Massive organic scale for branded content, whether sponsored video, editorial or influencer posts, is a myth. A pretty, shiny, elusive myth.

It was always something of a pipe dream. Those of us in the business learned quickly that we need to use amplification media to reach large numbers of consumers with our messages. No matter how large the organic audience of a website or influencer blog, we could not target content the same way we could ads. Drop that excellent post into a banner or native amplification ad, and I could be sure that moms of elementary school children were exposed to the sponsored juicebox posts.

This doesn’t minimize the value of the authentic voices who create sponsored posts on their blogs. Their endorsement of the brands they love drives consumer engagement with the brand in ways that traditional advertising never could. But we are lucky if 5% of a blog’s readers read any given sponsored post during the typical 6-8 week timeframe of most digital campaigns. If we want to drive that number up, we need to drive traffic to the posts.

Paid media is one way to do it. The other common way to drive traffic to our content is through social posts, both paid and earned. When a reader magically clicks the SHARE button, that earned share is GOLD, providing both engagement and amplification. Paid promotion is everything from asking the author to promote her post on social to engaging microinfluencers to share out links to branded content to standalone social posts that act as the endorsement and deliver the brand message directly to the audience.

And no matter how you look at it, for the most part, organic scale is a thing of the past on social. The most popular platform in the world is Facebook, and its branded content policy and content algorithms are designed to support its business model, to sell access to the most targeted audiences in a variety of ways. Ads are but one way to reach the Facebook user. If you want sponsored posts and branded content to reach as much of the target audience as possible, you have to boost the posts. The other platforms may be less obvious or less advanced (and certainly smaller), but the fact remains that paid social is the best solution for scaled amplification.

I’ve stopped worrying about whether that is a good or bad thing for influencer marketing. It just is, and your branded content programs, whether publisher- or influencer- driven, need to include paid social as an amplification tactic. We need to worry less about whether something was paid or earned, and more about whether it is shared.

Influencer – ie consumer – endorsement is the most powerful testimonial for a brand. A good influencer marketing program focuses on activating the right influencers to share about a brand, and then amplifying that content so it reaches the largest possible number of other consumers. I’d rather see brands regularly work with a smaller number of influencers, but in deeper relationships (brand ambassador, content partner, etc.) and supplement that core group with scale microinfluencer activations when they have product launches, major initiatives etc. This delivers the largest possible impact for the brand.

In a blog-based campaign, the initial posts carry the authentic endorsement of the influencers, and reach their organic audiences, some of whom will engage with the brand by commenting or sharing the content. This content is the irreplaceable foundation of the social strategy. For scale, we then have to amplify.

The amplification strategy has two parts. The first phase broadens the reach of the initial posts with social shares and paid media designed to scale the targeted audience for all the content. The second phase evaluates the best performing content and boosts it on social to extract maximum value from the best content.

Social-first programs generally skip the paid media phase, and jump right to boosting the best performing posts, although I have always wanted to develop a really well-done native ad treatment to amplify Instagram content back to digital with an e-commerce component.

Bottom line, matter how much organic reach your chosen influencers have, it’s never enough. Adding paid amplification delivers the targeted scale needed to maximize message awareness and optimize engagement with the audience.

Organic scale is a myth, but that’s okay. Like most myths, the truth is less sexy but it works just the same.We still can get the results we need.

In my post earlier this week, I predicted three types of digital content would be central to advertiser efforts in 2018.

Newsletters

What’s old is new again. Newsletters are super valuable because they are permission-based; your customer has opted into the sales process by subscribing. Our top of funnel marketing activity logically should focus on getting the customer into our marketing ecosystem. Short of an immediate purchase, subscribing to a newsletter is the next best thing. But focus efforts on subscribers who open and engage with the content; scrub deadweight regularly. A large subscriber count is not the goal. What matters is converting the active subscribers into customers.

Targeted content

We have so much data about customer preferences and purchases in the DMP (data management platform). We should be using data to better target content as well as ads. This is the foundational premise of start-up LiftIgniter, an AI driven personalization engine. It promises to deliver more personalized content to site visitors, learning and improving over time to deliver an optimized visitor experience and increasing stickiness. And ad revenues.

I think publishers should take this idea one step farther, and use such technologies to deliver a better branded content experience to visitors. Users outside the target might see an aligned piece of editorial content that is simply sponsored by the advertiser, while readers/viewers who are known to be interested — “in market” — see a more branded, conversion-oriented piece. This would be a win-win. Advertisers would pay premium fees to reach the targeted, qualified audience with no waste, while the casual visitors see top of funnel awareness-oriented content and aren’t turned off by a harder, irrelevant sell.

Podcasts

Podcasting has been waiting a long time to find its critical mass, and the time, it seems, is now. According to the Pandora Definitive Guide To Audio, podcasts will earn $220million in ad revenues in 2017. Slowly but surely, innovators are solving the content discovery and usability issues that slowed growth of the format, and better listener metrics can’t be far behind. Video will always be important, both branded content and editorial video, but I see podcasts as the big growth opportunity for publishers in 2018. They have lower production costs than video, and offer a more even playing field, in which (so far) Facebook has no special advantages.

The branded content S-Q-U-E-E-Z-E

November 7, 2017

“On average, unaided awareness was 69 percent and purchase intent was 51 percent after engaging with branded content,” reported the Polar Ipsos Branded Content Study in May 2017 — The struggle, it is real. Digital publishers finally have solid proof that branded content works, and boom, a whole raft of new competitors surface, all looking for that […]

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3 tips for more successful email newsletters

September 15, 2017

In recent posts, I have been focusing on the role and value of an engaged community in marketing success. Email newsletters are a critical component in “feeding” the community as well as informing the larger audience. For a publisher, convincing a reader or viewer to subscribe to updates closes the content loop, and makes them […]

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The future of digital media: Creating a new content ecosystem

September 13, 2017

Second of (probably) three posts about the future of digital media Quality Content + Audience at Scale + Community = Sustainable Engagement, Loyalty and Conversion In my previous post, I presented this marketing equation. It means that for publishers of content, whether a media company or a brand, creating quality content and building a large […]

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The future of digital media: The value of community

September 12, 2017

first in a series of at least 3 posts about the future of digital media Of late, I have been thinking a lot about how we make content more successful. Especially branded content, but really any content. Whether a publisher, who monetizes content through advertising, or a brand, which monetizes content through product sales, fundamentally […]

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