Social media advertising can be a minefield: in order to get value for money, not only do you need to distinguish your brand from competitors, but create content that connects with – and captures the attention of – consumers in a crowded marketplace.
The scope of that challenge explains why sponsored posts have become so popular: a sponsored post allows a brand to instantly boost its visibility and reach, cut through commercial noise, and even drive new levels of user engagement with creative, authentic content that sets itself apart from standard advertising conventions.
Not all sponsored posts are created equal, however, and to get the most out of your content (not to mention your budget), it’s important to understand how the process works in a diverse social media landscape. If you’re ready to launch your next ad campaign, and are wondering how sponsored posts could help win the attention of new customers, our guide is a good place to start.
What Are Sponsored Posts?
Put simply, sponsored posts refer to a type of social media post that a brand has paid to have promoted on a given platform.
Depending on the social media platform, there are generally two types of sponsored post available to brands:
- Boosted posts: Brands can pay to have their social media posts promoted above other content on the platform. This kind of promotion is achieved via the platform’s own ad management tools or platform, and will enable brands to customize the post with certain commercial parameters, such as a target audience characteristics, relevant search terms, location, and so on.
- Paid sponsorships: Brands may pay specific users (usually influencers) to make promotional posts for them. In this context, the brand agrees a fee with the influencer, who will then create an organic post that will go out to their audience. Like boosted posts, there are rules that require users to indicate that a post has been sponsored via a hashtag or declaration.
In this post, we will be focusing on paid sponsorships – where brands partner up with digital-savvy social media influencers, who feature a brand’s product or service on their channels in return for monetary incentives or free gifts.
Why Sponsored Posts?
In a social media marketplace saturated with competing content, your brand needs to set itself apart from the rest. Branded ads are an option, but at a time where consumers are more resistant to ads than ever, reaching audiences when they are engaged and listening is key.
This is where influencers come in.
Having built highly engaged audiences around a certain niche, influencers hold authority within their online communities; communities who look to them for advice, inspiration, and entertainment.
This gives product recommendations a more genuine feel - much as if they were coming from a friend or family member. It’s part of the reason that 61% of consumers trust influencer recommendations, compared to just 38% who trust brand-produced content.
Sponsored posts also offer an extra ‘organic appeal’ in the sense that the posts are genuinely shared as organic posts, and will appear that way in users’ timelines. This allows users to engage much in the same way as they would with non-sponsored content on their feeds, feeling less like they are being promoted to.
With all of this in mind, sponsored posts are ideal for brands seeking to:
- Get themselves on the radar of new customers
- Reach new and niches audiences, and test content with these audiences
- Increase the volume and value of their orders
- Increase their social media presence and grow their following
- Boost conversions by reaching consumers with more relevant demographics
- Improve the cost-efficiency of their ad-spend
- Establish social proof for their products and services
But don’t just take our word for it. Numerous studies have shown the efficacy of sponsored posts in boosting customer engagement, trust, and improving purchase outcomes.
- 80% of consumers have purchased something after seeing it recommended by an influencer
- 60% of marketers agree influencer-generated content is higher performing than banner ads
- Sponsored posts have been found to generate 11x the ROI than banner ads
- Data shows that businesses are making an average of $5.20 for every $1 spent on sponsored posts with influencers.
Check out these 10 influencer marketing stats you need for 2023.
Examples Of Sponsored Posts
Chances are, when scrolling down your social media feeds, it won’t take you long to stumble across a sponsored post. The technique has grown in popularity across every social media platform, and is used effectively by global brands from a variety of industries and sectors.
Snack brand, Kind, engaged TikTok influencers to create sponsored posts to promote its Simple Crunch bars. Kind targeted highly creative influencers, like Zach King (@zachking), Oven Mom (@amystephens529), and Kombucha Girl (@brittany_broski), to cut through to its Gen Z target demographic with fun narrative posts. The campaign was launched with a branded hashtag competition: #KindSimpleCrunchContest.
Credit company Capital One sponsored surfer and travel influencer, Chris Burkard, to promote its cards in posts about his globe-trotting trips. Chris’ posts emphasized the ways in which the Capital One card facilitated his travel goals as a way to appeal to an audience that might not immediately associate credit services with their interests.
