Evolution of Sponsored Content

Colleen Vaughan

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These days, seeing a piece of sponsored content on social media is as commonplace as puppy GIFs, engagement announcements and political statements — and for good reason. Anyone not living under a rock has realized the shift from traditional advertising to influencer marketing, native ads, and in-feed social ads, because it resonates better with online consumers. Inc.com reported that 70 percent of individuals want to learn about products through content rather than through traditional advertising. The days of brands being able to talk about themselves and talk at consumers are essentially over. Consumers want to hear from people they trust in a manner and avenue of their choosing. They want to see how a product/service worked for someone like them. Content provides context — something a banner ad or magazine ad couldn’t provide anywhere near as effectively.  

Before we dive in, here’s a few more stats to paint a picture of the effectiveness of sponsored and influencer content:

  • 49% of people say they rely on recommendations from influencers when making purchase decisions. [Twitter and Annalect, 2016]
  • Native advertising generates up to an 82% increase in brand lift. [Dedicated Media]
  • Facebook news feed ads generate 49 times more clicks than traditional sidebar banner ads [AdRoll]

So, where did sponsored content start? How did we get this point of more branded stories and less intrusive ads? Let’s look into the evolution of sponsored content.

Facebook sets the standard for ads on social networks.

As Hubspot reports, the platform started making money off advertisements soon after its founding in 2004. 2009 marked the year that any brand could create a Facebook Page free of charge, thus, opening the floodgates for Page runners to spend money on advertising. In 2011, Facebook launched Sponsored Stories for desktop users, which allowed brand Pages to boost content in the feeds of users who had liked their Page. Brands could also sponsor a user’s action posts, such as checking into Starbucks, to show up in other users’ feeds.

Image Source: Hubspot

Facebook releases mobile ads in 2010.  

These mobile ads were designed to look like the sponsored content we know of today – appearing like any other piece of content to avoid interrupting the flow of the feed. Today, mobile ads account for a whopping 84 percent, or $7.248 billion, of Facebook’s ad revenue.

Image source: Hubspot

Twitter follows suit in 2010.

Twitter first launched Promoted Tweets in 2010, which the platform said from the get-gofirst exist as regular Tweets [that] will be organically sent to the timelines of those who follow a brand.” Twitter touted these promotions as not being “ads” because they were, first and foremost, an organic piece of content. Promoted Trends, which put a brand or campaign’s hashtag at the top of Twitter’s trends, and Promoted Accounts, which put brands in the “Suggested For You” sidebar were released soon after.

Image source: Twitter

Instagram joins the sponsored ad game in 2013.

Instagram partnered with Michael Kors for its first paid ad in November 2013, resulting in 218,000 likes in just 18 hours. There was much backlash at first, but the ad format prevailed, as Instagram hit over 500,000 advertisers last year.  

Image source: The Verge

Fast forward to today and influencer marketing is thriving.

Collective Bias was founded in 2009 on the principle that people trust opinions of people like them, particularly with branded products and services. Influencer marketing is the epitome of sponsored content in that it brings together a trusted online voice and a brand that influencer loves to create content that informs and inspires. To work, influencer marketing requires a higher level of authenticity and trust between the influencer and their audience. It takes many forms: long-form and short-form blog posts, YouTube videos, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, tweets. From recipes and DIY tutorials, to tech product experience stories, to beauty tutorials and more, influencer marketing works because of the relevancy and format of the content and the connection between the influencer and their followers.

Image Source: Sidelinesocialite.com

The influencer marketing industry will evolve as companies like Collective Bias and social platforms like Instagram release new innovations that bring together the power of content and the desires of consumers and brands alike.


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