Sponsored content is a familiar term to many. It might seem like the answer to become more creative with advertising and really grab the readers' attention, but just like any other form of journalism, it must be done in a tasteful and monitored way.
It's important that the guidelines be fully established and put into place in order to be successful. In order for this to happen, advertisers must make sure their content marketing is transparent, represents its publication well, and remains as ethical as possible.
In order to account for your audience being in the know, it's important to remain transparent. Do not try and hide who produces the content or who has been involved. Do not try and hide or look over when sponsored content is sponsored.
It should not be a guessing game, and nothing should be disguised while being produced and published.
For example, if a product is sponsored the audience should be able to know how involved that sponsor was in the development of the content. It should be knowledgable to the audience, if they are interested, who wrote the script, if the sponsor had written it, or if the sponsor was even allowed to read over the content.
Although this is not the case currently, it would be ideal for all content marketing to reach this depth of transparency. If transparency can be established by most, there's hope that the audience will gain trust and respect, since they will be aware and in the loop.
Standards Must Be Met
Being transparent is only half the battle with sponsored content.
It's also important that the media don't lower their standards for the content they produce. Sponsored content is going to be in the spotlight for quite some time and meeting the same standards and principles as regular content is extremely important.
Sponsored content, if done well, could open the doors to success and money for many companies.
According to Poynter, with the correct tone and accurate quality to represent the publication's values, the sponsored content can fulfill the principles needed to uphold the organization's standards.
Regardless, it should always be a company's and a journalist's main priority to put their audience first and ensure they have their trust. If there's no trust, there's no audience. If there's no audience, then there's no reason for the content to be produced.
It's a slippery slope that some large companies could fall down rather quickly.
Ethics should always be a concern when deciding what content is acceptable and what should be reviewed before tarnishing a reputation. Branded content needs special attention ethically because there's so many economical influences.
The industry as a whole should generally have a list of guidelines. PRSA published a list of guidelines from Edelman that propose five standards. They are as follows:
2. Keep comments from readers real (Refrain from editing)
3. Don't use sponsored content as a substitute for earned media
4. Keep content current
5. Keep editors out of the equation
These guidelines reinforce that choosing to be transparent and only publishing what is meaningful, but also honest, is best for the industry as a whole.
Do What's Best in the Long Run
In tough times, it's easy to look past the future consequences and only think about the current situations. Mistakes have been made in the past, but now the goal is to think about the way sponsored content will affect journalists.
Even though sponsored content makes it easy to make a profit immediately, it could just as quickly fall apart. If mistakes are made there will be limited readers, causing the money made originally to be of little to no use.
If independent guidelines cannot be made and met, there's been discussion of the Federal Trade Commission being forced to issue their own rules. According to AdAge, this is something that the industry should try to avoid.
Although some sponsored content is regulated and done tastefully, it is difficult to look past the companies who do not follow any guidelines or abide to any ethical choices.
Hopefully the industry wakes up and realizes the dangers that it could face if they do not make ethical decisions nor begin to meet standards that are expected of them.