Today's installment of The Basics of Blog Monetization Series is all about sponsored content!
Using a broad generalization, sponsored content is a post on social media or your blog that is paid for by a sponsor. There are an absolute ton of ways you can do this: product round-ups, reviews, product integrations (especially for DIY/recipes), giveaways, lifestyle content...the possibilities are absolutely endless for this category! I have found that the more creative you can get with your sponsored posts, the more other companies notice you in the future.
Where Do I Start?
If you're looking to get into the sponsored content world, I'd recommend building your content and your following first. You really want to have a good portfolio of content before approaching a sponsor. I can almost guarantee they're going to look at your hits and social media following before agreeing to work with you, so it's important you have the numbers that support being paid before approaching your favorite companies.
Start integrating some of your favorite products into your posts. Show your sponsor that you can put their product into your content without it sounding too "salesy!" It's nice to have a collection of 5-10 posts that you can show a sponsor to prove the quality of your work. Also, work on your social media following by posting captivating, viral-worthy content (easier said than done, right? ;)). Show the sponsors that you will promote their sponsored posts in a unique way. Make yourself stand out from the other bloggers in your niche!
Once you've built up your content and following, you can start applying to brand agencies and reaching out to companies personally!
There are really two different ways to find sponsors. You always have the option of emailing those sponsors directly and asking for opportunities. Most companies now have an advertising budget for online content, so there's a good chance you'll at least get an email back if you reach out. Just send your stats (including social media reach and monthly page views), an idea as to what you'd like to publish, and your rates.
But, I honestly rarely do this anymore. Instead, I work with brand agencies that connect me with companies that are looking for bloggers to publish the content for them. These are middlemen that connect companies (both big and small) with bloggers (both big and small) for all kinds of monetization: ads, sponsored content, and even affiliate links. It sounds like something you'd want to do yourself, but trust me...working with brand agencies takes so much of the negotiation headache out of the process of working with companies, and can often get you a better rate than if you had done the outreach by yourself!
Here are a few of my personal favorites...
(Affiliate links used.)
SheKnows Media (Formerly known as BlogHer) - I addressed them in my ads post, but they are without a doubt my favorite agency to work with. They have the best sponsored content rates I've found and the program managers are always incredibly professional and helpful. Plus, they've connected me with most of the biggest brands in the business.
Basically, this is how it works: when SheKnows has an opportunity with a company, they send out an email to prospective influencers. This email usually includes the product and a very general idea of what they want the posts to be about. Bloggers fill out an application if they like the idea/product, including a pitch as to why their blog fits the campaign and what content they'd include. Bloggers are selected from those applications. SheKnows then sends out emails to the selected bloggers with campaign details, launch dates, payment rates, and expected deliverables.
From that point, I typically have a week or two to get my post together for the company. SheKnows' edits it, lets the company (and their legal team) edit it, and adds in any necessary code for the post. They give me a rough launch date when I get that initial acceptance email, but that can be subject to change (which is why sometimes I don't have a sponsored post for a month, but then have three in a week...no matter how much scheduling you do, sometimes things go crazy!).
Campaigns for them usually last about a month and I am required to promote those on social media as part of the campaign agreement, although I'm given a ton of freedom in when/where/how I post that promotion.
Izea - This is quickly becoming my go-to for social media sponsored content opportunities. It works a little differently than SheKnows. When you create an account with Izea, you can input all of your social media and blog stats and set a minimum price you're willing to accept for sponsored posts. Then, Izea puts potential campaigns on your sponsorship dashboard in the website. You bid on those and give a very general pitch, and the company looks over that and selects promoters from that information.
From there, the process is about the same as SheKnows. You have a few days to get your content together and submit it. They edit as needed, get it back to you, and you're expected to publish the content within a few days (sometimes sooner). Most of their blog campaigns require social media promotion as well.
