Did you know there are some bloggers who make most of their income by creating awesome sponsored content? What if you could do the same? And nope, it doesn't involve being a sell-out. ..not for a second. Kristy Ellington has a unique perspective on the world of sponsored posts because she's a blogger herself but she's also a Brand Content Strategist for PopSugar. She works directly with big brands to help them develop their campaigns through sponsored posts.
Kristy has tons of great advice to share . I walked away from our interview with her feeling so much more prepared to tackle sponsored content in a way that felt great for everyone involved. I know you'll grab lots of practical advice to grow your blog too!
On the Podcast
01:04 – The Changing Face of Advertising
03:34 – Who's More Important? The Reader or the Brand?
04:33 – Four Ways to Earn More Money through Sponsored Posts
06:08 – Which Metrics Matter?
08:30 – How to Create a Smooth Sponsored Post
11:39 – How Much is Too Much?
14:37 – 4 Tips on Fostering a Long-Term Relationship with Brands
17:03 – The Personal Touch that Will Set You Apart
18:08 – The Pros and Cons of Blogger Networks
20:45 – The Formidable 7-Letter Word
22:44 – The Pretty Little Package Every Blogger Needs
25:58 – A Form of Blindness that Affects us All
28:44 – How to Price your Posts
32:42 – Are you Costing Yourself Readers?
37:35 – Kristy's Adorable Mom Moment
Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Learn How to Create Seamless Sponsored Content
The Changing Face of Advertising
For the past several years Kristy Ellington has been working directly with brands as a Brand Content Specialist at PopSugar.
Many brands approach PopSugar for advertising space, but Kristy has a much better solution for them: a brand content strategy. She's learned the ins and outs of what makes people respond well to a given blog post or brand message.
A content strategy is incredibly powerful for a brand, because unlike a banner ad, people will often share a blog post that really resonates with them. If a brand can create sponsored content that's helpful and meaningful to a given audience, their message will be shared and make a much bigger impact.
Who's More Important? The Reader or the Brand?
Kristy's number one goal in working with brands is to create content that's valuable to the reader. This comes well before she considers what the brand wants to get out of the partnership.
If the content doesn't resonate with readers, they won't remember it, interact with it, or share it with others, and the brand's campaign will be pointless.
Content comes first, and brand integration comes second.
Four Ways to Earn More Money through Sponsored Posts
- Create valuable content. The blog post you write, has to be helpful to your audience, first and foremost. How can you solve a problem? What's the hook? When you write high-quality sponsored posts brands will take notice.
- Present your blog in a professional way. If you're creating sponsored content, chances are you're blogging to earn some income. Think of your blog as a business, and it will inform everything you do – from the quality of posts you write to the way you communicate with brands. Be professional and take yourself seriously.
- Invest money in excellent blog design. The more professional your site looks, the more brands are willing to work with you. Does your blog tell people that it's a business or just a casual online journal?
- Let your metrics tell a story about who your audience is. You don't have to get 100,000 visitors to your site each month in order to be a valuable asset for a brand. Get to know who your audience is. What are their demographics and interests? What types of posts really resonate with them? In this way, you'll prove that you're valuable to the brands that want to get in front of your specific audience.
Which Metrics Matter?
When it comes to blog metrics, monthly pageviews is just one piece of the puzzle.
Many brands are now focusing more on engagement or attention metrics. These include:
- The number of shares a given post receives.
- The number of comments on a given post.
- The amount of time people spend on your post page. You want to a low bounce rate and a high average time on page.
When you have strong attention metrics, your readers are consuming more of your content. The brand's message will come across more effectively as well.
Kristy likes to say that 100 passionate readers are so much more valuable than 10,000 passive readers. Passionate readers comment, share, and provide word-of-mouth advertising for you and your blog. A brand can leverage this same power through a sponsored post with you.
How to Create a Smooth Sponsored Post
- Don't do a product review. Brands want something that is more natural.
