The Future of Social Media Sponsorship

We're living in the age of the social Web. Each of us is a publisher of some kind—from Facebook posts to YouTube videos, blog comments to geo check-ins. And each of us has a unique ability to influence our friends, family, and colleagues in real time.

As a result, consumers now not only expect a company or brand to have a Web presence, but they expect engagement as well. Social media sponsorships are one way to start the conversation.

The History

Social media sponsorships were first introduced to the market in 2006 to a significant amount of controversy and outright anger from those who felt social media should remain an advertising-free outlet for consumers. Today, social media sponsorships are a staple in most marketing strategies, whether a company pays cash for posts or all-expenses travel for a blogger to post on a company's behalf during an event.

Media sponsorships, however, are not a new concept. If you've ever watched the HBO series Rome, you'll see the newsreader include a note about who is sponsoring that day's news. Product placement has been around as long as there have been avenues to reach consumers. Social media sponsorship is the next iteration of television and radio product placement and magazine and newspaper advertorials.

But simply paying for a positive social media post is ineffective. Brands should use social media sponsorship as a tool to start and shape a conversation around a specific industry, product, or service.

The following guidelines can help you conduct an effective social media sponsorship campaign:

  • Be social. Select topics, campaigns, and messages that create a conversation with consumers. The core of social media's value is authenticity, so gravitate toward content that lets a blogger or tweeter engage with her readers.
  • Avoid ad speak. It can be tempting to use ad speak when creating a social media sponsorship message—you're paying for it, right? See the first point: Social media is social. Give customers a link to watch a video or otherwise engage; don't just tout the product and hope someone responds.
  • Relevancy. Find influencers who are already respected by the audience you want to reach. Asking a mommy blogger to talk about a new small business software package isn't as effective as finding an entrepreneur to do it. The mommy blogger might accept your money, but her readers are not tuning in for small business advice.
  • The valuation. There is a frequent disconnect between what advertisers believe a tweet or post is worth and what the publisher believes his or her content is worth. Trust a reliable third party to help navigate these waters. If that's not possible, remember that the number of followers is only half the story. Look for the levels of engagement—how many responses are there on each post? A low number of followers has high value if the engagement level is also high, whereas a high number of followers with low engagement has little value.

Celebrities Versus Average Joes and Janes

It can be tempting to throw resources (money!) toward celebrities: Their fans do what they want them to, right?


Not only does it have to be the right celebrity for a given product or brand, it has to be the right time for the celebrity. It's more complicated than paying the highest dollar amount.

A celebrity tweet will have maximum impact for just a short period, unless it's part of a larger, integrated campaign. This is great for the right announcement or product. However, for campaigns that last months, it's more cost effective and strategic to leverage Average Joe and Jane bloggers. The collective reach of hundreds of less famous publishers can create a groundswell of interest from their followers.

It's the Law

One of the most common questions—and complaints—from those new to social media sponsorship concerns disclosure. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that all social media influencers declare if they've been compensated in any way for sharing information or writing a review. This includes receiving free products or services, other in-kind offers, or direct cash. Most marketers are simply not aware of the legalities surrounding disclosure and oftentimes unknowingly expose themselves to significant liability.

Part of the reason for this lack of awareness may be the confusion many have between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FTC. The FCC monitors television and radio, which is why the judges can drink Coke on American Idol without disclosing that the brand is a sponsor, or a local radio host can interview a dentist without saying he paid for the spot. The FTC governs social media and therefore different guidelines apply. For clarification, check out the FTC guidelines.

The growth of social engagement isn't slowing, and as its reach expands even further around the globe, smart business leaders must use every tool at their disposal to connect—and engage—with customers.

Ted Murphy is the founder, CEO, and chairman of IZEA Holdings, Inc., a social media sponsorship company that connects brands and influencers. His company has a network of 600,000 influencers and 50,000 advertisers.

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