Are Brands Finally Waking Up to the Potential of Sponsored Content?

by Mack Collier

Dell, Sponsored Content, SXSW, #blogchat, social media, blogging

Around this time last year, and mostly on a lark, I left a post here asking for sponsors for a Live #Blogchat at SXSW.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to get any responses, but within 15 minutes of publishing my post I started receiving offers, and within an hour, my friends at 1680PR were on as the Main Sponsor of the first-ever Live #Blogchat.  That would be the first of 7 Live #Blogchats held in 2011, and I’m planning on announcing the first Live #Blogchat for 2012 in just a few days.

What was really interesting was what happened next.  As soon as I arrived in Austin for SXSW, everyone had 2 questions for me.  The first was ‘So how does a Live #Blogchat work?’, and the second was ‘So who is 1680PR?’  Answering the first question paved the way for my getting more Live #Blogchats throughout the year.  In fact, I met Joe Pulizzi at the Houston airport flying INTO Austin for SXSW, told him about the Live #Blogchat, and that began the conversation that would eventually lead to me doing a Live #Blogchat at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame to kick off Content Marketing World.

But what was really cool was to see how everyone was interested in learning more about 1680PR.  To me, this is how sponsored content should work.  By joining my friends at Dell in sponsoring the first ever Live #Blogchat, Ken and the team at 1680PR were doing two things:

1 – They were helping to facilitate an event that had value to the #Blogchat community

2 – They were becoming RELEVANT to that same community in the process

I got to spend a lot of time with Ken during SXSW, and he got to meet a lot of the people I know in this space, and they got to know him.  To this day, during #Blogchat on Twitter I will see Ken jump in and immediately some of the people he met during SXSW will chime in and say hi!  I had so many of my friends pull me aside during SXSW and tell me how much they liked Ken, and was glad 1680PR had helped sponsor the Live #Blogchat.

Also during SXSW, I got to talk to my friend Tom Martin about how he was providing sponsored content at TalkingWithTom.com.  What Tom did was go around the country interviewing some of the top thought leaders in the social media marketing space, and once a week he would post a new video interview he had done with them.  And Emma sponsored the site.  It was a smart move by Emma, because they got to have their brand associated with all these smart people, but they also made possible the creation of this site, which created value for others.

Tom and I have spent the last year discussing the idea of sponsored content.  But not just that, but the idea of how companies could benefit more from partnering with content creators that have an established community versus simply connecting with influencers.

For example, if a brand contacts an influencer about promoting their product, the influencer may be willing to promote the product if they are properly compensated, maybe with money, or maybe with a free product.

But if a brand contacts me about sponsoring #Blogchat, my first question is ‘Will this sponsorship create value for the #Blogchat community?’  This is an important distinction, because whereas the influencer’s motivation might be in receiving the free product, my motivation is in getting money from the #Blogchat sponsorship, but also in seeing how that sponsorship can be leveraged to create more value for the #Blogchat community.

For example, I’ve begun talking to a select few brands about having them be the long-term sponsor for #Blogchat.  I’m doing this for two reasons:

1 – It will give me a new source of income

2 – The income generated from the sponsorship will allow me to devote more time to building the #Blogchat brand and providing more value to its community.  Which will grow the #Blogchat community, ultimately providing even more value to the sponsor.

I really think you will begin to see more brands moving toward working with content creators to sponsor their content.  In fact, I’ve been talking to several other Twitter Chat hosts over the last several weeks, and many of them had either recently brought on sponsors to their Twitter chats, or were being approached by major brands about sponsorship opportunities.

I also think it makes more sense for the audience, because the content creator has a more vested interest in vetting the sponsors and making sure that bringing them on will provide more value to their readership/audience.  Tom also shared with me a Business Week article on how Expedia is teaming up with bloggers to promote their site.  I thought this ending passage was interesting:

Both company and bloggers say they aren’t concerned that readers may be turned off by commercial relationships between the travel agent and writers. Kim Mance, a Brooklyn, N.Y., video blogger and co-founder of Galavanting, a site aimed at female adventure travelers, says disclosure is important for readers but bloggers need to retain the mission and voice that garnered an audience in the first place. “Bloggers will miserably fail and lose their audience if they piss them off,” Mance says.

Bloggers say they’re ready to deliver travel tales and potential new Expedia customers—so long as they are compensated with exposure and cash. “I’ve spent five years traveling and building up an expertise and a following,” says Sherry Ott, a blogger from South Dakota who was among the Expedia visitors in Seattle. “I want to be able to be paid for my knowledge and for access into my audience.”

This speaks to why I think sponsored content makes so much sense.  Bloggers, for example, that have built up a following, are smart enough to know that if they bring on a sponsor, and their content suffers as a result, that they will lose that following.  So naturally, they only want to bring on sponsors that will bring VALUE to their following, because they want to GROW that following.  Which means they can get MORE sponsors.

It really does seem like a win-win when properly executed.  BTW if your company would like to talk to me about sponsoring #Blogchat on Twitter for either 3 or 6 months, please email me.  Since it is a 3-6 month sponsorship, it will be a bit more, but the benefits will be greater as well versus simply sponsoring one week.

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