- Insert the brand in a way that is natural and flows along with the helpful content. Be subtle but effective.
- Keep the brand objectives in mind. Do they want more clicks to a certain landing page? More product purchases? This will frame the way you talk about them.
- Be certain that you are excited about the given product or promotion. This will come across in your writing. You must be genuine.
- Make sure you've written about the given topic before so that it blends seamlessly into your blog's content rather than stick out like a sore thumb.
Below is an example of the same exact brand message working for two very different bloggers. They can both promote the brand well, but they had to get creative to make sure the way they wrote both highlighted the brand but also fit seamlessly into their regular blog content.
The Brand: Nordstrom approaches bloggers to talk about their fall sale. Their goal is to get more clicks on their landing page introducing the sale.
Fashion Blogger Approach: This blogger could go the extra mile and ask if she can get a few items on loan to use in her post. She creates a fashion tutorial on how to style flannel in 5 different ways. She intersperses links back to their sale but also provides incredibly valuable, helpful content to her readers who are bound to pin that post or share it in other ways on social media.
Mom Blogger Approach: A mom blogger who talks about parenting tips and shopping can write a post on How to Teach your Kids Shopping Etiquette. This blogger is equally excited about the sale, but she knows her readers want to know how to keep their kids from going crazy while they're in a busy store. They want both mom and child to have a great time and feel equipped to hit the sale.
How Much is Too Much?
Every blog is different, but there are some general guidelines you can use to determine if you're sharing sponsored content too often.
For example, if you post 5 times per week, then 2-3 sponsored posts per month is a completely acceptable number.
However, you could also choose to do just one sponsored post per month, and in this case, you can charge more for that sponsored post because of scarcity. That one post packs a big punch because they don't happen often.
Kristy's advice is to start out slow with sponsored posts and slowly increase the number. You have to remember that you're blogging for your audience first, and you don't want to go too far and alienate people.
There's your Sign:
If you see comments and shares go down on your posts, and overall excitement for your content wane, there's your sign that you're putting out too much sponsored content and not enough content that your readers get excited about.
4 Tips on Fostering a Long-Term Relationship with Brands
- Be upfront with brands on what you will and will not do. Let them know how many times you will mention them in a post, or how many social shares you'll provide.
- Take into account the brand's message and objective when creating content for them. Ask yourself, “how can I align my content with their message?”
- View yourself as working on a team with the brand. It's a partnership. You're both working together to help the brand accomplish its goals, while simultaneously helping you to create great content for your readers.
- Write a wrap-up report to show the brand how you've worked hard to achieve their objectives. Let them know how many views, clicks, and social shares the blog post got. Lay everything out for them so they can assess the results of the partnership.
The Personal Touch that Will Set You Apart
While a wrap-up report is generally done at the agency level for the brand's campaign as a whole, you can set yourself apart as a blogger by doing one yourself.
A Wrap-Up Report Lets You:
- Go the extra mile. Let the brand know what results you helped them achieve and that you take your job as a blogger seriously.
- Send a final message to the brand. Let them know you enjoyed working with them and you'd love to do so again.
- Include your Contact Information. This makes it easy for the brand to get in touch with you personally rather than just hearing about their new campaigns through a blogging network.
- Propose Ideas for Future Partnerships. Suggest a few ways you can work together in the future based on some big projects you have coming up on your blog. Keep the door and lines of communication open.
The Pros and Cons of Blogger Networks
Pros: Networks are great for bloggers who don't have a lot of time to act as their own PR agent. The networks send you a message about a given brand campaign and ask you if you want to be involved. They have a set price, so you don't have to negotiate. You just apply for the opportunities you're interested in – easy-peasy.
Cons: Blogger Networks can limit your exposure to the brands you can work with because all of your income has to come through them. In many cases, you sign a contract saying that you won't approach a brand outside of the agency. They're obligated to act as your PR agent.