How to Run Sponsored Posts
Of course, the first step in running sponsored posts is selecting and engaging with the right influencers. Luckily, we have this step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.
Next up, the content creation. This is championed by the influencer, typically after some collaboration and idea generation with the brand. It’s recommended to give your influencers as much creative control as possible. They know their audiences well and are best placed to position your brand in a way that is not only in tune with their typical content, but builds positive associations around your brand in an authentic and entertaining way.
Influencers are also responsible for posting the content, but there are some key steps for both brands and influencers to take beforehand to make the most of the sponsorship tools on each platform.
Here’s a brief guide to the process for Instagram and TikTok – two the most popular social media networks for sponsored posts:
How To Run Sponsored Posts On Instagram
- When sponsoring an influencer, you’ll need to make sure the influencer’s account is added as a partner on ‘Approved Business Partners’.
- You can do this within your Instagram Business account. Simply go to settings and select ‘Branded content’. Any influencers who have sent you a brand partner invite will appear here and you will have the option to accept or reject.
- When it comes to posting the content, Instagram has a range of branded content features which allow you to enhance the success of sponsored posts.
- One of which is the ‘Paid partnership’ label, which adds an extra layer of authenticity to branded content.
- This can also be enabled in the ‘Branded content’ tab in settings. Ensure ‘Manually Enable Tags’ is toggled on.
- When an influencer uploads their sponsored post and requests to include you as a paid partner, you’ll get a notification and be able to approve or reject the content.
- If you haven’t yet had time to approve, fear not! Posts will still go live – they will appear with a general ‘Paid Partnership’ tag until approved by the brand, at which point they will change to ‘Paid Partnership with [company handle].
How To Run Sponsored Posts On TikTok
TikTok doesn’t yet offer features comparable to Meta’s branded content tools: there are no steps for brands to take to enable partnerships from their own business accounts. However, influencers that post branded content on TikTok do need to indicate that they’re posting “Branded content”.
They can do this by enabling the “Branded content toggle” when posting, which will add a disclosure to the content (such as “#Ad”). This is found by clicking ‘more options’ on the post screen.
Brands and Influencers that are part of TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, also have the option to link individual posts to wider campaigns in order to better manage sponsored posts across various campaigns.
After switching the branded content toggle to ‘On’, influencers will be given the option to ‘Link campaign’ and can then select a live campaign or enter a campaign code provided by the brand (available within the brand’s campaign management tab).
Elevating Sponsored Posts
So, we’ve established the benefits of sponsored posts in allowing brands to tap into highly engaged online audiences who are actively looking for product inspiration.
But what if we told you there was a way to extend the reach of these posts even further?
With Instagram’s branded content tools, brands have the ability to turn their best performing influencer-generated content (IGC) into ads, ‘boosting’ the posts above non-sponsored content and vastly increasing the reach of the campaign.
These ‘Branded content ads’ allow brands to combine the authentic appeal of IGC with a whole range of audience targeting capabilities to tap into brand new audiences – with content that’s already proven to strike the right chord with their target customers.
In these posts, the ‘Paid partnership’ label moves to the bottom of the post, with the signature ‘Sponsored’ tag used for branded social media ads appearing at the top.
What Are The Rules For Sponsored Posts?
We’ve mentioned the need to indicate that a post is sponsored: even though sponsored posts resemble organic content, they’re still considered advertisements by law, and so fall under certain regulatory restrictions.
In the US, for example, the Federal Trade Commission’s Online Advertising and Marketing guidance outlines the rules that sponsored posts must follow, including the need to avoid misleading audiences, and to include clear and prominent ad labels.
Given the risk of legal penalties, it’s worth keeping the following considerations in mind when making sponsored posts:
- Ensure influencers include clear disclosures that the sponsored post is an advertisement. This can be via brand specific labels such as Instagram’s ‘Paid partnership’ tag, or using hashtags such as ‘#ad’ or ‘#sponsoredpost’.
- Ensure these disclosures are prominent and legible, placed high up in the post’s caption and not hidden at the bottom of a post.
- If the sponsored post is being shared as part of a product gifting campaign rather than direct payment, the guidelines are slightly different. It’s still best practice for influencers to disclose that the post was the result of free products, typically via the #gifted hashtag.
