easiest to create, and they are the most cost-effective. Once you’re comfortable creating sponsored posts that look organic, you can move up to long-form articles and sponsored videos.