Pros of Going Solo: Partnering with brands on your own allows you to be more flexible. You can negotiate terms and fees, add and subtract things, and come up with creative new ways to earn revenue. For example, you could start with a sponsored Instagram post, but come up with the idea for a great blog post later. If you're working on your own, it's easy to contact the brand and see if they're interested in more sponsored content from you.
The Formidable 7-Letter Word
It sounds scary and complicated, but it's really for your protection and peace of mind, as well as that of the brand's. Kristy always recommends using a contract when you work with a brand. In general, they'll supply the contract, but there are certain things to keep in mind before you sign on the dotted line.
- Everything is negotiable. Don't be afraid to ask for things you might want or need. When working with a great brand, you should have clear communication with their representatives, and that won't be a problem.
- Spell out the number of social promotions you'll be doing.
- Set a clear timeline as to when your post will be published.
- Decide on how many revisions you'll allow between you and the brand. (Kristy has heard of some bloggers working through 20 rounds of revisions for a single post! There's no way this is worth it!)
- Set your price and get paid upfront. This way, the brand can't back out and decide not to pay you after you've invested hours of work creating content for them.
The Pretty Little Package Every Blogger Needs
Kristy recommends that every blogger create and have available on their site a Sponsored Post Package.
- The Package makes it easy for brands to know whether you'd like to work with them or not. They don't have to hunt around and figure out if you accept sponsored posts or what your rates are.
- The Package elevates your status as a more professional blogger
- The Package helps you to earn more money by creating several tiers of packages for brands to choose from.
Below is an example of three package tiers you could offer:
Package 1: A sponsored post, 3 social media shares, and a traffic number guarantee.
Package 2: Everything in package 1 plus a mention in your email newsletter.
Package 3: Everything in Package 1 and 2 plus a Twitter Party, Google Hangout, or Original Photography for the post.
Make it easy for a brand to say yes to working with you! And make it easy for you to get paid what you're worth.
A Form of Blindness that Affects us All
Kristy says it's been proven that banner blindness is an actual occurrence. Internet users have become so accustomed to ads on a website that they simply don't look in those areas anymore. No one pays attention to banner ads anymore.
The other reason banner ads are dying? The increase in mobile traffic across the web. Websites that are mobile optimized might not even display the ads, and non-optimized sites are so small you'll never notice them.
What should you do with that space instead? Promote your own work. Link back to other blog posts, put your Etsy shop there, or add a Pinterest widget. Use the sidebar and banner areas to keep people in your ecosystem. In this way, your readers are used to seeing you and your great content there and will be more likely to still pay attention to those areas of your site.
Kristy does not recommend you offer banner ads when you work with brands. There are much better ways to communicate their message to the world.
How to Price your Posts
Kristy has a great podcast episode and a free worksheet on how to figure out your rate for a sponsored post. There aren't any industry standards or hard and fast rules, but she discusses several factors that play a role and considers blog the blogger's perspective and the brand's.
In general, Kristy says that bloggers tend to underestimate what they're worth and price themselves too low. In the past, they've become too accustomed to accepting products in exchange for a review. That's not enough anymore.
Brands that reach out to you have done their research. They know that your blog reaches the audience they want to reach – that's worth something, so don't underestimate it.
Are you Costing Yourself Readers?
Kristy says there are two things every blogger should keep in mind with every single post they write. If they don't consider these two, they're costing themselves readers and the potential for growth.
1. EMOTION. Your content should always have emotion. Decide ahead of time what emotion you're trying to convey with your post. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to say when they share this with their friends?” Did it make them laugh, make them cry, or inspire them? The more you can convey emotion in your posts, the more you can touch your readers and cause them to share your content with others.
2. ACTION. With every post, you should have an objective for what you want your readers to do. Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to read another post? Know what action you'd like your readers to take, and if you can't think of any, ask yourself why you're writing the post in the first place.
Kristy's Adorable Mom Moment
Kristy and her son, Fisher, had a secret for a few months. It's kind of funny! But at the time, Kristy was frustrated beyond belief that no one else would believe her. Tune in to hear the story.