Over the past year, “sponsored” has become a polarizing topic among social media. Twitter recently introduced its “#PromptedTweets” and others such as “#SponsoredTweets” and “#PayMeTweets” have become common. Enter “sponsored comments,” the newest addition to this wave of paid content. In addition to seeking out bloggers and Twitter influencers, companies are now paying to post advertisements under the reader-comment area of blogs and online publications.
There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the validity of sponsorship in these arenas. Ultimately, readers want to know the source of their information to ensure that they are not being misled, and much of this discussion has focused on the fear of backroom deals impacting the quality and scope of the sources on which readers rely. While objectivity is easier to disentangle than ever, the question now becomes relevancy.
At the same time, sponsorship offers an opportunity for industry leaders to monetize spaces which have been previously difficult to cash in on. We rely on the thoughtful posts of these leaders for our news, and disclosed compensation increases the possibility of infusing the space with more thought leaders while maintaining the content produced by those we already trust.
When a space -- be it Twitter, a blog or a comment area -- becomes infested with SPONSORED, SPONSORED, SPONSORED, it runs the risk of losing its readers. It’s all about finding the balance that keeps our content producers happy without overwhelming the reader.
I tend to see “sponsored” in this context similarly to graffiti. A tag here and there, while perhaps unsightly, still has interest and meaning and thus, value. However, when the wall becomes covered with this graffiti of sponsorship, the content merges, becoming unrecognizable. It’s all about targeting. Companies like Magpie, TweetROI and Sponsored Tweets reportedly analyze and rank influencers, connecting organizations with the right followers. Users have been quick to respond. Forty-two percent of users see the addition as equivalent to spam, but a majority, 69 percent, think it’s a good business model or are curious to see more. With new FTC regulations mandating full compensation disclosure, these users know who’s been paid and who has not, alleviating users’ fear of being mislead.
With the addition of these sponsored tags, we know where our information is coming from and thought leaders have an opportunity to monetize their otherwise free content. Larger brands and personalities like Kim Kardashian, who reportedly rakes in $10k per Tweet, are doing well. Since users know when a Tweet is solicited, they have the ability to determine how to interpret the message. The onus is then on the sponsoring company to limit the number of tweets they release. If you are searching for a term and see the same message repeated 20 times with a sponsored hashtag, you’re not going to pay it much attention. It will become irrelevant. However, if you see one, well-constructed tweet from a thought leader you trust, you’ll pay attention. Even with the tag of sponsorship, the tweet remains novel and thus relevant and interesting. Again, it’s about striking the right balance.
Sponsored comments are another interesting addition to the world of sponsored Web content. Companies like Talkahead help organizations track news and post targeted messages in the comment section of relevant articles. The Huffington Post is offering sponsored Tweets and comments for its advertisers. In many ways, such posts are more relevant as they provide no incentive to an influencer but simply target messages to the comment portion of a given site. As sponsored comments are so highly targeted, they offer an opportunity to connect a reader with a product or service that would genuinely interest them. Still, the proper balance must be found. If the comment area becomes too crowded and focuses entirely on sponsored comments, readers will no longer engage and contribute, rendering sponsored comments ineffective. It’s a careful negotiation between getting a message out there and crowding the space.
It’s safe to conclude that the demographic most likely to use Twitter as a news source and engage in discussions has a higher media literacy rate and seeks out more sources than the aggregate. These are individuals who are critical of the content they read and usually have a pretty good idea of its source. Sponsorship options offer companies one solid conduit to this demographic. Additionally, they allow sites and industry leaders to monetize what would otherwise be a totally free space.
However, it’s important to remember that sponsorship is one strategy, not the end of the story. Getting an influencer to pay attention to your product or service requires both quality of offerings and sustained relationships. While building relationships with reporters and other influencers takes time, effort and investment, it pays off. Thoughtful and strategic use of sponsorship of a comment or Tweet is a great first step, but it’s important to remember it’s one step among many.
Well, here I am. After eight and a half LONG months of unemployment, I am back in the workforce.
And the biggest lesson I learned from this experience? Never, ever settle.
I’ve always been one of those obnoxious over-achievers: six internships in college, hugely involved in PRSSA and all-around driven. Because of that, I was hired right out of college and loved my job.
Skip to two years of hard work later, the economy took a dive and I was laid off. ::Cue violins::
I was used to being hired on the spot, so I thought it would take me no time at all to find a new job. Thankfully, my dad had been in my head enough all those years, so I had a nice cushion of cash to keep me safe for several months. (Note: No matter how young or old you are, 10 percent of your check needs to be put in a savings account that you DO NOT TOUCH. Life happens and it will save you.)
At first, I was very picky about where I went to interview, because I only wanted to apply to companies where I saw a long-term future. I searched on Monster.com, Craigslist, Hound.com and every other job Web site there is, plus I had my own Web site created to present my résumé in a way that would set me apart from everyone else who was searching for a job. I was starting to feel the pressure.
About six months in, a company found me on Monster.com and invited me to an interview. For some reason, it made the voice inside my head scream “NO, NO, NO!” But I thought, “hey, a job is a job and I just need to suck it up.”
I was about five minutes early and was asked to sit in the front room to wait for my interviewer. An hour and 25 minutes later, someone finally came to interview me. It was absolutely robotic. No niceties, no personality, no questions to get to know more than will I make this company money, or not? I felt like I had a huge number stamped on my forehead.
