How to do Sponsored Posts without selling your soul

Before I go into a discussion of sponsored posts, which is bound to generate some discussion, I think it best to clarify some terms.

The term “sponsored post” has been usually used in reference to a post which is written and supplied by the company which is doing the sponsoring. All the blogger has to do (and all the sponsor really wants them to do) is cut and paste the article and hit submit.

The company which has been one of the engines behind the sponsored post movement has been Izea.

I don’t think that publishing sponsored posts is an evil thing, but I do think it is unwise for the long term health of your blog. The reason it isn’t wise is that you don’t want to develop a reputation of having your editorial control for sale.

There are however I think ways for companies to provide sponsorship at the post level which are not as onerous. There are two good examples I’ve seen.

The first is with Mashable:

They have a regular series of posts about start up companies. The post is sponsored by Microsoft, but they are not providing the content. I think this is a great example of how company can sponsor a post, or a series of posts, without the blog giving up control over content.

Another good example is a recent post I’ve seen on The Art of Manilness:

Again, they have a consumer brand which is sponsoring the post, but they are not providing the content.

In both examples, there are no links to the sponsor in the actual post. The only links are in the header. The companies which are sponsoring the posts may or may not be looking for an SEO edge, but it isn’t obvious if they are. There are no obvious keywords which are being linked and in both examples the companies are well known brands.

A second example also comes from Mashable. Every week they have a post which thanks their sponsors:

The thing to note with this method is that there is no real content per se, but they also aren’t giving up control. I have also seen Chris Elliott do something similar on his site.

I think we need to develop a new use for the term “sponsored post”. What has been done is really more of an advertorial. You occasionally see those in magazines.

A sponsored post in the literal sense is just what it is: someone sponsoring a post.

I currently have no plans for doing sponsored posts, but if I did I’d use the following guidelines:

  1. I retain all editorial control. Anything that is written will be in my voice. No advertorial posts.
  2. The company has to be one that I’d want to associate myself with. I wouldn’t accept a sponsorship from a company doing apartment rentals in Europe for example.
  3. It should pass an SEO smell test. If it looks and sounds like the company is just interested in a keyword stuffed link, I will not work with them.

I think there is a way for companies to sponsor posts, but it isn’t the way companies like Izea are pushing it. Retain creative control and work with companies you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be associated with.

By Gary

3 dimples. 7 continents. 130 countries.

4 replies on “How to do Sponsored Posts without selling your soul”

How about No 4 (or a part of No 1) not publishing anything about which you cannot check the facts? I ask because after reading a stupid “review” of the island on which I live on a blog I’d been following for a while, I contacted the owner. Turned out it was a sponsored post, so it left me wondering how much of their blog I could believe, and I no longer follow it the way I used to. I appreciate that they have to make a living (which I don’t, mine’s for my own satisfaction), but facts should be checked. It’s one big reason journalists criticize bloggers. Many simply don’t research properly, and if you do, why would you want to publish a post which lays your own reputation open to such criticism?

I appreciate your definition of sponsored post – and glad you defined it as you see it up front.

I define it differently for Sponsor PAYS us $250 (or whatever) to write about its product, website, destination, hotel. We do so *in our voice,* (firsthand knowledge)but indeed, there is always a link back to the website of the product, hotel, destination. We’d never run something that a company spokesperson or PR agency wrote. We do retain editorial control.

We have limited experience with sponsored posts. I think we’ve done 4 at our travel blog over the course of 2 years. In all instances, no client ever had to “approve” the post first. I do liken it to an advertorial (that said, advertorials in magazines/newspapers are ALWAYS approved by the client, so it’s not quite the same).

Gary, I totally agree with you. I have the perspective of both sides as a blogger and travel business owner.
As a blogger, I’d prefer to have a sponsored post (of the Mashable type) from a company I like, rather than plastering the blog with ads.
As an advertiser, I like the idea of reaching a specific audience and associating myself with a topic without being too sales-y. I know that many readers would skip an advertorial post, just like I would.
@Kara The situation you mention of having a sponsored review can be fine but can also exist in an ethical gray area. The blogger wants paid and thus feels pressured to write something, usually positive. In this case, disclosure and transparency are of the utmost importance.

Agreed, Fred! We always always say at bottom of post that it’s a post sponsored by XXX. Similarly, we always state we have received free accommodations, spa treatment, whatever, when writing about travels.

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