Some Thoughts on Sponsored Content

I recently opened up a discussion (via my Instagram story) about sponsored content and had so many interesting conversations. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity around what sponsored content actually is, how it works, and what it means at a more personal level. So in the interest of expanding minds everywhere (okay maybe not), I thought I’d share my answers to the most commonly asked questions here as well.

What is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is any kind of social media content (e.g., an Instagram post) that’s been paid for in some way. In other words, an agreement has been made between a brand and an individual to exchange something of value (e.g., money or product) for content. Legally, an individual has to disclose that sponsored content has been paid for (e.g., by including #sponsored or #ad in the caption), although the terms around this vary from country to country.

Is “gifting” different to sponsored content?

Yes! Gifting is when a brand gifts an individual products (or services / experiences etc) without making any kind of agreement or asking for anything in return. As far as I know, the idea behind gifting is that the brand is hoping you’ll really like the product (or whatever it is) and decide to share about it in some way. However, the individual who’s received the product is under no obligation to do this, which is why it can technically be considered a gift: one that a brand is hoping to benefit from, but this is in no way guaranteed.

How does sponsored content actually work?

Sponsored content on social media allows brands to reach the people that actually want to be reached, and I’m all for it. I always have a reason for following someone.. We all do! For me, it’s usually because I like the way they style their home, or the way they dress, or their photography / design skills. Sometimes it’s just because I like them! Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that we follow people whose content appeals to us in some way. So when someone I choose to follow is posting about a brand that *they* like and that suits *their* style, there’s actually a pretty good chance I’m going to like it too. Personally, I think this kind of carefully considered advertising (when it’s done right) is sooooooo much better than the generic billboards / leaflets / commercials that are just blasted at everyone.

Does sponsored content = unauthentic content?

I think it 100% depends on the individual. The people I follow that post sponsored content are all people whose opinions I genuinely value and who I’ve really come to trust in some way. So every time I see a sponsored post on my Instagram feed, it always seems to *fit* the individual and their style really well (and mine by extension because I’m following them). These people are obviously only taking on collaborations with quality brands that they actually like, and think I might like too. If you’re seeing sponsored posts that seem all wrong (e.g., the brand looks like crap, or doesn’t really fit with the person or their style or interests), it might be time to unfollow! I’ve turned down so many more collaborations than I’ve taken on – mostly because a lot of the brands that approach me aren’t brands I would actually spend my money on (so how could I recommend them to anyone else??). I’m sure there are plenty of “unauthentic” sponsored posts out there, but I think they’re pretty easy to spot and cull from your feed.

Why is sponsored content sometimes considered a negative thing?

I think some people definitely have an issue with the idea of someone getting paid to share on social media, although to be honest I don’t really understand this. Firstly, creating content (whether it’s for social media or not) is a lot of work! I can easily spend 2 or 3 hours on a single Instagram post, and that’s on a good day (although obviously this varies from person to person and from job to job). Secondly, it seems a little selfish to me to expect someone to regularly create content for you to enjoy and be inspired by, but take issue with the idea that they might be able to earn some kind of income from this.. Especially when I think about how much time and energy goes into regularly creating content. If you have an issue with sponsored content, I think your best bet is to unfollow anyone who’s consistently creating quality content (because chances are they’re spending upward of 10-20 hours a week on this, and would probably love to be getting paid).

Any advice for someone just starting out? 

If you’re looking to start posting sponsored content here and there, my advice is to be super picky about the collaborations you take on. Only consider working with brands that you genuinely love and would be willing to spend your own money on. As a general rule = if you would happily and wholeheartedly suggest a product (or service) to a friend, then it’s probably a winner! Anything else is only going to hurt you and your credibility in the long run. I’d also encourage you to just be open about it – sponsored content is not something you need to feel awkward about, by any means. Some people won’t understand (and might judge you for it) but that’s on them, not you.

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