Blogs have been around since the 1990s, but it was only about six years ago that people like Naomi Davis of LoveTaza, took to blogging platforms to share personal anecdotes, life tips, and in some cases life woes, with their friends and family.
Few of them dreamed their blogs would eventually become major sources of revenue for them thanks to one of today’s hottest forms of digital marketing: sponsored posts.
Sponsored content isn’t exactly new. Magazines have run advertorials for decades and digitally native brands like Facebook, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and, most recently, LinkedIn have been using “native advertising” for some time.
But for many reasons, personal blogging platforms may be the most effective, yet underexplored, space for content marketing.
From banner blindness to sponsored content
Blogs have long been the target of online marketers seeking to gain impressions and clicks with banner ads. But while blogs have continued to gain impressive follower counts and engagement rates, banner blindness and options like Ad Blocker have made banner ads less effective.
Unlike banner ads, sponsored blog posts don’t rely on capturing people’s attention; they’re built on relationships. The relationship between a lifestyle blogger like Naomi Davis of LoveTaza and her readership is a powerful currency.
Davis’s blog began with the intention of sharing personal updates with her friends and family. Despite amassing hundreds of thousands of followers since its inception, her blog still maintains its intimate feel.
Her new readers, along with her family and friends, have followed her chronicling of major life events, like the birth of her two children, and have chimed in along the way with everything from words of encouragement and advice, to asking where she purchased her baby’s stroller.
A regular post on Davis’s blog gets hundreds of Facebook likes and almost as many comments. Her loyal readership also stays connected with her through her Twitter account where she has nearly 30,000 followers, and her Instagram account where she has a whopping 179,000 followers.
In one of her recent posts Davis wrote about a family dinner outing to Sweetgreen, a restaurant the family frequented while they lived in D.C. that recently opened a location in New York City, where she currently resides.
The post, which indicates in a footnote-like disclaimer that it is sponsored by Sweetgreen, includes photos of her family enjoying dinner in the new location, along with information about the restaurant, including a recommendation to download Sweetgreen’s rewards app and watch their linked promotional video.
If the 576 likes the post received aren’t a good enough indicator of the traction Sweetgreen gained by being featured in this post, a few samplings from the comments should be:
Beyond merely enjoying higher engagement than your average banner ad, brands like Sweetgreen benefit from the unique relationship Davis has with her following.
As a blogger-cum-friend, Davis is seen as a credible source. And her rising clout as an internet-born celebrity enables her to endorse a product as effectively, if not more effectively, than your average Hollywood starlet.
Pushing the boundaries of personal space online
The strengths of native advertising on blogs are also their biggest drawbacks. For some, sponsored posts are exploitative of the trust a blogger has earned from their following.
Like sponsored content on magazine websites, sponsored blog posts tend to mimic the look and feel of regular posts with easy-to-miss disclosures. But because sponsored blogs assume the trusted voice of an individual blogger, they can be especially jarring for readers.
In an effort to protect web readers, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission amended their disclosure guidelines to explicitly include blogs, including an example of a blog post that fails to meet their standards for sponsored posts:
It’s not just blog readers who have concerns. “I’m also really worried about putting off or upsetting my readers,” writes Kat Williams of Rock ‘n’ Roll Bride – a popular, eccentric bridal blog – in a post where she mulls over the ethics of sponsored advertising on her blog.
“Does having sponsored posts forfeit my right to write about things I like when I’m not getting paid?” she asks.
A recent Instagram post by Lena Dunham, in which the Girls star assured her readers that her recommendation of designer Kate Spade was not a paid endorsement, exemplifies Williams’ what-to-do-when-not-sponsored conundrum:
When the personal becomes commercial
Brands get a unique and effective way to engage with their audience, while the compensation bloggers receive allows them the financial freedom to blog full-time.
Either way, native advertising seems to only be gaining momentum as the go-to solution for publishers’ business model woes. The question is whether it will continue to be tolerated in the blogosphere, where the boundaries between personal and commercial space are especially fuzzy.