The days of a blog simply being an individual's online diary are over. "Had cornflakes for breakfast" has been supplanted by "Had delicious and nutritious 'Brand X' cornflakes for breakfast, and so should you to start your day right!" Okay, maybe not quite so obvious, at least not in the hands of a skilled blogger, but you get the idea. Sponsoring bloggers and the conversations taking place online is big business these days. So big that businesses, according to an article in the June 21, 2009 PARADE Magazine, "spend about $1.6 billion a year on 'word-of-mouth' advertising, promoting their goods to bloggers and to people who use social-media websites like Facebook, according to the research firm PQ Media."
Right, wrong, or somewhere in between, "sponsored conversations" appear to be here to stay. So, assuming you're ready to get in on these conversations, what can you do to ensure the collaboration between your brand and a blogger (or bloggers) is a successful one? I went to the conversation side of the sponsored-conversation equation, and those who specialize in putting the two sides together, to get their perspective on making the math work.
Why sponsor conversation?Just because a lot of money is being spent on sponsored conversation doesn't mean it's right for your brand. So why spend precious ad dollars on a blogger? According to Maggie Mason, CEO of Mighty Media and creator of the popular blog, Mighty Girl, not every brand should. "Sometimes, if you know the demographic is the right fit, the best thing to do is just buy a banner ad on the blog," says Mason. "But if you're looking for PR-type product placement, it's so much smarter to find people who are already talking about what you want to talk about."
"You're getting deeper engagement with an audience than you can get through banner advertising per se," insists Anita Campbell, founder and editor of Small Business Trends, a blog for small-business owners. "You're being seen in connection with an audience that you want to get at, and, in a way, that enables people to think about your products and services."
"Traditional display advertising has just basically lost its effectiveness," argues the self-proclaimed world leader in sponsored conversations, Ted Murphy, who is CEO and founder of IZEA, a firm that connects bloggers with advertisers. Murphy stresses that sponsored conversations can be a better expenditure of ad dollars because, "your average person who is reading content in the social media space is there for a reason."
"That kind of environment provides for very rich, fertile ground for a brand advertiser's message," elaborates Matt DiPietro, director of marketing and communications for Federated Media, a company specializing in connecting independent website authors and audiences to marketers.
"The content the people are coming to the website to read is the advertisement," says Joe Colburn, founder of JoeTech.com, a popular technology blog, "but it doesn't feel like one because it's more engaging and offers a more personal approach to telling someone about a product." He compares the conversation between a blogger and his readers to that of a friend telling you about a new product he just got, which you're likely to trust much more than an advertisement.
Asha Dornfest, founder and publisher of Parent Hacks, a blog devoted to real-world parenting tips, is also a big believer in the trust factor of blogs. "The trust of your readership is the number-one thing. This is one reason blogs have taken off so much, because people want to get away sometimes from that corporate voice."
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Sponsored Conversation has migrated to the online marketing space through social media content. It is paid editorial content. Sponsored Conversation was originally established as grass roots marketing efforts of the large corporation to the small business marketer.It is cost effective and offers brand managers an avenue of direct communication with the consumer. It is also used in pubic relations online to manage online brands and increase consumer interest of products and services. Sponsored Conversation is used in online reputation management and reverse SEO.
While sponsoring a blogger or blog can be a good tactic, ultimately, why? Even with disclosure, for the brand, there is a decreased level of credibility because there will always be a level of suspicion on the blogger's posts related to the brand.With few exceptions, there are plenty of niches that have very high quality, high-traffic blogs that, by engaging and reaching out to them, a brand can benefit without sponsoring content.While I definitely don't begrudge any blogger from making an income off of his or her blog, being sponsored too much or too closely tied to companies and PR can negatively impact their own brand.-Mike
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