However, yes it was in PR, yes it was a job and yes I got an offer.
But I couldn’t bring myself to accept it.
I’m not a person who can be in a job I hate or even take a “just-for-now” job while looking for something I actually want. I put 100 percent of myself into the work I do and there was no way that I was going to do that for something I only cared about 2 percent. I declined and went back to the warm embrace of my online applications, though I was starting to feel like I’d be doing this forever.
Two months later, I applied to Metis through Craigslist and was called in for an interview. It was one of those moments in which your friend sets you up on another blind date and you’re apprehensive, but when you meet them, they’re of Brad-Pitt caliber. I was thrilled.
Metis felt like me. It isn’t a time clock, punch-in, punch-out company. There are REAL people working here who care about me and my success. They understand their clients and know the industry really well, but still manage to maintain a comfortable atmosphere that allows employees to do their jobs better.
It just felt right. I was offered the job and couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.
So here I am, starting over. My nice little cushion is now more of a thin, worn sheet, but I am doing what I love at a company that feels like home and I have never been happier (Really.).
If you’re job hunting, you know it’s a tough market out there, but stay hopeful and wait for something that makes you happy. No matter what anyone says, that’s what matters most.
Notes from the Intern's Desk:
Homework for Tuesday: post a new entry for my blog, draft a press release and write an elevator pitch.
As a communications major at Simmons College, I’m not just learning how to write. I’m learning how to write for my era. The homework above is for my “Writing and Editing across the Media” course. Our semester-long assignment is to post a new blog entry every week.
So how do you write a blog?
Well, there are many answers to this question. Here’s what we are learning in class, hopefully this can help you too:
Blogs should be brief. They’re not term papers, and there isn’t a minimum page requirement. Keep it short. Lingering blogs are the worst, aren’t they? They just keep going and going.
Use clear, simple sentences. Run-on sentences will lose your reader’s interest and then you’ll lose followers and eventually you’ll be writing your blog just for yourself. You don’t want that.
Be focused. Have one main idea per blog. If you start discussing social media, don’t switch to the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I know Owen’s flashbacks are pretty graphic, but they still can’t infringe on your blog writing time.
Check your speling. Errors mar credibility, right?
Be interesting. This is the only blog I’ve read that starts with a homework assignment. Beat that.
Be accurate and fair. Don’t spread rumors or share information that may not be truthful. I have a tattoo. I really don’t, but you want to believe me because I said it. No tats here, sorry.
Be conversational. Write as though you are talking to a friend. Asking questions and addressing the reader makes them more apt to respond and comment. For example, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about this post. Please comment below.
Target your audience. Consider the people you are trying to reach and write about topics they want to read. I could discuss my teeth brushing strategy, but you don’t want to hear that.
Write a clear headline to hook the reader. If you’ve gotten this far, then my headline must have worked.
Add links to related sites or other blogs, if relevant. Check out this blog about “How to Write Great Blog Content” by ProBlogger.com.
Add a question or thought at the end that would elicit readers to post their responses to your blog. Has this post been helpful?
(Sources: “Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method” by Carole Rich and Professor Porter’s class)
Notes from the Intern’s Desk:
Last month I attended an “EE Times Roundtable,” a presentation and discussion for PR and marketing professionals based on market trends, best practices and new techniques for engaging with engineers. EE Times is considered one of the go-to sources for engineers, so the presentation on how the publication is engaging and changing its approach to interacting via social media was helpful. EE Times is working on a redesign and relaunch for its Web site and will include many types of content and opportunities to connect online. (Also, they are currently looking for site moderators for their online forums, if you are interested.)
A sophomore in college interning here at Metis, I was easily the youngest person in a room full of seasoned reporters and specialists - a fact that, while primarily making me feel out of place, enhanced my ability to understand and relate to speaker Paul Miller’s discussion of the current struggle with a generational gap and his prediction of where the future of engineering content lies, both in print and online.
The event served for Miller, CEO of EE Times, as an opportunity to present the publication’s plan to re-energize its place in the market, re-think the way it does business, and re-engineer new and exciting products to meet the demands that 2010 will present. I have always associated engineering with innovation and fresh thinking, and although I know a person of any age is capable of coming up with a cutting-edge design, I assumed the engineering field to be made up of a younger crowd. So, I was surprised when Miller explained that the average age of an engineer in the United States is 48. He discussed a colleague’s research regarding the kinds of sources engineers look to for information and the existence of a problematic generational gap: while older members of the field continue to rely on print media for information, the newer and soon-to-be engineers are focused on social media.
As my generation ascends into the workforce, the importance of Twitter feeds, forums, Facebook communities, and message boards is rapidly growing. Social media is one of the most important content sources available. Everyone from journalists to PR execs to the engineers themselves should start socializing. However, it’s not necessary to dive in head first. Someone who loves to read the newspaper on his desk need not be forced into reading it online (until they all disappear – check out Newspaper Death Watch) - however, he should make himself familiar with the newspaper’s Web site to involve himself in the online discussions that may be occurring. The fact is that PR, marketing, journalism and the professionals who rely on these industries for exposure have moved into a new realm when it comes to content and networking – we’re following our customers; those who refuse to jump on the social media bandwagon run the risk of being left behind – and losing out not only on great connections but on future customers, too.