From a purely journalistic point of view, “sponsored content” advertising has been controversial; it makes other news or content seem less objective. But sponsored content is being increasingly accepted by many publications as they look for more ad revenue, and work harder to engage with SMBs.
The media companies certainly hopes it works. A survey by Mixpo found that 53% of publishers offer a sponsored content solution. At the same time, 74% said it was "extremely" or "somewhat important" to have such an offering.
The public doesn’t seem to mind it. When it hits the right chords, sponsored content can gets more click thrus than the straight news. We’ve even seen successful sponsored content features such as “Ask a Doctor” outpacing news clicks.
One key to winning high click through rates for sponsored content is to place it in a contextually relevant format. Since it is already personalized based on reader interests, social media sites such as Facebook have been a real breakthrough here. So have local content sites where the lines between advertiser and newsmaker are naturally blurry.
The Streetwise Media chain of local business to business websites is a good example. Its sites include BostInno, DC Inno, Austin Inno and Chicago Inno. It can target these around specific audiences. A BostInno campaign for Bentley Business School, for instance, focused on the value of having an MBA and was targeted to 20-somethings.
A lot of sponsored content efforts are one-offs that are run as advertorials. These are relatively easy to produce. Sponsored content that is produced as a series or a campaign takes more of a commitment and greater resources. That’s why most sustained efforts are typically done by larger companies.
Unless a company has a true subject expert that is willing to expound (and expound) on a regular basis, one option is for SMBs to use syndicated content from a dedicated “content farm.” These can be used “as is,” or they can be customized for their own geographic market.
Brand Forge, a content farm developed by Utah's Deseret Digital Media, is one example. It allows clients to create a mix of content. This mix can include vertically segmented newspaper content from Deseret; and custom content that is created for specific advertisers.
Ultimately, some SMBs are more likely to win with sponsored content than others. These are the companies that have contextually relevant media to work with; are in “interesting” categories that people enjoy or value reading about (entertainment, travel, health, etc); and can create a steady flow of articles.