Clever Girls Collective - This company has all available campaigns on their site dashboard. You can click through each one to see what the themes of the post are, what the payment is, what social media promotion is expected, and what limitations they're might be (i.e. if you've worked with a competing company in the recent past). You apply by answering a few questions on that site and the program managers get back to you if you're selected.
Pollinate Media, One2One Network, & Mom It Forward - I will occasionally have campaigns with each one of these...great rates and I usually have a lot of freedom as to when/what I post about a company with these agencies.
Linqia - I'm honestly not sure whether to put this one in affiliate links or sponsored posts...with this company, instead of a flat rate for publishing a post, you get paid per click by using a unique link from the company. While it's not a ton per click, those rates add up quickly! With this company, it's especially important that you know your audience is going to interact a lot with your particular post. If not, you typically won't make a lot with this company. But if you have an audience that often uses a lot of links directly from your site, it's definitely worth a try!
Balance & Integrity
The correct balance of sponsored content is tricky. I can't tell you what's going to work for your blog and your audience because the formula is different for every single site. If you're a review/product site, I think it's pretty much expected that the majority of your content is sponsored in one way or another. If you share mostly family/personal stories, sponsored content might be a little more difficult to seamlessly integrate into your content.
Personally, I look at the balance between sponsored & non-sponsored content this way: when you watch a television show, roughly 25% of any given hour is commercials. So, I like to try to keep the overall content of my site at no more than 25% sponsored content at any given time (and that includes posts that are heavy on affiliate links). I'll occasionally go back to the last 20 or so posts and count to make sure I haven't gone over 25% in that time frame; if I have, it might be time to scale back some of the work I'm doing. You've worked this hard to build you following and connect with your readers...don't blow all of that just to make a quick buck!
For the posts you do decide to take on, it is so (SO) incredibly important that you make sure of the following...
1) It's a product you would personally endorse, even without the payment.
2) It's a product that you truly believe would benefit your readers.
3) You are being paid accordingly for your time.
Again, there isn't some magic formula I can give you for what your time is worth; only you can judge that. But, when you're trying to determine what you'll charge for sponsored posts, remember all of the work that goes into making that post: writing, researching product features and claims, photography and editing, formatting and editing, social media promotion, etc. There is a lot more work that goes into well-written and promoted sponsored content than you might initially think!
Once you set your flat rate for sponsored social media posts and blog posts, stick to it. This is so important, but can be hard sometimes. My recommendation is to not go a penny below your set rate once you figure out how much you want to be paid for each opportunity. If it needs to be adjusted later, so be it, but really try to stick to your expected fees for awhile...if not, you'll find yourself doing way too much work for way too little money.
I've always kind of viewed a "starter rate" for blog content at $50. That usually at least pays minimum wage on your work (this is a huge generalization, but most sponsored blog posts takes at least 4-5 hours of work). And I read an interesting figure on social media posts not long ago...for every thousand followers charge $10 per post. Now again, neither one of these figures are accurate for 100% of influencers, but that's a good rule of thumb if you're just starting to figure out your personal rate. You'll need to adjust up or down once you do a few campaigns and figure out if it's worth it for you.
Just like with affiliate links, any and every sponsored post MUST have a disclosure! Per FTC regulations, this disclosure is supposed to be at the top of each blog post that has sponsored content (in clear, not teeny tiny writing). For sponsored social media content, you must have a short-form disclosure in each post. Most of the time you'll see the #ad or #sp hashtag in a sponsored social media post. Nothing fancy or huge, but it must be apparent that you're getting paid to publish something.
If you take nothing else from this post, make sure the sponsored content you post is something that is worth your time and worth your readers' time. It might be nice to make a great paycheck from a sponsored post, but is it worth losing your readers' trust by publishing content that you obviously don't believe in? Not usually.
Want to read other posts from The Basics of Blog Monetization Series? Check out these posts!
The Basics of Blog Monetization: An Introduction
The Basics of Blog Monetization: How to (Frugally) Start a Money-Making Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Using Ads on Your Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Using Affiliate Links on Your Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Selling Your Own Product(s)