Consumers are noticing sponsored posts more than ever. And according to the sixth annual "State of Sponsored Social" report, consumers even see sponsored social posts as more effective than the mighty TV commercial.
As social media grows in importance as a marketing channel, and makes gains as an advertising platform and as a way to reach specific audiences, brands shouldn't discount the influence of sponsored posts. Marketers may have a wide range of new advertising options on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. And sponsored social, though not an entirely novel tactic, is an increasingly relevant one that should be part of any marketers’ playbook.
"Sponsored content has the ability to dramatically change the trajectory of conversations and sentiment for and about brands. And, as this year’s 'State of Sponsored Social' report revealed, consumers are not only noticing these ads, but find them to be highly effective," IZEA Founder and CEO Ted Murphy told Marketing Dive.
The report, conducted in collaboration with Halverson Group and the Right Brain Consumer Consulting, also found 52% of respondents had a standalone sponsored social budget in 2015. Further, 54% of surveyed marketers reported using sponsored social last year, the same figure as display ads, although sponsored social is trending upwards and display ads were down 4%. On a scale from one to ten, sponsored social ranked 7.29 in terms of effectiveness.
"Sponsored social stands apart from the new ad units because it allows brands to reach their target audiences in authentic and original ways by connecting with social creators who have built-in credibility, creativity and engagement," Murhpy said. IZEA, which connects brands with social media influencers, reported that consumers are noticing sponsored posts up to three per day.
Regulation awareness is an area that needs improvement
The report, however, also found "only 8% of marketers reported being aware of and understanding the FTC guidelines, as opposed to 67% of creators," Murphy said. Further, 33% of respondents reported not even being aware sponsored content was under any regulation.
The news comes at a time when a majority of marketers are expecting to increase content marketing spending and on the heels of the FTC updating its FAQ page for endorsement requirements. The endorsement guidelines specifically lay out how sponsored content compensation – in the form of cash, coupons, discounts, experiences, or free products or services – must be publicly disclosed.
In December the FTC also put out updated guidelines for native advertising disclosures. The update follows concerns that consumers are being misled by ads that too closely resemble editorial content. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has called these new guidelines "overly prescriptive," but perhaps the FTC is onto something. Research from Grady College in Georgia published in the December Journal of Advertising found that a majority of consumers confused native ads with editorial content. Less than 8% were able to identify the native advertisement as a paid ad.
The findings indicate more emphasis needs to be placed on education around FTC guidelines, which Murphy said "continues to be an industry need."
What a strong sponsored social strategy looks like
Making sponsored social part of the social media strategy allows marketers to get beyond advertising and into the social conversation.
"Your brand is integrated directly into the content stream of blogs, videos, photos and updates in the voice of a trusted creator. Every post is unique and original in perspective, tone and authority, sending your message directly to consumers," Murphy explained.
It's important is to incentivize engagement with coupons, contests, social involvement with the brand or simply enticing content. Murphy said brands need to have a compelling reason for consumers to engage with sponsored social, and that choosing the right creator or influencer with whom to work is crucial. He said this means thoroughly vetting an influencer, checking out their social networks, blogs and other social presence to make sure their audience is "a match for the brand." In addition to audience, Murphy says it's important to look for creators that have "dynamic engagement."
"Choosing the wrong fit can mean missing out on the perfect audience, as well as losing content authenticity," Murphy said. "A sponsored social campaign should build momentum and buzz outside of a creator’s own social channels."
Murphy also had some platform-specific advice:
- Instagram is great for sharing highly visual content
- Facebook can drive consumer engagement
- Vine is perfect for short-snippets of entertainment
- Blogs are great for longer-form content
Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach will turn up fruitless.
"A sponsored social campaign should not be generalized for all platforms, but rather organically fit within the influencer’s current social content," he said.
Sponsored social has two other clear advantages over social media advertising: it is a way to circumvent ad blocking software, and it readily sets brands up for conversations with consumers.
"While advertising on social media has become more popular, so have ad blockers. Consumers have demonstrated in recent months that they are willing to pay to block ads from brands. Traditional paid advertising is seen as a one-way, highly-controlled brand communication that is accepted, but not necessarily beloved or believed by the consumer," Murphy explained.
Consumers blind to traditional display advertising are more likely to engage with an influencer post than a static ad — and less likely to block it.
Sponsored social, he said, is unique in that it enables brands to engage with consumers with the help of influencers. With sponsored social influencers are given the authority to tell a brand story in their own voice. This kind of content "resonates with an influencer’s audience to deliver a brand’s message, something that is certainly not achievable through traditional ad buys."
"Whether your goal is to drive brand awareness, boost sales, sample products, or just engage with your target consumer, sponsored social is an incredibly effective marketing tactic," Murphy said.