The list above isn’t exhaustive, so it’s worth consulting the full guidelines to ensure you aren’t breaking any rules. Most social media platforms include their own set of guidance for sponsored posts, to help brands and content creators stay within the rules.
How Much Do Sponsored Posts Cost?
The beauty of sponsored posts is that campaigns can be specifically tailored to fit to your budget and goals.
Influencers are generally divided into 5 main categories, based on their follower count:
Nano-Influencer → 5,000 – 20,000 followers
Micro-Influencer → 20,000 – 60,000 followers
Mid-tier-Influencer → 60,000 – 200,000 followers
Macro-Influencer → 200,000 – 1,000,000 followers
Mega-Influencer → 1,000,000+
When sponsoring influencers, you can generally expect to pay higher rates for high follower counts, but other factors play a role. Engagement rate is one. While it can be easy to think that more followers = better results, that’s not always the case. Often it's the smaller accounts – our nano and micro influencers – who prompt the most interaction with their followers.
So, while larger accounts often charge a higher rate owing to their large follower counts, smaller accounts also have grounds to charge a premium for greater engagement. Saying that, this premium is still much less than that of mid-tier and macro influencers, which is why many brands are inclined to spread their budget over many micro-influencers, improving reach and engagement across many audiences instead of investing their entire budget in one mega star.
While follower count and engagement rate are the primary cost factors, the influencer’s industry niche also plays a role. Influencers creating content in food and fashion may be motivated to charge slightly less than influencers in less popular niches such as homeware, where there is more competition for brand deals.
Fundamentally, the cost of sponsored posts can vary greatly depending on who you choose to partner with, their follower count, engagement rate and industry niche. There are no set rules, but there are some general benchmarks to guide brands while they are getting started. Explore them in our guide to paying influencers.
How Do I Create An Effective Sponsored Post?
With a greater understanding of what sponsored posts are, and how they can work for your brand, it’s time to ensure they are poised to drive real results for your budget.
It goes without saying that the most effective posts exploit the strengths of their platform: Instagram posts, for example, should feature eye-catching images, photography or video content, while TikTok posts should join in with the platform’s trending content, using the vast repository of audio and filter content.
The best influencers will already be innately in tune with tailoring content across different channels, as well as creating the content that strikes the right tone with their audience. But, here are some of our tips for ensuring your sponsored posts cut above the rest:
Avoid ‘advertising’: The whole point of a sponsored post is to appeal to your audience in a more authentic way than traditional advertising. Partnering with influencers offers a ‘genuine’ and engaging way of communicating with your audience about your products, which isn’t to be exploited. Give your influencers as much creative freedom as possible – they’re called creatives for a reason, and are the best people to craft winning content that their audience will enjoy.
Understand your objectives: All sponsored campaigns should have objectives, preferably based on your business goals. Setting clear, achievable objectives for your sponsored post strategy will not only help you ensure you find the right influencers for your brand, but help you measure the success of your posts and ensure your influencer activity fits with your wider organizational goals.
Learn more about setting goals for your paid sponsorship campaigns.
Choose your influencers carefully: The influencers you choose to sponsor will be the faces and voices of your brand. Explore their public profiles, review their past content, and how they engage with their own audiences. You may not need, or want, to sponsor influencers with vast amounts of followers: as we mentioned, influencers with smaller, special interest audiences may be just as useful for your campaign objectives.
Prioritize influencer relationships: If you are sponsoring an influencer to make posts, offer them the support they need to create exciting content that delights your audiences. You may simply want influencers to feature your products in their posts, but some influencers may bring creative ideas to the table that offer a greater potential for engagement. This is also known as influencer relations, and can take your sponsored posts from eye-catching to exceptional.
Boost best performing content: If you see sponsored posts performing particularly well, give them a boost! Turning influencer content into branded content ads has been shown to enhance likelihood of purchase outcome by 81%.
Don’t take your sponsored post strategy for granted: Sponsored posts are a brilliant tool to elevate your brand while successfully meeting your marketing goals. So why not opt for some guidance to set yourself up for success? Get in touch with Aspire to give your brand’s next sponsored post campaign the energy it needs to excite your audience and generate powerful results.