5 things every marketer should know about branded content

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Kirsty Sharman, head of operations, Webfluential

It’s been a busy few weeks in digital marketing, with plenty of updates to the rules and regulations surrounding sponsored content in different territories.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), who write and maintain the UK’s Advertising Codes, have published open letters to online publishers and bloggers, as well as online marketers and clients, to reinforce the rules around paid-for content, reviews and promotions. The CAP has even released an update for vloggers. Google has also recently documented best practice guidelines about for bloggers, calling for disclosure even when reviewing products received for free.

These guidelines and regulations are in response to the boom in influencer and content marketing, and have the best interests of the consumer at heart. As the CAP states: “There is nothing wrong with vloggers (or others creating editorial content), marketers or agencies entering into commercial relationships: what’s wrong is if consumers are misled.”

As marketers, you want to be sure that you’re meeting your client’s brief and business objectives, delighting the target audience with good quality content produced by credible influencers, while staying well within the advertising guidelines in your market.

That being said. If you’re strapped for time but still need to keep on top of the basics I’ve compiled a list of the top things every marketer should know about commissioning and disseminating sponsored content.

Here are the five most important things you should know before working with influencers:

1. All sponsored content needs to be labelled #sponsored, #ad or #affiliate

The Federal Trade Commission (in the US) released an update about making effective disclosures in digital advertisers back in March 2013. Basically, it’s a legal requirement for anyone who is being paid to endorse your brand to disclose it - even if you only have 140 characters to do it on Twitter. It’s also not enough to tag the content and subsequent social posts as #sponsored or [SPONSORED], you have to keep the rule of proximity in mind - it must be immediately obvious that the content is paid-for. Don’t be sneaky and bury the disclosure at the very end of a product review.

2. Make sure your hyperlinks aren’t misleading

When you include a hyperlink in sponsored content, word it with care. It needs to “convey the importance, nature, and relevance of the information it leads to”. In other words, if you have paid a blogger to review a product, but you want the readers to know that the product only ships in certain countries, and you want to hyperlink to that list of countries, then use the guideline below as a benchmark.

Incorrect way to hyperlink: Important info about this product

Correct way to hyperlink: This product only ships to certain countries, check the list before placing your order

Your client might want the influencer you’re working with on a campaign to link back to the company’s website, social media accounts, or the download page for their app. This is fine, but be aware that Google doesn’t consider this to be organic traffic. The search giant wants to enforce (we’re not yet sure how) that bloggers and influencers to use a no-follow tag when they do this. Make sure you’ve briefed your client on this new requirement.

3. Consumers shouldn’t have to scroll to find out content is sponsored

This is the proximity rule in action again. Make sure that the disclosure, whether it’s a #sponsored tag or a hyperlink that leads to a disclosure, is clearly visible. You’ll also need to take into consideration that content displays differently on smartphones, tablets and laptops, as well as in different browsers. The onus is on the client, the marketer and the blogger or influencer - the authorities hold all three parties equally accountable - to make sure that consumers don’t have to go hunting. Don’t use a pop-up to announce a disclosure, as these can be blocked by certain browsers. Don’t use scroll bars to hide disclosure, as some devices cut these off.

4. Check that your campaign images comply

You know the saying: “a picture is worth a 1,000 words?” Don’t be tempted to have your graphic designer bury a disclosure, sponsored tag or any other such disclaimer in an image that accompanies paid-for content. Remember the golden rule: put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask if you’d be able to spot the fine print. Take your lead from Facebook’s 20% rule, where an advert may not contain more than 20% text i.e. the social platform’s research has shown that less text, the more engaging the advert. The same goes for images that accompany sponsored content.

5. Have a reliable, well-informed partner

If your brand is matched perfectly with an influencer, then any content they share about you will come across as authentic and powerful, even with the #sponsored tag. There is also the added benefit of being able to trust in your influencers and allowing them a measure of creative freedom which will reflect in quality, tone and results. Their voice will still be one that resonates with your market and your message will still be heard. If we go back to the core of advertising, which is creating content that people care about - then the sponsored hashtag shouldn’t even be something that's on your radar.

Kirsty Sharman is head of operations at Webfluential.

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