Should you make the leap into sponsored content?

sponsored content

By Mark Schaefer

The sponsored content wasps are swarming!

Every day I get pitches from companies seeking to pay me to feature their products on my blog, or even pay for entire posts about their products. Not only is the number of requests increasing, the amount of money being offered for these posts is going up too.

This is a trend I predicted in the 2012 book Return On Influence. As the effectiveness of “traditional” advertising channels dries up, marketers will seek to “borrow” the large and loyal audiences of bloggers and other content creators.

This movement has exploded so fast in the past 12 months, one journalist asked me last week if it needed to be regulated. She pointed out the number of young YouTube stars who are being paid to peddle everything from candy bars to backpacks withot disclosing that this is paid advertsing.

The case for sponsored content

I have never featured a paid product pitch in a blog post but many other bloggers are. I wonder — Is this an important and legitimate way to generate income for a blogger who has been delivering free content for years, or is it a distraction that will breach the trust of our loyal readers?

Last week I posed this question on Facebook and received some pretty interesting responses. I asked the crew if I could publish some of the responses on {grow} and everyone was OK with it. I did some minor editing to make them blog-worthy.

So here we go …

Would you accept paid sponsored posts on your blog?

Alan Brocious  If people pay you to publish content, then you can no longer say that you give your content away. That’s a strong selling point and trust factor, more about your brand long term.

Aseem Jibran  I believe if you’ve used a product/service and you believe it offers what it claims and is decent enough then, there is no harm endorsing it [and getting paid of course].

Ana Silva O’Reilly  I say no 99% of time and only say yes to brands that I love and who respect me and actually trust me to tell their story in my own way. A good example is American Express. Most respectful brand I have worked with. I have been with them for almost 20 years and am a true brand advocate – and they know it and value my supposed influence. 

Gettysburg Gerry  This is a personal decision. Unfortunately there are those that consider any form of compensation a “sellout.” I don’t feel anybody has the right to dictate someone’s use of their digital property.

Gini Dietrich  We are considering it (on Spin Sucks blog) IF the content fits our normal editorial. We haven’t signed one yet because no one is willing to have the content be helpful and not an ad (yet).

Brad Lovett  What did (radio news celebrity) Paul Harvey do his entire career? He built trust and did live advertising reads throughout the radio broadcast in a very believable way. But he never took on a client he did not personally believe in. If there was a way to duplicate that, I think it could work.

Donna Moritz  This has become a massive industry involving lifestyle, food, travel and fashion bloggers here in Australia. They are being paid thousands of $$$ for each post and the price keeps going up because they all have massive audiences. It’s not for me and doesn’t suit my blog, but brands are definitely willing to pay to be put in front of relevant eyeballs.

Randy Bowden  Mark certainly you are a standout when it comes to your blog following because your platform has always been based on free expression and new ideas. Once you begin to pitch an xyz (inside content as opposed to banner or button) then you lose the quality that you have invested in. You become a pawn to the money. As a reader and as a student of journalism, trust is the key to my confidence. That is the difference between a thought leader and just another person writing an advertisement. 

Frithjof Petscheleit  For some reason I can only remember blogs that went downhill after deciding to allow sponsored content. Sorry with all due respect to all friends involved, that includes Steamfeed.

DJ Thistle Frithjof, no worries. We accept sponsored content (on Steamfeed) but completely on our terms and the content is clearly labeled for our readers. We deny a lot of the content that comes in. We only publish it if it’s a win-win-win. A win for our readers, a win for us financially, and a win for the sponsor in terms of value.

Jon Loomer  I see such an opportunity as a bridge. If I didn’t have my own product and I was scraping to get by, it makes sense. Now? No dollar figure would make sense.

Mark Schaefer  Good point. I think one of the ways to stand out in this information dense world is radical honesty. Crossing that line and introducing paid product placements in the editorial portion of the blog is a serious decision far beyond the money, even if I love the product.

Arik Hanson  Why wouldn’t you consider it? I mean, if it’s relevant to your readers and what you blog about, why does it have to be an ad (or perceived as “selling out”)?

Chris Brogan  I’m all for it, when the product matches the interests of the community I serve. I took my first sponsored post back in 2009 and was written up as the Devil. Evidently that word means “did it years before everyone else decided it was okay.”

Mark Schaefer  Many aspects of blogging we take for granted were first pioneered by you, Chirs, so we are all really in your debt. While I appreciate your guts and innovation, speaking for myself, the sponsored posts on your site have been a turn-off because when I read a post I have to figure out if it is you or a sponsor, If it is a sponsor (like a paper shredder), it stops me in my tracks and that is the end. I’m sure other people react differently but I can’t totally trust what content is real on your blog any more (even though you do a great job with disclosures) and I don’t visit as much as I used to. I have worked so hard to build trust … I am afraid to cross the line and jeopardize that intimate connection.

Chris Brogan  Thanks! But also, every single sponsored post I’ve done has the words “sponsored post” in the title and the entire first paragraph explains that it’s a sponsor. I write myself without any approval from them.

Del Williams  The thing falls off the rails when people can be bought, because they NEED the money. Nothing causes compromise as quickly as desperation. And the “I never would” crowd have not had that particular issue. I have heard stories from PR people where some bloggers try to threaten their way to freebies and money with threats to destroy those who say no by writing against them on their blog or social network. This bad behavior is even more common than the sponsored post.

Matt Ridings Here’s my issue. I love Avis Car Rental, If they had approached me prior to the recent incredible debacle I had, I’d have told anyone in the world (and have privately) that I use them, I recommend them, and that my experience has been far and away better than Enterprise and Hertz. So let’s say I write that post … and then the debacle happens. Can I edit that post and say anything about it? Can I delete it? Can I write a new one? And unless that original post is changed, most people land on a blog post, read it, and walk away … so I’m effectively still promoting them as if nothing ever happened. How does that work?

Rhonda Hurwitz  In the past month clients spontaneously told me they appreciate my integrity. It surprised me … but also made me think. Is integrity so rare that people find it remarkable?

Let’s continue the dialogue. What do you think?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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